Paper Doves

I like this photograph of paper doves — made by schoolchildren in Seattle, Washington, as part of the World Harmony Run earlier this year — because they look so hopeful, well made. Never mind that they’re lining concrete pavement: a little wind, and they might be off.

Several years ago I was ready to give up writing. No biggie, perhaps. Except to me of course. I’d been writing since I was eleven, and had never wanted to do anything else. Yet the frustration of not getting my work out had completely undone me. I was ready to stop, to tuck that bit away, rather than fail — as I saw it — again and again.

I think it was R who then said to me, probably with more than a hint of irritation: well, what do you want? And I couldn’t answer him. Not properly. I made grand statements, I whined.

That day or the next, self preservation kicked in. If I couldn’t articulate what I wanted, how could I possibly even come close to realising it?

I decided I would have to try — one last time. I made three sentences for myself that encapsulated how I wanted to approach my work (not achieve — those sentences came later!), how I wanted to think about things — in an ideal world.

I deliberately chose areas in which I was most insecure. It took me a long time to make sentences that were easy to remember, but concise, resonant, concrete, in the present tense — and not copping out. Once I’d made them though, I repeated them to myself whenever I could, several times a day. I was willing to try anything.

And almost immediately, something in me changed. I felt stronger. Things seemed possible. Over time, I’m sure the sentences led me to do what I wanted to do. They brought clarity and focus. And — no exagerration — within 18 months I’d published my first book. Scout’s honour.

So when I woke in the night a few nights ago, feeling a little waffly and out of focus, I knew what I had to do. I’ve done it lots the last few years: get the birds to fly.

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