Feed Your Soul

I’ve had a number of well-meaning friends come up to me recently and ask me about my writing. When’s the next book coming out, they ask. Are you writing? How far along are you?

I give them the same answer I always give when asked about my writing: I’m working on a couple of projects right now, and I’ll let you know as soon as the books are finished.

The assumption by many non-writers (and some authors themselves) is that once an author produces a book, or two (or four, in my case), the writer will continue to produce books at the same pace. While this concept might be true for many writers, not all of us follow the same path. For some authors (myself included), writing is a soul-filling (and sometimes soul-draining) process, but it’s not the only creative occupation that fulfills us.

I’ve dedicated over ten years of my life to writing books. I also, at the same time, helped raise two kids, worked two jobs, and supported my family and friends when they needed me. The writing was a lot of work, and it required a lot of time away from my husband and children. I didn’t mind the sacrifice then because, at that time in my life, the writing fed my soul in an important way.

But since the release of my last book in 2016, my family situation has changed. My children graduated from college and are now living and working on their own. And my husband and I have found ourselves at the age where we need to make decisions about retirement, our long-term life and healthcare goals, and how we’re going to do some of the travel that we’ve always had on our bucket lists.

I’ve also discovered in recent years that I yearned to explore some new ways to feed my soul. In the past three years, I’ve learned to bake my own bread, spent time exploring glass painting, and my husband Dan and I have created a successful monarch butterfly sanctuary in our yard (Follow me on Twitter to hear more about this). I’ve reconnected with old friends and family members, and Dan and I have started to do some serious travel to other countries.

I’m also still working part-time, teaching college business classes and doing some work for publicity clients.

Does all of this non-writing activity mean I’ll never write again? Of course not – I have a memoir outlined and have begun the sequel to one of my earlier novels, Favorite Daughter. But is writing the primary activity filling my soul right now? No. And that doesn’t mean the end of my writing career; it just means that I will write again when my soul calls for it.

I know there are some career writers out there who scoff at the notion that writing is only for those who do it every day without fail for years on end. But for many of us, writing is only one of many ways that we find creative expression. It fills a special part of our lives, but it may not be the only occupation that does that. And that’s okay with me, and my soul, for now.

Photo by David Clode on Unsplash

Wherever You Go

girl runing away from a lamppost with her arms backDid you ever have to move countries to find the freedom to write? It’s a bit more aggressive than leaving home because you have a case of the suffocating creativity clap that you just can’t shake.

Needing separate space to create is a real thing. Yeah, I know, it’s all in our minds—wherever you go, there you are—but it’s true. And sometimes, a seismic geography shift is what it takes to snap the cords and bring you closer to self, truth, and bravery.

I grew up in small town New Zealand. You didn’t get clapped on the back for being creative. On top of that, my idea of art was to move like a Solid Gold dancer to Richard Clayderman (don’t hold it against me), write like Virginia Andrews, and paint like Monet (one of the only painters I knew by name).

Think low social economics, too; we had no classics except Treasure Island on the shelf (next to the wad of NZ Women’s Weekly and Reader’s Digests), and the closest to maestro was Dad strumming Ghost Riders in the Sky on an ill-tuned guitar. We had family art on the wall, but Mum shot it down for not looking real.

It felt like only a couple of people understood the depth of my need. I’ll take this as my chance to say thank you to Diane Wana (I’m sorry it’s too late—I hope you always knew. To Patrick, her son, instead—your Mum changed my world) for her encouragement and for trusting a 12-year-old girl with The Bone People.

I wrote.

I was shy, but my potential to know fear and run towards it was strong. So I said yes to travel with my grandparents for a month at 11. I heard about exchange programs at 14. Bingo. I told Mum and Dad, “That’s what I’m doing… And I’ll be going to a country where English isn’t the first language, thank you very much.” I was a pretty uppity 14-year-old, with all my ass-pir-A-shuns.

At 16, I walked away from academic surety and took a year to fuck and get high in Brazil. Whoops. I mean to promote peace and study hard. On my return, Lord knows how I got into the courses I wanted, but one psych/English lit degree later, plus a year of waiting tables and bartending, I had a thousand bucks in the bank, so I moved to Europe for two and a half years.

The whole time I was searching, listening, looking at myself and the world around, thinking, “I could write that. I really think I could.”

But there was the fear. So there I went, making do; waitress, chauffeur, translator, pot seller, fudge delivery van driver, waitress, unreliable English teacher and picker of fruit.

You see, my fear of competing against white privilege meant I continuously went for the low brow wins that relied on map skills, grit, flirting, and common sense.

I penned words on serviettes while waitressing in Chelsea, on bartender order pads, on my driver’s record book that tallied which rich or famous person I delivered as though they were chicken carcasses, and I wrote in my Škoda waiting in Brixton’s high-density housing estates. Waiting for women to ‘turn up’ (I knew they were there—felt their bodies hiding behind scratched up doors). I was determined to sell them my gilt-edged cookware. And these Nigerian and Ghanaian women were determined to feed me, laugh, and make me a second wife to their brothers.

“You are good for my brother—I’ll call him!” To her friend she’d grin, turning me with warm hands, “Look! She just needs more here,” pointing to my arse, “You need to eat more fufu.” Phone calls were made, my velour rug got stood on by kids, the pans glanced at, and yes—desired—but nine times out of ten, I‘d be turned out with a full belly and empty pockets.

But I’d write—about the houses, the lack of furniture, the marriage offers, and the laughing that always unsettled me, the doubter, the five-, six-, and ten-year-old in me that was the youngest butt of too many cousin jokes, she recoiled. I sat in my little Škoda, stalking clients, and writing.

My New Zealand home was, well, tougher. When I arrived at Mum and Dad’s, my pen slowed. I sat on the terrace, senses on fire. I was on a cliff gazing absently at sunlit green seas and a freaking steaming live volcano.

“Thanks, Mum,” I’d say as she proudly served me a latte (“We have a machine now”). The bush smell that I missed so much was blowing in from across the road.

The ink dried after four sentences. That was it. Shut down happened. I couldn’t write a Mills & Boon if my life depended on it.

What’s your deal? Do you get the urge to write in your childhood home? Eyeball your Dad over the roast chicken then write furiously in your childhood bed? Do words just flow when you’re sitting at the kitchen table you threw cheerios off?

I’m hoping there’s a shift, cos I’m about to head home. Maybe the veil is down. Maybe I’ll take my advice and write through the feeling. I figure it’s all about noticing when you’re in avoidance mode—when you feel possessed by a sloth spirit.

I’ll walk into my composition book, pen like a dart, and write just one word.

Photo Credit: https://pixabay.com/en/girl-at-night-running-cloud-162474/