137: Paying It Forward

Posted on October 6, 2016

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A shamefully long time ago, girlfriend Babushka (urf Babaloobie, aka Babs) very kindly tagged me on this really nice get-to-know, that I obviously put off because one of the things I *excel* at, is procrastination. And today, since I have about two tonnes of bread-butter work to do, I decided it was the perfect time to potter about, guzzle a few litres of iced tea, do the fandango with my to-do list, and write out this fun meme as I inhale stacks of Reese’s peanut butter cups and relish an unusually hot day in my Work From Home best.

YES, dear reader, all one-and-a-half of you (hi ma!), it is a PAY IT FORWARD THINGY.

Babs has custom-made this questionnaire about life and what we squander it on, in her classic really-thoughtful style. And I promise to do a sincere, decent, not-flippant job of answering it. I may be making up some of the answers, but think of that as a nod to Elena Ferrante.

Thank you Babs, for thinking of me. Here we go!

What does writing mean to you?
What a cheater-cock question, catching me off-guard like that. It’s a toughie, so I’m going to reach out for some very excellent help that’s readily at hand. A legend has said this, and it captures what I prize the most in writing:

“The most important things are the hardest to say. They are the things you get ashamed of, because words diminish them — words shrink things that seemed limitless when they were in your head to no more than living size when they’re brought out. But it’s more than that, isn’t it? The most important things lie too close to wherever your secret heart is buried, like landmarks to a treasure your enemies would love to steal away. And you may make revelations that cost you dearly only to have people look at you in a funny way, not understanding what you’ve said at all, or why you thought it was so important that you almost cried while you were saying it. That’s the worst, I think. When the secret stays locked within not for want of a teller but for want of an understanding ear.”

― Stephen King (who else), The Body | Different Seasons: Four Novellas

Writing, to me, is bridging this gap. And my wanting to be a better writer, is just me wanting to be a better bricklayer.

How do you break a writer’s block down?
I can’t. So, I don’t. I let it come and I let it pass, all on its own terms. I do the dishes. I take long walks. I let YouTube autoplay out its recommendations (which somehow always lands up at Sia wailing?) It doesn’t frustrate me if I’m not writing good material as often as I should. While I can be ambitious about writing often, I can’t be ambitious about writing good stuff often. So that voice simmers to a gentle nagging at the back of my brain. But when the block has passed, things come back just as quietly too. They simply show up like a really late friend, sheepish and really insistent on giving me a gift – a shimmering first line.

What is your idea of a good piece of writing?
Anything written earnestly. There is no greater magic than reading something written with a clarity of ache. I think of all the labours of writing, the one I appreciate most is a writer’s commitment to the exactitude of her feelings.

What are some of the things you look out for when you travel?
Open spaces. Fallen leaves. Spots to lie down and contemplate the colour of the sky. Trails for long, long walks. Thoughtful things to give friends or take back home. Cake. Friendly pets. Ancient, crumbly buildings. Clean loos.

What is/who is your favourite/best travel companion?
Curiosity. Spontaneity. Money. Never leave home without any of them.

When was the last time you were mesmerized, and by what?
I have so many answers for this one. But in the interest of brevity (heh) —

When I visit a gallery, I’m always overwhelmed. Like a hyper-child, I’m privy to so much wealth, my eyes glaze over in a super-excited stupor, and it takes me a while, in increments, for me to gracefully get over just the simple things: the awe of being in the presence of a tangible artwork by an artist, the fact that I’m standing in the middle something that made more than a dent in history, all that actual mastery that I want to break down and take away as some half-ass theory… And then, there is always this one piece that surpasses all of these trivialities and just rings at my bones.

This happened when I met this innocuous painting called Undergrowth on the third floor of the Van Gogh Museum. It dates back to Van Gogh’s term at the St. Paul Asylum in Saint-Rémy. In a place where he had limited access to subjects, he paints this lush undergrowth with a force that lingers like a presence. Something about its meditation, its urgency moved me to tears. Up close, the canvas looks like a mess made with fingers. And yet. And yet. As I passed painting after haunting painting on that floor, I couldn’t help but turn back to Undergrowth, and take it in with new eyes across several distances. As some of the literature that I read about his work said, “Van Gogh’s genius is not that he painted because of his insanity. It’s that he painted inspite of it.”

Describe happiness in a picture.
Opening your front door for the first time in three days, and being greeted by a double rainbow.

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
I wish I could remember things more, and I wish I could remember things better.

If you could give one thing about yourself to someone, what would it be?
My slay abilities at thinking of and giving gifts. This, of course, is not innocent of motive.

What is your go-to stress-buster?
Making stuff with my hands. Lonnnng hot showers full of nice-smelling things.

Where do you go to to find peace?
Long walks or runs along not-oft-visited roads. My grandfather’s old sweatshirts. Sometimes, chocolate.

I don’t know many bloggers personally that I can pose these questions to, but since Babs was looking for new blogs, here’s some inspiring stuff that I’d love to share, because they’re beautifully made, they say brave and important things, and I find myself going through these time and again:

https://deep-dark-fears.tumblr.com/
https://www.incidentalcomics.com/
https://www.instagram.com/lastnightsreading/
https://diaries.turmericdesign.com/archive
https://thealiporepost.wordpress.com/  (but of course!)
https://nationalpoetryday.co.uk/wp/poem/
https://www.youtube.com/user/schooloflifechannel

I hope this has been fun for you as much as it has been for me! If you too would like to do this meme, leave me a note in the comments. Or simply just write the answers, and link me back – I’d love to read your responses.

Much love, peas, and potatoes.

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