Last night, as I was attempting to finish “Another Country” by James Baldwin, I knew exactly what I was going to write today. In the quiet small hours of this morning, struggling to keep my eyes open, but determined to read just one more page, one more paragraph and one more line; before the book started to fall out of my hands and I was jerked awake by its movement, I had the words in my head.
Now, the words have gone. And this morning when I woke up I had to reread all the bits I thought I had read last night. I had read them, but I hadn’t digested them, they had rolled up to my eyes and then slid off back onto the page where they belonged.
I found “Another Country” to be interesting, challenging and sometimes difficult to read. Reading Baldwin’s words were like living in one of the affairs he described. At first it was new and different and sensual, then it became familiar, later I wanted to put it down and leave it but couldn’t. Finally I had to finish it, no matter what. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy the book. I enjoyed Baldwin’s writing, but his characters unnerved me, probably because I had never met these characters before. They didn’t live anywhere in my life. I felt slightly uncomfortable with some of their decisions. It is perhaps a sign of great writing, the ability to make your reader feel uncomfortable, but still want to finish the book.
I wish I could write like that. Lately I’ve thought I could write like that. The stories float through my head and I ache to put them down on paper, or at least on the virtual paper on my screen. But then my life interferes. I have yet another meal to make, more dishes to wash, laundry to do, children to organise or drive around, work, work, work, study and, last of all, friends to catch up with. The time that is my own is very late at night, when it’s all I can do to keep my head straight on my shoulders as I lose myself in whatever crappy or not so crappy show is on TV.
How do other writers do it? I’ve often heard of female writers who scribble long hand on large yellow pads while their brood of six run rampant through the kitchen. They then present their publishers with best sellers and are set up for life. How on earth can they do that? It is all I can do to try to turn off from the daily noises around me, the television, the chatter, my youngest son’s guitar. Then the questions – always the questions when I want some quiet time. Telephones and computers are like magnets – as soon as you are occupied on them, they draw your children closer and closer, with no hope of escape.
But one day I will find the time, or make the time. Right now though I have to do the shopping…