Sunday, August 14, 2011

Dancer in the Dark

Once upon a time there was a little girl who wanted to be a writer. She didn't know why she wanted to be a writer but her grandmother had written books and her grandfather had written books and she pretty much knew that this should be her thing too. She thought that books were cool. She read a lot of them. She thought that a book that had her name on it as the author was about cool as it could get.

Except there was something wrong with her wiring. Whenever there was an assignment that was called "Your own composition", or "Free writing" or even just "Open topic essay" she couldn't do it. Couldn't move the pen across the page. Couldn't make the noisy clamour in her head turn into black and white or blue and white or even green and white on the page.

If someone else wrote it, that was ok. So, she dictated to her mother what her account of the Game Viewing story should be like. Her mother wrote it, and that was ok.

She would wander the fields and the pathways between the mielies and stories sprung from her like those weird jumping beans that came in the post once. She couldn't say who it was who took up residence in her and borrowed her vocal chords, but voices chattered through her like weavers at a nest building convention. Her grandmother, the one who had written books, would say of her - "there she goes again, reading, without a book."

"The thing was," she remembered, years later, to her therapist, "as long as no-one was listening, it was fine. And as long as no one was going to read it, it was fine."

It got so bad, even then, that her letters, simple letters to relatives abroad, or letters home to parents, never got sent. Decades later, cleaning out her boxes of paper treasures, she would discover these little notes. Dear Mum and Dad, we are fine, send more pocket money. Or post cards, with a hippo's bum on the back. Dear Mutti and Vati, thank you for your parcel of sweets. We are fine. Yesterday an elephant got into the vegetable garden.

Years later, with Gmail, her drafts folder, always full. Her finger hesitating over the Send button, nausea clutching her throat.

At University, deadlines made her see white. White, white, and nothing but cold, expansive blank whiteness like a dizziness, like the heroines in the 19th century novels she used to read who fainted dead away. That kind of whiteness.

Of course things got handed in. Scrambled pieces of paper - Compositions. She even got FeedBack. And survived. Even quite liked it. Even though at night sometimes her face would heat up as she recalled what an embarrassingly bad metaphor she had chosen there.

When she first heard the phrase "publish or perish" she shuddered, but held firm with the knowledge that for her at least, the phrase was "publish and perish".

Meanwhile, her notebooks filled. Sometimes she wrote in the dark so she couldn't see what she was writing. She quite liked that.

And then, the theatre. She sort of fell into it, really. In the country where she was studying they had a proud tradition of what they called "Workshopped theatre". This meant that everyone had a go at it, scrapped over it, but then one person ended up doing most of the writing and then giving the credit back to everyone else. And the best ideas always got kind of diluted, bullied, led to the chopping block by the worst ideas, Judas goats of the democratic process. She kind of liked that.

Of course she had plays that she was sole author of. Plays written at computers equipped with the delete button. The cut and paste function. The Save As function. It got so bad, that one day she counted 18 versions of the same play. 18 drafts with significant but barely distinguishable differences.

And then there was blogging. By this time she had learned to play the publish-or-perish pendulum, grabbing the vine when it swung towards a to-hell-with-it confessional exhibitionism and learned to regret the metaphors later. When the vertigo got too much she just pressed Save instead. Save. Save. Save.

Save it til later.
Save my soul.
Well saved.
Saving grace
Save me one, will ya?
Saved to drafts.
I saved you one.
Save the last dance for me.
Saving all my love for you.
Save now.
For later.

Oh fuck it.


The Merry said...

I bet it was hard to push the "Publish Post" button, but I'm glad you did.

Janelle said...

heh! you. i remember that story about the girl in the red dress...and the wild

Jesse said...

Save. Or give it away and forget about it. Just saying. (With my heart in my throat.)

Angela said...

You are a perfectionist, Tammy, trying to do things really really good, or not at all. I can quite understand that (we are related), but it is too much! Just DO it! You are so good, if you only stop pressing your correction button! DO IT! We love your stories! Go tell them to us!

Lori ann said...

you are a natural tam, a gifted storyteller and writer.

how are you and the little one?

Angela said...

I`ve been thinking about you, and it came to my mind that my own teacher had told me I should be a teacher, but I said, WHO ME? I can`t be a good one, I hate school too much. But now that I am grown (finally), I feel I should have started much earlier do what i can, even if it still not perfect. You are not even forty, dear, you needed your own time to grow and make experiences.
But don`t find excuses anymore now. Begin!

family Affairs said...

Same for me - writey write as long as no one could see and then with blogging as long as it wasnt' anyone who knew me - ask me to write a piece on a blank page for something else and I can't do it. Odd. BUT YOU'RE SO GOOD!! Lx