After a day of writing in this Covid world I’ve taken to coming out into the backyard on dusk, beer in one hand, secateurs in the other, and in the cold crisp air of the Macedon Ranges, I cut up dead things. Garden-y dead things. It’s a deciduous garden and I’m a lazy gardener so it’s like all these twiggy branches have been waiting for someone for many seasons to do something about their excess growth and it’s taken a pandemic for me to notice and so here we are.
Each week I fill up the bin. I could be more generous in the length size that I cut to save time and to get through more branches because there are seriously a lot but I’m finding it’s not the tidying up of the branches that is my motivation but the actual act of cutting. It brings me back into my body after a day of being in my head, calming in its repetitiveness. A meditation in branch. I see parallels to a Japanese tea garden. The idea being that the walk through the garden to the tea house is just as important as the tea ceremony itself. It gives one time to leave one’s ego behind, to come into the space, back into our bodies, humbled, as equals. When the bin is full and I return to the house I feel I have regained my equilibrium.
I’ve been thinking about my writing life too and how protective I am of it even in this world where I receive emails each week asking if I can do extra work at a testing station or contact tracing, and I could, but what would happen to this. This sitting with my thoughts at a desk seeing what I think. Isn’t my role as a writer contributing to this world too? I mean I hang on the words of the writers I admire to see what they make of all this. I need them as my guides, to normalise an otherwise abnormal situation. When I tip into working too much in the health world I feel my imagination becoming trapped. ‘Imagination,’ says George Orwell, ‘like certain wild animals, will not breed in captivity.’ I’ve found if I pay no heed to this and work more hours I am contributing to destroying the writer self.
I wish I could be satisfied enough to work full time as a nurse and come home exhausted and sleep the solid sleep that I do on the days I work as a nurse but it isn’t enough.
I recently read a beautiful moving essay The Clear Days by Josephine Rowe about living and writing through a Montreal winter and she quoted these words from a Louise Bourgeois exhibition:
What counts as our whole purpose is to try and understand what we are about, to scrutinise ourselves, … Everyday you have to abandon your past or accept it, and then if you cannot accept it, you become a sculptor.’
That’s what I’m trying to do, for better or worse: figure things out. Whether anything comes of it, whether it puts food on the table, I’m realising it’s my lot, my love. Some days I wish that weren’t the case, but even on my ‘days off’ I find myself deep in an essay, which in turn riffs off into wild ideas about this and that, like this piece, and the eternally curious mind soars in those moments. How else to be.
In tandem with my garden sojourns and my writing life I’ve been reading Hayley Katzen’s honest compelling memoir, Untethered. Urban academic Katzen moves to a 200 acre cattle farm in northern NSW to be with her farmer love, Jen. A dusty, horsey, big skied landscape, Katzen struggles to adjust to life on the land, a place at odds with her identity, and her loneliness at being away from things that are intellectually important to her. I felt the push and pull of the physical farm work, more valued than ideas of the mind. A community where she often felt out of place and her constant quest for home. I watched her fledgling writerly life take hold as she found her voice both on the page and within the community and I admired her persistence, her days of invincibility and days of despair.
I took Katzen’s story with me into the garden. It gave me hope that when circumstances change and we imagine we’ll never settle into a different way of life, we do. We get up each morning and there we are.
It’s important we find things that comfort us, that help focus us. A seat in the sun, some earth to dig, a friend we can call, a quiet corner with our furfriends.
Stay safe my lovely friends. x