Wednesday, 27 November 2013

The Somewhat Empty Nest Syndrome

Birds engage in brief acts of sex. Mother bird makes a nest lined with down. Baby birds cheep-cheep-cheep. Mother bird finds worms and rams them down their throats. Baby birds get restless, peering out the world above, below, about. Baby birds take off, wobbly and at risk. Who said the world is your oyster? It's a freakin' galaxy out there. Mother bird slows down, hangs out more at home, not having to be such a tireless provider. The nest is quiet. No more squabbling over worm bits, long discussions and reprimands. The nest is very quiet. Mother bird can... relax.

I don't know how it is with you but this nest is emptying. There is an uneven flow going on, and though Youngest Man is still here advancing through high school, my Older Kids are disappearing. Contrary to what goes down in Italy where men have been known to remain until 50 obeying Mamma's calls to breakfast, lunch and dinner, my kids are mostly out of here. The Boyz in town for study and work. And SopranoDivaDaughter - following her calling to Verona - has moved out to that glorious city.

Of course there are nights where there is a familiar invasion of young people when a massive bowl of pasta must be prepared, choc-peanut butter brownies made (plus banana cake); beer stuffed in the fridge. And then the thumping music goes on until the next morning and I find bodies on the couch.

But lately things have been quiet.

Unbelievably, I have had stretches of unbroken writing time. I'm no longer running a taxi service. I'm no longer filling my car with as much fuel as the green tea I drink in a day. There are fewer desperate phone calls about buses being missed or pains in the belly, or appointments to see angry teachers about wayward sons. Well, okay, it still happens, but less now.

The wildest thing of all, is that someone has given me my brain back. Not totally - there is always a heap of garbage going on - but little by little I'm regaining lost territory, lost time. I'm not so tied up in knots. The neverending span of my years of mother-of-toddlers/kids/teens might be setting in rosy panels in the west. I'm almost ready to open another bottle of red wine.

Is that allowed? Wasn't I supposed to feel a gulf, a chasm, when they all started to leave? Is it okay to be so, um, relaxed about it? Looking at friends still strugging with small kids, is it okay to think oh what a long ride it was?

I'm not saying it hasn't been good. Or authentic. I've even managed to write a lot, considering. But that's been broken up, busted through, harangued, left there like a lover I've treated badly. Now, I think it's time to roll up my sleeves, put on my writing beanie, get cracking at dawn when I come back from the bus stop and there is nobody in the house to rouse. This is what I have been doing lately.

Writing bliss. The nest almost empty. Is this allowed?

Friday, 8 November 2013

A Reading, a Visit to the Queen's Front Yard and the Inevitable Pair of Boots

Those who know me well know that I pack a good suitcase. I've been doing it for a number of years now. Even with house-moves I excel, though after nearly twenty of them that's a talent I don't wish to exercise any time soon thanks.

So late last week I packed two-and-half outfits, two pairs of shoes (one high, one low), the book I couldn't bear to leave behind, a stash of face cream samples; I adorned myself in my beloved Ethiopian silver and took off.

This time it was just me and my work. No auditions for the soprano. No great social happenings. No shopping moments. Not even very much food on the menu except for a Lebanese meal and an attempted Yummy Mummy morning tea. I took the cheap bus from London to Plymouth, where I'd been asked to read from my story 'Montgomery Akuofo, Father of Twins' at this year's launch of the review Short Fiction, at an event within the Plymouth Book Festival. ('Montgomery' is in Pelt and Other Stories.) The issue is full of touching artwork and well-crafted stories. It's an absolute thrill to see one's work in such a beautiful production.

As you see here I spent a sunny morning wasting time along the seafront, before a quick run-through with colleague Rachel Fenton in her hotel room.

Of course I have no photos of the way I was clutching my book that evening, not looking up (AT ALL) at the university lecture theatre above. Or showing the way I tried to plant my feet a little apart to lessen my chances of toppling over - a real risk given my thumping heart and new slick boots. Or how I steamrollered over the rude words ('cock', 'bush' - twice!) so as not to laugh or meltdown.

I had a good half-pint beforehand. This is strongly recommended.

One of the best things was of course meeting writer Rachel Fenton, especially over from New Zealand, with whom I had a drowned-rat experience in the driving Plymouth rain the night before. Rachel won this year's Short Fiction Short Story Prize and read a section of her wonderful story - and I'll interview her later on the Pelt blog and grab an excerpt. Other wonderful aspects were the cocktail afterwards at the university and a lovely dinner where I was able to speak more with Chief Editor Anthony Caleshu, and Assistant Editor Tom Vowler, both of whom are top writers with good tips.

After the endless journey back to London my bum was so paralysed I walked halfway across town with my gypsy bag rather than sit down again. The Queen was in, perhaps.

So this author has come back to the ranch buzzing. In fact, after even further writerly talks in London she woke up sleepless and frazzled last night and had a terrific idea for a bit in a story she is revising. So what did she do? She picked up her phone and half-blindly typed it out. There. This is what writers do, isn't it? The 2.43am brainwave?

I read my brainwave this morning after the alarm. What garbage. Even worse than before. Cancelled.

The one thing I did grasp from each writer I spoke to, is that there is a greater shared passion for words, a yearning to read the works of others and to get our own work right, to produce the very best from the bowels and bones of us.

And we are all so fragile and disbelieving and moneyless. The lot of us.