CAROLE JOHNSTONE

British Fantasy Award Winner 2014; 3x British Fantasy Award Nominee

Thursday, 17 November 2016

The View from my Writing Desk*

I cried when the plane took off (I’m always the princess who gets the window seat, of course). The seat I'd been expecting, but the crying kind of ambushed me — literally out of the blue — and once it had I couldn’t stop. I guess the bigger the blue got and the smaller the green and yellow patchwork of Essex fields got the more it hit home that I was leaving — all of it; all of my home — behind for the first time in twenty years.

It still feels strange to say that to be honest. Not once, in all our preparations, in all the bookings and cancellations and the fucking unending stress of trying to leave behind our entire lives, did it really occur to me that we were leaving behind our entire lives. And at the very moment that we actually did, I started to unravel.

I sort of obsessively collect quotes, always have. And there’s one by Georgia O’Keeffe that I long ago memorised. She was an American artist, probably most well known for her paintings of large flowers, but she also did amazing landscapes of New Mexico, in particular of the Black Place: "a mile of elephants with gray hills and white sand at their feet,” which are just beautiful. Anyway, she was an extraordinary person: a loner, a perfectionist; independent, and, it seemed to me, entirely unconcerned about what other people thought of her. She’s very good for quotes. And this one: “I’ve been absolutely terrified every moment of my life, and I’ve never let it keep me from doing a single thing I wanted to do,” is not only one of my favourites, it’s one of my ambitions. I’ve already got the first bit down pat.   

When we arrived at Paphos airport it was pitch dark. Our hire car grunted and moaned and threatened to stall its way along unfamiliar roads and extraordinarily steep hills. We got lost more than once. By the time we got to the villa we weren’t talking. One of our neighbours was shouting at someone very loudly and angrily in Greek. We had an army of ants in our bedroom. We continued not to speak, drank too much wine, and then fell asleep.



The next day, not even waking up to this view was enough to shake me out of the weird numb dread I was stewing in. I couldn’t fathom it out. We had been saving, planning, dreaming of this moment for the past couple of years; me for far, far longer than that. And yet now that it was here, I felt almost nothing. Worse than that, what I did feel was bad — a kind of low-level sense of dread that something terrible was about to happen — was happening — and there was nothing at all I could do about it. Why the hell should I be feeling like that now, when during all of those years of saving, planning, dreaming — and they had been mostly sad, bad years — I hadn’t felt anything close to as terrible, as frightened as this?

Now. I know what all this sounds like. 
Woe is me; check out the view from my writing desk.
And I know exactly how I’d feel if I’d read this blog post while sitting at my actual desk at work, looking out at the pissing rain and thinking about maybe going to the pub on Saturday as a treat.
I have a year off work. To write. A year. And I’m spending half of it here in this beautiful place high in the hills above Peyia and Coral Bay, where the peace is almost unnerving, and the sunsets wash the whole sky and sea in a brilliant show that lasts only a few dozen cock crows before it's replaced by swooping bats and absolute dark and the invisible chirp-song of crickets. It’s already a familiar joke: “are the cricket bats out already?” What the fuck do I have to be depressed about?

But as writers, we must navel-gaze by necessity. We need to be able to understand ourselves: what makes us tick or tock; why we do or don’t feel and do certain things. If we can’t understand even that, why bother writing anything at all? That, and navel-gazing actually bloody works. It’s just given fancier-sounding, less selfish labels.

The last few years have been sad and bad for us, that much really is true. The worst we’ve ever had. Full of grief and health worries and dissatisfaction. Fear, isolation, miscommunication. And then, once we’d decided to do something about it, full of stress and money worries; no time to relax, no money for holidays or nights out. All with the undercurrent of my disease; its shitty riptides. I relapsed more often in the last twelve months than I have in any year since diagnosis. More tests, more medication, more scares, more stress. And all for this.
This year, this place, this new life which already has so bloody much to live up to.

And most of all — probably most obvious of all, although I didn’t see it until today — I haven’t written anything in weeks. I haven’t written much more than a couple of short stories in months. And all for this. The year where I absolutely must write at least three novels, find a new agent, get The Book Deal, and prove that I can do this thing full-time and not just on a Friday night with a glass of wine in my hand, otherwise the whole endeavour — including the spending of all our savings — will have been an abject waste of time and energy. A mid-life crisis. An over-privileged indulgence.

Yeah.

This morning I woke up, still feeling the same, and to a barrage of emails from home: landlord shit, medical shit that I mistakenly thought I’d managed to escape (though I don’t know who was I kidding; I was told by one doctor not to leave the UK for my own safety, and have spent every day here so far terrified of what might happen if/when I get sick again). But a strange thing happened. Instead of finally swan-diving into the meltdown that I’ve been certain has been waiting in the wings for days, I suddenly felt very calm. I stood at the bedroom’s patio doors and looked out at that tremendous view — our tremendous view — (pretending I couldn’t see the fresh mound of ant carcasses at my feet), and I made myself look and look and look until I could see it even with my eyes tight shut. 

Later, when I was showering after breakfast, I suddenly realised that I was talking away to myself, and had been for several minutes; conducting the endless dialogues and monologues that constantly run through my brain unchecked. What was even more shocking was that I hadn’t even noticed that this had even been missing — that it had gone. And for the longest time.

It feels precarious, this calm, this happiness, this peace, but it’s here, and I’m not about to let it leave. And whether what it has replaced was hangover or performance anxiety or just plain fear doesn’t matter. I know it now; I see it. And it’s getting none of me.

And I can’t tell you how happy it makes me to realise that writing is the answer — whether cause or cure, or both, I don’t care. Writing I can do. It’s the easiest of all my pills to swallow. 
And so it’s time to do just that. To be me again. And most of all, to quit the navel-gazing long enough to remember that there’s someone else in this with me. Someone who’s always, always been in it with me. Through the sad, bad years, and everything before and after them. And now, he’s helping me live out my dreams, because he’s made them his too. Which means more to me even than knowing that he’s always loved me, or that he’ll never ever leave, no matter how terrible I am, how selfish, how sick, how just plain annoying.

What is it they say? Baby, this song’s for you. It’s not our song exactly; more my song for him. A song about him. The man I adore most in the whole world. Because I’ve never known another man who was anything like him. Because he’s never let anything — least of all me  keep me from doing a single thing I wanted to do. Because through everything, he’s always, always been on my side. Because sometimes — often — I forget to say thank you. Or worse, what can I do for you?

(And because if I’m not allowed to be a sentimental twat after drowning in dread stew for weeks then when?)







(*By the way, check out the view from my writing desk:)







2 comments:

  1. This is lovely and so true. Bean is amazing, not just as a husband but as a big brother too. Am so glad you're feeling inspired, and so proud of both of you for following your dreams. Miss you xxx

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  2. Thank you, missus :-)
    Always proud of you too. Miss you too more! xxx

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