May. 7th, 2010

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“I must write. If I stop writing my life will have been an abject failure. It is that already to other people. But it could be an abject failure to myself.” - Jean Rhys

There are days when I look at my life and I think, with terrible clarity : This is it. This is my life. I?work at a job which is tolerable and which is tolerably paid (though not enough for rent to never not be a scramble), without a partner, though with good friends, without siblings, though with good parents (and what happens when they’re gone, when I have no children?) What if it never changes? What if this is all there is, until I’m just dead and forgotten dirt in the ground. The sheer fright of that is breathtaking. And then I cling to Rhys’ quote, and to Katharine Mansfield’s struggling with words and her sense of self, and to Elizabeth von Armin mocking the Man of Wrath and Virginia Woolf’s parable of Shakespeare’s sister and eloquent arguments for financial and mental liberation, Ann Patchett realising that she had become a waitress with a graduate degree and the need to write herself out of one life and into another one. All of these women, all of them, with their fierce conviction that writing will save them, is the only thing that can save them, and I mumble their words over and over in my head on the grounds that waving is better than drowning. Where does this conviction come from, this knowledge that words are the hurricane lamp for when the lights go out? Maybe because writing is at heart an expression of the self, and you’re the only person who can save you although everybody will help you, some people are very kind - but love from others will only get you so far, and then you’re on your own, little bunny. And for women in particular, the issue of self expression is still as knotted and complex as it was when Woolf was writing.

Maybe my life will be what I want it to be, but I can’t sit back and wait for it to happen, I have to make it happen. As my father says, the bell only rings once for the start of the race, kiddo, and you don’t want to be limping coming out of the gate. Will writing without publication, with an exhausting day job that leaves me scrabbling to pay the rent, with a minimal pension fund at the end of my days, probably without a partner or children, be enough to get me round the track?
Question: Can you change, can you adapt enough to keep swinging each time life throws you a curveball even if you know you’re striking out? More importantly, can you remain kind throughout?

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February 2011

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