I’m sitting in the garden. Late afternoon sunshine. Now and again a cloud drifts by on the breeze. It’s summer. The flowers are vibrant. So many colours there surely can’t be names for all of them. The only clue I’m walking distance from the centre of a city is the low hiss of traffic. From this distance you could mistake it for the sea.
I’m writing. As if life wasn’t good enough already. Words tumbling onto the page. All tangled now. Putting me in mind of the multi-coloured mass of wool in the bottom of my grandmother’s work basket. Waiting to be sorted. Never quite submissive. I love words. And wool. How can you not love a material so versatile as words? You can use them to inspire. Question. Woo. Rant. Soothe. Weave stories. Make pictures. Paint songs. Modify moods. Create atmosphere. Change the world. The words I write today may go no further than the pages of my pad. Or perhaps they’ll flow. Grow into poems. Blog posts. The bare bones of a novel. Who’s to know?
I’ve loved words all my life. As a child I used to lose myself in stories. My own and other people’s. I can’t remember not being able to read. The words became my refuge. The safe place where I was in control. Insofar as you ever can be when it comes to words. A million miles from the hostile grown-up world.
I don’t know why we love to be so miserable. I wouldn’t mind betting I’d have hated reading those first two paragraphs a year or so ago. I’d have found myself brimming with a grumbling resentment. A covetous longing for the writer to be as unhappy as I was. Our lives are filled with bills and obligations. Promotions. Unpleasable bosses. Picky partners. Keeping-up-with-the-Joneses. I was far more grown-up thirty years ago than now. If being grown-up means you have to be downtrodden.
It seems it’s not enough to be miserable alone. It’s become a moral mission. People on benefits are not as miserable as those in work. Apparently. They must be made to suffer more. Workers are in danger of being happy. They must labour longer. For less money. Have no security. Zero hours. We’re made to feel suspicious if anyone crafts life differently. We resent her freedom. Hate her non-conformity. The system’s punitive. Guilt-based. Rooted in fear.
And as for children. Their lives are fast becoming as miserable as adults’. It’s ‘achievement’ all the way. Whatever that may mean. Forget play. Imagination. Creativity. A drive’s afoot to eliminate all three. As early as possible. I sat in the back of a classroom a year or two ago. The end of the afternoon. The teacher was reading a story. My favourite part of the school day. To lose myself in words again. It wasn’t happening here. Every few sentences the story was interrupted. Not by fidgeting children. By a list of targeted questions. Designed to elicit understanding. I was fidgeting by the end. Never mind the kids. How to destroy a perfectly good story. No wonder so few children want to read.
And so I grieve. For words. For childhood. Those who’ll never learn to play. Imagine. Lose themselves in stories. The truth is life can be creative and fulfilling. That’s surely how it should be. We only have the one time here on earth. Why spend it doing things we hate? Where’s the good in that?
I came in from the garden. Made chickpea sweet-and-sour and sat down with a book. Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones. A single sentence jumped out at me. We have a responsibility to treat ourselves kindly, then we will treat the world in the same way. Maybe we’re so busy chasing security and wealth we’ve forgotten to be kind. Especially to ourselves. We indulge ourselves instead. New shoes. Comfort food. Binge drinking. All bring temporary relief from the relentless cruelty of the world. Kindness goes a long way deeper. Kindness is sitting in a garden. Late afternoon sunshine. Playing with words. Choosing beauty. If only for a moment. Walking with happiness. Kindness is learning to love yourself. Knowing you can’t fully love another if you don’t. I wish I’d understood that years ago.
I’m blogging to raise funds for a charity close to my heart. I’ve given up NOT being a writer for 125 days in support of One25’s work with vulnerable women in Bristol. If you’ve enjoyed reading this, you can find out more about what I’m doing by visiting One25’s website at http://www.one25.org.uk/. You can also support them by visiting my fund raising page at http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/fundraiser-web/fundraiser/showFundraiserProfilePage.action?userUrl=JeanMutch where you can make a donation and suggest an idea for a short story or a post on the blog. Thank you.