Six weeks ago, I embarked on Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way twelve-week course to uncover more of the writer within me. I literally picked the book up when I was looking for something else (or was that synchronicity?), while spending a gift voucher at Farrells in Mornington. Now I can’t believe what it has given me; that I’ve come this far, and the subtle yet powerful changes that have occurred.
Earlier, I walked the beach where I live in this beautiful place on the Peninsula called Somers, in thought, searching for somewhere to start with this. A beginning to the journey that led me to where I have landed. I could pinpoint it to a competition I entered at the eleventh hour during the pandemic, and won. Or to my eldest sister’s sudden death six months ago, and the story I wrote about her that Rafael Epstein read with such open heart on his Changing Tracks radio show. Or even the piece I wrote that was accepted for publication by Occupational Therapy Australia in a collection of stories on how communities have come together during the pandemic. And while I fear being boastful in saying all this, as my inner critic warns me loudly – I know it is permissible to celebrate and share achievement. Because the grit and persistence required for a good story does not always come easy, and I can be proud. I can say to others, believe in yourself and follow what truly makes you sing. From the top of a hill, in the blowing wind, at the break of day, in your loudest voice.
The journey into writing since then, has been phenomenal. So, this piece I write here, is about becoming.
Through the written word, I hope to touch and to inspire. Today though, I seek to broadcast especially, that it is never too late to start. I say this because in my mid-sixties I have a writing block and an inner critic that mock, “Girl, you’re too old. Time to pull up stumps. You’re dreaming again, just like you did in your childhood and teenage years. It’s too late now. Besides, who’s going to read what you write. You have nothing to say”.
But there is also a voice alongside, that barracks and shouts the praise and worth of age – the experience and knowing accumulated over the wear and tear of time. The furrows and peaks; the heartache and despair, the distress, the madness and the triumphs of living.
There is also the knowledge that many great writers: Proust, Twain, Mary Wesley, Elizabeth Jolly, J. R. R. Tolkien, and so many others are proof that age is not a barrier to writing. Indeed, it can be a springboard; a platform from which to write; the experience that lays the fertile ground in which to grow and create story.
But there’s a lot that has and can get in the way, too. Lack of family support or encouragement in the early years. The dampening down of the child that naturally wants to sing and dance and play. The social pressure and need to get a ‘normal’ education, career, and a decent job. Not the airy fairy of writing dreams. Please. Spare me. That won’t get you anywhere.
And of course, there’s the lack of confidence in self; in ability. That builds over the years like a brick wall trapping the soul. Then there’s the relentless demands of adult life. The raising of children and financial commitments of parenting are no short or temporary task. And what of this time we have all just come through and still must endure and get used to, with the pandemic? The uncertainty, the astronomical toll, the burden, the loss. Head down and so much else to care about and work for. However, or perhaps because of that, after an unbroken run through the last two years (and so many more), at or just behind the frontline as a mental health professional, I’ve stepped to the side. Not away, just to a new position, a different posse. Not out completely, not invisible or unproductive and not contributing. But, as my sister would say – same garden, just a different flower in a different row. Maybe also a different bed.
It is also my experience that work can be grounding, and even at sixty-five, I still have stuff to offer. To continue to support, teach and nurture others – because of the experience of age. Just not so much that it saps the energy and zest I now want to give to writing.
And, as it turns out and is said by many – when and where there is a way; a will and an open channel; when the planets and stars align, the writer within emerges or re-emerges, ready.
In her book Big Magic, Elizabeth Gilbert talks about the wonder and creativity that comes to us when we are open. Anne Lamott speaks of this phenomenon in Bird by Bird and other works, as a source outside self, something greater than us that we may be lucky enough to be the conduit of. When we are uncluttered and free.
Alongside this force, this energy, I know lives the grit and persistence of daily work at my desk, and patience, trust and belief in self that goes with it. The magic can happen, alright. Even for an oldie like me. But mostly it’s steady regularity and tenacity at the page, interspersed with a compulsive drive and desire to write. Each day, every day, in the mornings mainly, but sometimes while walking along the shore, riding my bike, cooking a meal, supermarket shopping, waiting at the doctor’s surgery, or in the small hours of night.
When it works, it’s gleeful. To create through written word is a gift, a calling and its hard work. Sometimes it takes years to get the call-up, but like most good things, it can be it can be worth waiting for.