The same side of two coins?

He said, “I’ve never written anything just for fun.

I wish I could show you the look of absolute incredulity on his face as he said it.  I’m sure it was identical to my own expression at the time.  You see, he was responding to my remark that my writing group “gets me writing things I wouldn’t normally, just for fun.”


I could see it in his eyes.  Did Not Compute.  Whereas I couldn’t process the idea of writing not being fun.

He has a message to deliver to the world, and his writing life is geared towards developing the right voice to broadcast his message.  I am the kid playing in the corner with coloured pens and strings of words while the grown-ups do the Important Stuff.

Good for him.  And good for me too.  Both approaches are equally valid.  We all have our own ways of being and our own ways of writing – not to mention our own reasons for doing it in the first place.  There’s no one Right Way.  Your way, his way, my way: they’re all right.  And one day, for a time, I might adopt his way, or he might try mine, or we might both discover yours.  If it works, do it.  If it doesn’t, try something new.

I have to end with one of my favourite quotes.  I’m not sure I fully understand it (I am, after all, a child at heart), but I love the playful use of words, and it seems appropriate to so many things.  It’s from Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead:

For some of us it is performance, for others patronage. They are two sides of the same coin, or, let us say, being as there are so many of us, the same side of two coins.”

Suffolk non-fiction writers’ group

I am going out on a limb and starting a local support group for non-fiction book writers:

Do you have any tips for me?  Any pitfalls to watch out for?  And if you’re local, do you want to come and play?

They are not your people

The words I read came from the heart.  Admittedly, they were written a long while ago and never fully polished.  Perhaps they weren’t quite ready for a public airing.  Plus, they were a part of something longer which hadn’t yet been completed either.  And the audience was expecting a fictional story, not a personal essay.

Is that why the words were misunderstood when they were read to an audience?  Is that why the listeners took issue with the philosophy when all they’d been asked for was a view on the writing itself?  Is that why the whole thing was so painful and annoying?

I learned three things that evening:

  • Make sure the work that you share with others is work that you are truly happy with.  If you have none ready, share nothing and keep writing.
  • If they don’t understand what you’re saying, check whether you’ve written what you thought you had.  What’s clear in your heart and head may not be clear on paper.  It doesn’t mean you’re wrong.
  • If you stand by your writing and your words, then those who didn’t understand are not your people.  They can be your friends, but they are not your audience.

The day I danced

This story was written for my writing group in response to the prompt, “the day I danced”. It’s fiction.

The door slams. Chris has walked out on us – again. I lay my head on the back of the sofa and sob – again. The baby in my arms continues to scream, apparently without drawing breath. My shoulder is damp with drool and tears. I hold her out in front of me and look into her red angry face, screwed up like a paper bag. The noise scrapes across my every nerve.

“Your father is a git,” I tell her. The piercing yells continue unabated.

We have named the baby Alice. I can’t reconcile the name I loved so much with this creature who seems to exist only to torment me. People say babies look like their fathers so their fathers will love and protect them. This one looks like nobody but herself and her father can’t stand to be around her when she cries like this. Sometimes I walk out of the house too, when it all gets too much. The difference is that I take the baby with me. Somehow the noise doesn’t seem to overwhelming in the open air, but there is still no escape from it.

I stand and begin to pace the floor along the familiar route. Five rocking steps from the sofa to the kitchen door, a swooping turn, eleven steps to the dining room door and another four to the wall where I turn and sway and retrace those twenty steps in an endless joyless dance. Can it really be only six weeks I have been doing this? Sometimes she finally sleeps, but not this time.

“Oh, what’s the point?” I shove her into the Moses basket lying by the sofa, grab it by the handles and dump basket and occupant on the kitchen floor. She is clean, changed, fed and warm. What else can I do? I close the door and return to the sofa. The curtains are closed in the vain hope that the baby would think it was night, but I can’t close my eyes; the screaming has got louder and even more intense.

Fight fire with fire. There’s a CD of rock anthems next to the stereo. I slip it into the slot, press play and turn up the volume. Ah, the restful sound of wailing guitars, crashing drums and passionate vocals. For a moment I lean on the wall, drinking in the change in mood. Nirvanah. I almost laugh at the wordplay in my head, then catch a particularly piercing screech from the kitchen and inch up the volume again. I close my eyes and my head begins to twitch in time with the drumbeat. My mosh-pit days are long gone but the reflex is still there, like an itch.

I push myself away from the wall and lean in to the music. First a full-on neck-wrenching, head-spinning, hair-flicking mosh, hands on knees to stop me falling over. But even in the old days I could never keep that up for long and as I begin to feel dizzy I switch to flinging myself around the room like a crazy person. Jumping, stamping, waving my arms, I sing along at top volume to the screeching lyrics. I fill the small square of carpet between the sofa, the stereo and the walls with my writhing and gyrating and hardly notice as I knock the overhead light with my arm and set it swinging above my head. Limbs flailing, thoughts gone, I am the music. Energy I thought I’d lost is pulsing through me, moving muscles I’d forgotten I had, spinning me in all directions and swirling up a storm as I dance how I used to live – wildly, passionately, but distinctly lacking in grace or rhythm.

I’m panting now and my head is spinning. As the song comes to a crashing end, I stand still in the sudden silence and push my sweaty hair out of my eyes. A forlorn wail comes from the kitchen.

I listen for a moment, focusing on dragging gulps of air deep into my chest. The next song begins with a moody guitar solo: More Than a Feeling. I grasp the wooden doorknob and feel it smooth in my hand. Opening the door, I hear her sobs over Boston’s familiar lyrics. I look down at her. She is writhing helplessly in the Moses basket in her little pink babygrow, real tears squeezing from her eyes. Poor baby. I lift her to my shoulder, my right arm supporting her bottom, and stroke her back. I cup the back of her tiny head in my left hand. What little hair she has is wet.

Back in the living room I sway gently to the soaring vocals and big guitar riffs. We glide smoothly, following the ribbon of sound over a rolling landscape that flows on forever. My pulse slows and I rest my chin on her soft head.

“Ssshhh,” I whisper. “This is dancing. When you’re a big girl you’ll dance too. You’ll wear a beautiful dress and you’ll love the music just the way Mummy does.” She is still crying but I’m listening to the words of the song and thinking of my baby all grown up. We move to the music, floating around the room in the semi-darkness. “Sssshhh, little Alice. Mummy’s here.”