Sunday, November 22, 2015


Path to Las Negras, Andalucia
Writing. This week I've been told by someone very close to me that writing is my primary form of expression, that I've been running, ducking and weaving to avoid it; shielding myself occasionally with a guitar, racing around recording melodies, giving myself over to the crushing responsibility of intensive support work, becoming sometime carer for people who for a long time cared for me. Entering old age with my parents. Watching the world around me speed up, slow down, give birth to children, leave this life behind. Counting pennies, paying debts slowly. Been studying the mind and the body and gradually undoing the belief that they are separate, though that seems a lifelong process. Been working out how to place myself at the centre of my universe, not an easy task for one who grew up watching the theatre of a massive, chaotic / controlled, Catholic family. Been sometimes remembering to reconnect all of the loose ends, a deep affinity with plant life, animal life, water life, rock life, a deep affinity we all share but sometimes lose along the way.

So how does one fit in writing? How does one fit in? Writing. How does one fit into writing?

The excuse goes, "But what would I write about?" The question probably should be, "How do I choose where to start?" Do I start with the dramatic events? The events of Brixton streets at night, where I'd sometimes make a connection from the Underground to the bus, where I'd be confronted with drug war lords, where once I even ended up counselling one such lost boy about his broken connection with his mother in Jamaica, mostly on account of his crack addiction. Where I once met a man called Andrew, who said he had just escaped Sudan via South Africa, who needed a place to sleep, who was telling me he was a political refugee, who I didn't know whether to believe because people were begging and telling you stories every day on the streets of London, and you developed a jungle eye, and you didn't really trust anybody.

Would I write about the boys I lived with temporarily soon after arriving in London, the boys who would smoke joints before going to play squash. The British one would complain to me when he was sick that all the immigrants were getting all the free healthcare and he couldn't get in to see a doctor till tomorrow! The Australian one would tell me about the untimely death of his mother, as I planted bulbs in the back garden. It was my only way of staying sane at that time; digging in the garden. I would never see those flowers grow and bloom, but I spent many hours arranging them beneath the soil to create a rainbow of colour in an otherwise dreary and neglected semi-attached block, full of booze and drugs and laziness.

Would I write about the gypsy musician who invited me to travel with him and his amigos to the caves of Granada? I was in a remote, forgotten corner of Andalucia, taking a break from heartache and confusion, disappointing other people, mammoth cities and addictions. I was reading about ancient myths and spontaneously practising yoga in the waters of the Mediterranean, learning Spanish from my camping neighbours and following my heart with almost nothing to lose. But I did not follow the gypsies to the caves because I am my mother's daughter and I fear catastrophes on the other side of the world. I returned to London and got a job.

Would I write about the day of the Underground bombs, when I met a woman from Essex who had been travelling across town to her job at the BBC? We were trying to find another way across town because Liverpool Street had just been closed  - but we didn't know why. Not even the police informing us knew why. We hoofed it to Aldgate: closed. My new friend, acquired in a busy street, began to receive text messages, began to understand that people were on trains with exploded bombs. We heard about the bomb on the red doubledecker bus. Streets were still, apart from the heaving masses on the footpaths and an occasional red doubledecker bus that would glide through. We flinched every time. We walked all the way back to my temporary accommodation on a comfortable sofa in an apartment in Bow, the heroin capital of London - picking up wine at the supermarket on the way - and we would sip wine all day as we watched the Underground bombs come to light on the TV.

Would I write about the following day, when most people didn't go to work, but I called my new boss, the chief subeditor on a magazine called Woman and Home, who would say in her most genuine cockney accent, "Why wouldn't you come to work?" So I got on the Underground with a handful of other souls and felt the quiet chill of the tunnels that day.

Would I write about the weeks and months that followed when any man of "Middle Eastern or Asian appearance" would be stopped at train stations and have their bags searched by heavily armed police?

Would I write about my invitation by the BBC friend to a Guy Fawkes fireworks party at her Essex home, and my default reaction - to decline. Too hard, too far, too tired, too ground down by 9 to 5, too shy.

Would I write about those things from long ago and far away? Or would I write about today, a conversation with a rarely seen but deeply connected friend about polarities, mental health, fear, courage, vulnerabilities, social anxiety. About letting your mind wander to the places it's scared to go, and just letting it hang out there without judgement. Would I write about the thought that crossed my mind tonight, that one form of terror is the fear of looking at oneself in complete honesty. And anyway, is that fear unfounded?

Memories of Doogie Howser MD / Carrie Bradshaw. How can I live with myself? A writer. A writer who has written stories that were not my choice to write, who has written stories I've been passionate about and privileged to write, who has avoided writing for a long, long time.

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