Tuesday, January 22, 2013
Friday, January 18, 2013
I have a sign on my office wall that says "Inspiration Can Come From Anywhere."
Lately though, Inspiration doesn't seem to be at my place.
That's inspiration for writing I mean - and by 'writing,' I mean 'other than journalism.'
I've spent decades wrestling with this dilemma. Some call it writer's block but I don't think I've ever suffered from that, not in any long-term or meaningful way. Years in journalism have taught me to 'write on command.' I can do that almost any time, anywhere. But when it comes to fiction, or non-fiction book writing, it's a whole other ball game. I can be as stumped as the next person.
But I do know this about myself.
I know that if I move away from my familiar environment, away from the city and into a rural environment where I can make space for the 'meditation,' wonderful things can happen.
So last weekend, I took one of those long and winding roads that remind me of my childhood and I opened that gate to daydreams, thought, memory and the sinuous entwining of all three.
I was probably about eight when I started riding away from home – not long after I got my first bike. I lived in the country and I would cycle for miles.
I still remember those days of carefree freedom with something close to bliss. I can still smell the hayfields, the honeysuckle and barberry hedges. I can still see the waving roadside grasses, the endless green fields and the wild pheasants that would fly out and send me wobbling across the road in fright.
I still have a vision of the games I played with the centre white lines, watching them fade away into the distant horizon, wondering what I would find when I finally got to that point that was, just then, an indiscernible haze, nothing more than a blur. I remembered turning corners into new roads - uncharted childhood landscapes filled with secrets, nervous fears and a constant wondering about what would unfold in front of me, who I might see, what I might find to take home as a souvenir of my immense and important journeys.
A coloured stone might do the trick, or a new leaf, a dead insect, a butterfly wing, a broken bird’s egg, or a hawk’s feather that I dreamed of turning into a magic quill that would write books for me.
It strikes me now, that every journey we have ever make is preparation for the next. More than that, it is preparation for the ‘now.’ Everywhere we have been, everything we have discovered along the way, every person we have ever met along those long and endless ‘roads’, has somehow brought us to this point, gifted us with the knowledge and courage we need to go on.
Sitting on a remote beach at dawn, watching the rising sun catch at the clouds, I remembered a childhood of lying on fresh grass, watching the clouds float by. I used to wonder who would be next to see them, after they had vanished from my view; I wondered if they saw the same fleeting 'pictures' that I made out of all that 'cumulus fluff.'
I thought of all the beaches I had stayed at as a child, as an adult.
I remembered a jumble of holidays that glued my childhood horror of getting lost in sand dunes, to the screaming panic of one of my own children, stung in the back by a wasp as we motored through Northland kauri forests.
And the sentence he screamed, now relegated to family lore
"Help, help, a wasp has put his foot in my back."
[He was three or four at the time]
When I sit on a beach, alone, I think of time and tides.
I think of the last time I may have been there.
I daydream about the ebb and flow of love affairs.
Of people past and present, who walk through memory.
I remember my childhood passion for collecting things.
For taking home those little feathery momentos, the sticks, the shells, the pebbles.
I still do it.
And in the act of doing it
Thoughts are loosened, ideas gather, words collide.
Alone, away from the distractions of daily life – phone calls, visitors, the nagging guilt of unwashed dishes, unironed clothes and lawns like unmown fields – I can focus on ‘inner things.’
Unable to view a pile of unanswered correspondence and unwritten magazine features, I can sift through remembered words, gathered sentences and deeply-stored memories, reshuffling them into new compositions with a life of their own.
In the act of remembering my childhood garden, thoughts 'grow.'
The act of nurturing my past enriches my present.
Forgotten nuggets of memory swell and fill out with a new knowledge, a new perception of what my childhood was really like; and how it has informed the person I am today.
It's so easy to let your life fill up with 'other stuff.'
Away from my own environment, I find the freedom to 'see ghosts,' to look back on an accumulation of stored moments - to bring them out, as you might bring out a favourite book, or a gathered shell, to be looked at afresh.
It's like shuffling half-formed ideas - always there, waiting - into some sort of new understanding, of yourself, of others.
The ideas, the memories - they're always there, stored
Like piles of wood
Just waiting for me to be in the right frame of mind to see them, to take them
To turn them into something that works, something that 'burns.'
I see life in the detail of things, in the ordinariness of the everyday.
I live for beauty.
I see it everywhere.
And in solitude, away from the demands and distractions of a modern life
I think more deeply about the way the light falls through the window
About the way darkness approaches, like a stranger in the street
About the bee on a flower that instantly snaps me back to childhood
I used to gather up all my writer’s lucky charms for a trip like this: my little brown book of notes, my little black book of notes, a new book for new notes, my folder full of scribbled notes on old scraps of paper, my pens – new, old and lucky, a stapler, my glasses, also lucky (as in ‘lucky to see without them’), paperclips, three small notebooks for scribbling notes on the run, everything in fact, that had surrounded me the last time I successfully wrote when I was away from home. I'd pack them all into my suitcase. It was about recapturing the mood I told myself, trying to justify the extra weight I would have to heft.
Sometimes I still take notes.
More often I take photographs of the things I know will stir me later
The things that will rustle through my memories and shake free a new awareness.
And I rely, more and more, on adding a new layer of memory.
Over the old
Too be turned over
To be remembered
When next I falter at a fictional beginning.
[All photographs were taken last weekend at Ōtanerito on Banks Peninsula]
Tuesday, January 15, 2013
Wednesday, January 9, 2013
Tuesday, January 8, 2013
"It is a consoling thought that gardens and their laws of birth and death endure, while political crises and panaceas appear only to vanish." - Vida D. Scudder, "The Privilege of Age."
And so it is in the abandoned gardens of the Christchurch earthquake red zones.
As the powers-that-be in this broken city, bicker and fuss over "exciting future plans," once immaculately kept suburban gardens are bursting free of their restraints and cascading over walls and fences.
Until they're bulldozed clear that is.
Once neatly-trimmed front lawns have taken on a life of their own and are welcoming back the small wild animals - the rabbits, ducks, the mice and hedgehogs - to live among their tall, wavering grasses.
Seed heads are tickling window panes; roses and pretty perennials are competing with thistles and dandelions on an equal footing; and front paths have vanished under the layers of foliage.
I've always loved gardens and gardening but in regularly visiting these now-abandoned neighbourhoods in the aftermath of the Christchurch earthquakes, I have developed a new appreciation for the fact that we are only custodians of our spaces, not owners - that the living things in our gardens can only ever be 'managed.' And that once free of those managing hands, plants can show us a new and different beauty as they sprint away from our control.
As I walk these silent, lonely streets watching the demolition of homes and the destruction of gardens and family histories, I wonder why I keep coming back -- and back and back. I think it's because even in their dishevelment, or perhaps because of their dishevelment, the gardens still offer what they always did - a place to appreciate nature, to witness 'the passing of time,' a place to get lost in the reverie of suspended thought.
I celebrate the freedom of the plants.
I delight in roses tumbling, unchallenged, across lawns and fences.
I like the sway of long grasses and their return to a 'grassland' state.
It's a form of natural anarchy.
And in a broken city bursting with new rules, regulations and prohibitions, I find that anarchy charming and freeing. I find solace and beauty in these overgrown places and I wish they could stay, unchallenged, to decline or to flourish in their own time.
But humans don't tolerate the unruliness of Nature very well.
They want to clip it, cut it, snip it, trim it, harness it, control it.
But Nature always fights back.
As Christchurch has discovered.