Lately, people have been asking me where I get my characters from. I chuckle to myself when greeted with this question; semantics aside, the word ‘get’ conjures images of me plucking characters from shelves when out doing errands, perhaps wedging the unruly ones in my hand basket so I can admonish them under the pretence of a phone call.
Why do universities often make things so much more complicated than they actually are? Is is a power thing? A desire for exclusivity and advantage? A justification for fees? And how do these translate for a young person keen to take up a primary teaching position? Should a warning label be attached?
Writing means so many things to me, things that are hard to express because the mere act of language infers distance. (And lately, there’s much more space than I’d like between my mind and my laptop screen.) Although writers often wax lyrical about connecting with readers, and I do value that immensely, I suspect that I write mainly for myself. Writing helps me to process issues, experiences and conversations that sometimes need a lifetime to break down. Writing encourages me to clutch memories before they slip away with time and distance – like here, where putting these words to the page catapulted me to a time, place and event that changed me forever … in ways that I am still uncovering.
I can’t pinpoint when ‘Be kind’ became a campaign, but it’s safe to say it was borne of the pandemic and a few attention-grabbing headlines involving some not-very-nice celebrities (that means you, Ellen). Before long, this worthwhile, seemingly self-evident sentiment evolved into a ‘movement’ of sorts. And therein lies the problem.
Pandemics have a habit of placing humankind on the back foot. To everyone around me, I may have looked like I was (finally?) slowing down, but my brain was on high alert. Anxiety does that. Thoughts take you where they will – rationality, optional. My mind, nerves and heart revved constantly, gearing up for destinations unknown. Meanwhile, I left a few crumbs in case I got lost … which, for a while, seemed to be often.
But it recently occurred to me that I wasn’t lost at all. I was simply changing.
Get fit, brush up on French, update the kids’ scrapbooks, publish my play, experiment with other forms of writing, be grateful.
That was the list I wrote after the shock of the first lockdown settled, somewhere around April 2020. It was part ‘When life gives you lemons’ and part ‘If I stay busy I won’t have time to think about seismic changes in the world.’
Most people will tell you that a blog is meant to offer something of value to readers, the idea being to satisfy, and grow, one’s following. Many blogs read like a recount (‘What I’ve been up to…’), usually underpinned by a healthy dose of self-promotion, admittedly a necessity in today’s industry. I’m not really interested in these things. So why the hell am I blogging?
When I was in my final year at Duke University, I pushed a pram from Durham, North Carolina to Washington, DC as part of a relay team to raise funds for long-shot US Presidential candidate, John B Anderson. The year was 1980 and Anderson was running against the incumbent, Georgia peanut farmer, Jimmy Carter and Hollywood movie star and former California governor, Ronald Reagan – a race that, after 2016, no longer sounds absurd.
Over the past few years I’ve logged about thirty reviews for CBCA’s Reading Time. I take the role of reviewer seriously – maybe too seriously 😉 – and always aim to be thorough and fair. This means identifying a book’s weaknesses in addition to its strengths. Readers have told me they appreciate my candour, but I sometimes worry that I’m a lone (grumpy) voice in review-land.
If I ever write a memoir, I’d probably title it Survivor. When it comes to my, ahem, eventful life, Grateful Dead sums it up best: What a long, strange trip it’s been. Perhaps that’s why I haven’t written one. I’m not sure I’m ready to hop back on the trauma train. But I’ve been ‘dabbling’, a somewhat cavalier reference for mining my memory banks, occasionally jotting down snippets. And I’ve been thinking – lots of thinking – trying to connect the dots. That was B.C. – Before COVID-19.