Not long ago I stood on my verandah and screamed. I opened my mouth and howled. Out loud. To the forest and the sky and the silence and the mildly, briefly, astonished dogs. And then I burst into tears. So much time, so many hours, slipping through my fingers.
I said to Ant, ‘sometimes’ I said, ‘I feel as if my life is passing me by? As if I ought to have more to show for this, for all my time’. Sorry he said. I’m not sure why. It’s not his fault. But I suppose it was a safe thing to say: Sorry. Later, after supper and wine and telly in front of the fire with a contented cat stretched, purring, on my lap and two still faintly nervous dogs at my feet, I said to Ant, ‘is it enough?’ Is what enough? He asked, ‘is it enough?’ I said again, ‘to just be married and raise children?’ What else is there, he asked, his brow creased with bewildered concern. And I smiled, ‘nothing, there’s nothing else’.
But I still worried, worry, that my time weighs too heavily, that I wantonly waste hours which will slide by and into oblivion. I do. God, do I do. I write remotely, for deadlines that help to punctuate weeks, I organize my children. Remotely. Student loans, applications, flights – nagging in the ether dilutes the urgency, ‘I haven’t done it yet, mama, I will though …’ I cook supper. I walk the dogs. I mark time. I make jam. I am afraid to sit still though I cannot articulate why? That I be deemed lazy? useless? that I think too much? that I go mad.
“We must not think too much,” cries Euripides’ Medea. “People go mad if they think too much.”
But be careful what you wish for. ‘I want to be useful’, I screamed at the sky that day, to the dogs’ alarm as the cat skittered for cover.
A pitch I had forgotten about entirely. Could you do with a writer, I asked, as I ask any number of people in the syrupy anonymity of the ether where it is easy to bluff and feign confidence, never imagining that somebody will demand much more of me than a bit of research, a few words here and there.
And so today – because last week somebody said, ‘actually, yes, we could do – with a writer’ – I found myself bidding Ant and my son, home post grad, goodbye as I was bundled onto a small plane. Normally we’d be sardine-squished in a 12 seater bound for the city and big smoke and sea. Today we were only four; ‘today’, said the pilot, ‘you’re travelling business class’. I smiled nervously. Small plane travelling is not unfamiliar given my dislocated geography of recent years, but it remains uncomfortable; I am not a happy flier. Business class or otherwise. I hunkered down in my seat and dug a distracting podcast deep into my ears and closed my eyes for 90 minutes until shortly before landing so that I mostly missed the wide white empty sky where horizons were dredged with longgonerain dust. Until the sea shore and the city rose to meet us and I hurtled through traffic with a kamikaze taxi driver as the sun collapsed so that buildings were daubed pinkly and street lights began to sputter to life.
A week at work in the Real World. This is what you wanted; Ant says, but kindly, ‘to be busy, useful, engaged’. But now that I’m here, ready to write, to travel, to accompany professional teams on tough assignments, I’m not so sure. I’m a wife and mum. I know how to cook, to nag, to worry about children who don’t Skype when they promised to. I know how to walk dogs, to tell myself stories in my head, to fill ballooning hours with dreams.
Do I know how to be a Professional? To work with a crew who are my son’s age? Who are used to the harrowing turbulence we must face? It would have been so easy to say, ‘no, sorry, would have loved to but I’m busy that week’ (walking dogs, telling myself stories in my head, dreaming, marking time, making jam …) but this feels like a challenge. I must do this. I must grow and learn and lean and stretch.
I’m more afraid of staying still than not.
I tell my daughters of my assignment. Hat says, ‘oh man Ma, my dream job’. Amelia says, ‘cool man mama’. And later, when I confide in her that I am afraid. Nervous. So far out of my comfort zone as to be utterly alien (except for the words, i keep telling myself, the words will be not be strangers).
She says, ‘we are always afraid before, Mum, never during’. So I will hold onto that for now.