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.
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.’
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
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.
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.
When next I falter at a fictional beginning.
[All photographs were taken last weekend at Ōtanerito on Banks Peninsula]