An Excavation

Stuck. It feels heavy, bloated. A pregnant sense of anxiety and shame, forms, like a weighted balloon in lining of my stomach. I try to spit out the words to form, straight, neat, lines of black. A white page sits and stares at my ineptitude, a glaring materialism of my thoughts. It’s happening now, as I sit with my laptop, my journal and my pad of paper. Each page is blank. And so is my brain. Numbed to the point that all I am aware of is the fact that I have to write. I need to, and yet, its like someone has pressed freeze on the remote control attached to my brain and I am frozen with the pen hovering above the page. Surely, it should be simple, the pressing of thoughts on paper? There is the simple transfer of thoughts, the motion to write it down. Hand following orders and grasping a pen, scores lines on to the page. If we look at it microscopically, it is a pretty incredible feat. Just how thoughts form at all – in all that matter made of water.

But I am straying from the matter at hand.

When I walk, I rarely think of anything other than stories. Formed out of people I see in the streets, a glance that wasn’t meant for me, a note that was found plastered on the wet pavement. While moving, I am a writer. Characters are present with me, almost bound in flesh, only while as the world goes by. But, stationary, I am nothing. My thoughts consist of my wants. Food, sleep and entertainment that requires nothing but the ability to watch, unblinking.

I am not entirely certain where this began exactly, for in my youth, I was infamous for the various tales I would write and clumsily bind with glue and paper, folded twice.

My parents rarely throw out anything. I occasionally joke that I will return, only to find a cityscape made of stacks of paper, books and newspapers, deemed too important to destroy. I will have to make my way through a maze of broken furniture to reach them, their room a bed in a jungle of objects. As a result of this habit, I still have a large collection go childhood creations and school reports, filed in a red suitcase the far left corner of the attic. Inside is my literary achievements, from the age of two to fifteen. Looking through this trajectory, we can see the progress of my writing, and in many ways, my life.

It naturally begins with the standard creations made by most children aged two to five. Animals, family and friends are of primary focus, and clearly my main focus. My own writing is somewhat illegible, but aided by abstract illustrations: faces constructed out of misshapen circles and sticks, uniform houses with peaked roofs and four square windows.

As I age, the stories move into the imaginary, leaving reality for a world which is more expansive and colourful than what can be seen outside the frame of my windowpane. Life at this age is wonderfully creative. While my writing skills were understandably poor, as a child the realm of possibility were seemingly endless. Having seen little of the world, other than my tiny corner of Scotland was no issue having lived vicariously through books and films and stories from a young age and immersed in tales my family spun.

The grief of moving into adulthood is the loss of this feeling of absolute freedom. I recently decided to ice skating with some friends, after having not visited in some years. I remember as a child the absolute freedom that accompanied gliding on the ice, and the speed in which I could nimbly race. I had naïvely expected to feel the same way when I arrived at the rink. However, upon stepping on to the slick ice, I experienced an overwhelming sense of fear and apprehension, clinging to the battered plastic sides for support. As I stumbled my way around the circumference, I watched as children glided by, racing and twirling with a carelessness that astounded me. It is the same sensation that I feel when I think of writing. That yearning to leave the edges and jump right in, feet first.

I remember at primary school, when individuality was still admired by peers, that I was employed by my classmates as a form of writer during playtime. We would wander round the concrete confines of the playground and act out the narratives I would spin, creating the worlds in the spaces of our imaginations.

There was a point, I believe at the age of ten, where the inevitable ending for each of my poor characters was a grisly death. There is a trend for children to do this at some point, I have noticed, after watching my brother and his friends do the same thing. Looking through this collection is baffling, due to the sheer amount of blood and guts which are central to the plot. It is possible that this fixation of death, and the mutilation of the body is a response to the awareness of death, and the temporality of our existence that comes during childhood. As a child, I recollect going waterfall climbing with my cousins and coming across the corpse of a sheep which had fallen and drowned in the current. It was half bone and half wool, its face a mangled collection of bones. My cousin, who was older at the time, explained to me that the sheep had been thrown down by the giant who maundered these hills. If any creature dared cross his path, he would throw them, carelessly to their deaths.

It is after this brief, crimson tinted hiatus, that my writing noticeably changes. Shifting from imaginative stories consisting of adventures and epic battles, to sincere depictions of people and relationships. Writing, I have noted, seems to have become a tool for me to preserve memories and feelings. I used to sit, eyes tightly clenched, and make myself remember. I would travel through memories and places. Even at the age of twelve I appeared to be aware that memories could only be suspended  through the act of writing them down. Even now, memories seem to slip and fade and change shape with each act of remembrance. The adult mind see’s things differently than a child’s, and those simple sweet memories captured with innocent eyes are transformed with the thinking of an adult.

I have a three page document in that suitcase in the attic, which draws the precise details  of my grandparents home in Ireland. I remember writing it clearly. Room to room I would travel and recollect exactly how it used to look, smell and feel. Having not set foot in the house for more than nine years, reading my twelve years old recollections was chilling, and left me lost in years of forgotten memories for days.

Moving into high school, there was naturally the self conscious phase, where the fresh feelings of teen-hood are scored onto the paper as a way to express feelings that were too choked to state out loud. It’s almost unreadable, this collection of years, with its bloated statements and hyperbolic expressions. But they were not written for the purpose of being read. In fact, I am certain that my thirteen year old self would be horrified at the thought of others reading the hidden turmoil that is bit into the page.Writing became, and has continued to be, a private act. Unseen. In comparison to the participatory qualities of my childhood, I began to write for myself. Not for the product, but for the act of writing.

When I was sixteen, I stopped writing entirely. I cannot remember exactly why, but I believe it to be a combination of fear and laziness. My mother used to say that “practice makes perfect”, when trying to persuade me to play my violin, and while it fills me with dread, the statement has held true. Not having written for over five years had led to a stalemate of anxiety and apprehension, and like my experience with ice-skating, a fear of failing at something I want to be great at. In the last few months I have tried to loosen my tight grip on the handrail and take a first, stride into writing. While it may not be with easy grace, with time and practice perhaps I will fall less.

I haven’t conquered yet, but I have hope.


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