I’m quite surprised how quickly blogging has taken over my thoughts. Although I’ve been writing roughly one blog a week since I started a couple of months ago the constant narrative of my mind is repeatedly weaving ideas for blogs in the same way that when I focused on fiction, everything was an opening for a story.
This isn’t surprising. When I worked as an actor I immersed myself in plays and scripts, so the whole world took on this hue. Everyone was either an actor or a liar, darling (to quote the famous quote) and everything played out like a drama.
I used to resist the idea that occupation was identity but it’s pretty clear that what you do shapes how you present yourself, how you engage with people, how you react to and regard the world.
I started this blog as something to do while I was avoiding writing a novel. Life had become a tad overwhelming and while fiction is a great way to escape, process and understand the challenges life throws up the last few years have been of such a nature that real life was all I could think about.
In short, I am trying to beat a passage through memoir back to fiction: clearing the decks of the mind so that I can weather the rocky voyage.
To beach that metaphorical ship, my big challenge of the moment is building a deck. Not a massive challenge in itself. It’s not a huge deck (3m x 5m) but it will make a big difference to the cramped, steep section I live on. It will take the place of a rose garden that had been laid out with pavers, concrete and retaining walls which I’m sure was lovely for the old couple who once lived here but is a waste of valuable space for a solo dad who shares the care of an energetic 5 year-old.
I enjoy the digging and shovelling, and to make the time fly I’m listening to a massive audio book, The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton. It’s a door-stop of a tome at over 800 pages so I have 30+ hours of listening to enjoy. I chose it not out of patriotic duty (the first New Zealander to win the Booker Prize since Keri Hume) but because I always read the Booker winner as they’re invariably enjoyable. I don’t have the time to sit down for 800 pages so listening to it while doing physical labour is the perfect way to consume the narrative.
It’s a great read. I say that as any audio book rests on the performance of the reader of the text, and with 22 major characters this is a BIG challenge.
Mark Meadows, the reader, does a wonderful job with all the accents required (especially as an Englishman navigating pakeha, Maori, Chinese and all the rest), and I often laugh out loud as the melodrama of the dead body and hidden gold twists and turns in a romp that has usefully been described as Deadwood on the West Coast (FYI while New Zealand has two major long islands, only the west coast of the South Island is referred to as the West Coast. The North Island has the East Coast, for some reason).
I have a strong connection to the Coast as my mother was born there to a family of migrating Scots miners. I go there each year with good friends to a rugged bach that hugs the deserted coast that once teemed with the shanties and make-shift hotels that populated the region in the gold rush. The miners and camp-followers have left little trace of their presence but you can certainly feel it.
And, of course, there’s nothing like swinging a pick while hearing a story about miners swinging a pick.
As I began to break up the splintering, rock-like clay underneath the erstwhile rose garden I realised another connection as the last time I was swinging a pick-axe I listened to another novel about West Coast miners, The Colour, by Rose Tremain.
It was about 8 years ago and I was digging a 40 metre trench to connect power to a just-built studio. It was a much bigger job and a much lighter book. The reader made some awful pronunciations of NZ words; real howlers that somehow underlined that the novel had been written by someone who had never visited NZ.
Another connection is that half-way through digging that trench I badly sprained my ankle at work, ending up on crutches for 3 weeks with months of rehab before I could walk freely (and finish the trench).
And this is the crux of why I’m building a deck… ‘to clear the deck’, because in 11 days time I am undergoing a procedure that will put me on my arse (and crutches) for many months.
I have a bony growth on my right heel caused by an old injury which is pushing against my Achilles tendon causing constant pain and discomfort. I have suffered from it for nearly 6 years. It’s been a real battle getting it recognized, treated and seen to. I have had 2 rather uncomfortable ultrasound-guided injections through the Achilles into the inflamed bursar that causes much of the pain but neither sorted the problem.
The surgery was planned to occur in February and I had been working towards that, but suddenly it was changed to the start of November…hence my panic at needing to move heaven and earth on a crowded deck.
Everything that needs to be done in the garden and round the house needs to be done now or yesterday. I know what being on crutches means, and it makes even the little things a challenge. Sure, you can make yourself a cuppa and a sandwich, but how do you carry it to your chair?
So, maybe you can understand why I seek diversion in romping fiction and the physical labour I will shortly be incapable of? There are other reasons but this blog cannot be a rambling catalogue.
I wanted to write about how much it upsets me that I will not be able to walk my daughter to school holding her hand. I love our physical relationship and know that as she grows in age and size she will be less and less inclined to clamber up onto my shoulders so I can carry her to the shower or to her bed. I so adore the way she hooks her big toe into my belt or pocket on the way up, swings her leg over my shoulder with great effort, letting out a relaxed sigh when she achieves her perch.
And, looming large, in 9 days it will be 2 years since my mother died.
It is so much on my mind.
She died on 11.11.11, which is Remembrance Day. Once, as she was waiting to die, I suggested she chose that date. It’s funny what gets said in the face of the unimaginable.
So, 2 years and 2 days after 11.11.11, the surgeon will severe my Achilles, slice a chunk of bone off my heel, staple my tendon together and close me up. It will only take an hour. The recovery will be ‘extensive’.
The irony is not lost on me that my Achilles heel is my Achilles heel.
Should the procedure not work or make things worse (both are possibilities, I have been reading chat-rooms about this operation), then the irony will be even greater. Given how things have played out over the last few years I can see the story going both ways.
But that is the nature of good stories. You never know exactly what will happen.
The Luminaries has that mystery. It both reflects and deflects life. The Colour did not. It was obvious, adding nothing to the world but a way to pass the time.
Writing this blog has taken me over an hour of my time. I could be digging the piles for the deck, mowing the lawns, taking a machete to the jungle in the top garden, clearing the path to the house so my crutches don’t get caught, rearranging the house for my recovery, washing the windows covered in sea-salt, tidying up the planting I did the day Mum died in preparation for her anniversary… but these thoughts need to get out of my mind on to the page (so to speak).
You can’t achieve everything. The inevitable and the unexpected must be faced.
It’s time to go outside and swing the pick, lost in a world created by a gifted writer, free of my pressing concerns.