The poet Philip Larkin memorably asked : “Why should I let the toad work Squat on my life?”
That toad –WRITING – has squatted on my life more or less since I was born. The golden thread of consistent attachment to writing, or writing’s consistent attachment to ME, has run through the whole of my life. I have always been true to it, in my fashion, during the promiscuous twists and turns of my vocational quest.
At school, whilst other kids seemed to dread their composition ink exercises, I looked forward to mine. It was an opportunity to channel into focused black and white the swirling imaginative colours which whirled round my young brain, fed by my six library books a week habit. I read anything and everything.
This voracity had its downside. Victorian novelist H Rider Haggard’s myth-steeped descriptions of his characters’ adventures in Africa last century fascinated me. But da Silva, the Dutch explorer whose frozen body was found centuries after his death in a cave high up Mt. Kilimanjaro, transferred himself from “King Solomon’s Mines” to the wardrobe in my bedroom, on and off, for a couple of years. Getting to sleep was no mean feat with an imagination like mine!
My ‘real’ life – eating, sleeping, going to school – was incidental to my inner life which was full of the really interesting questions:
“Why are we alive, where do we go after death, do we live on several planes of existence at once, what is happening in other galaxies, if there are x million Catholics and even more Buddhists and Hindus, how come they are all Wrong and Damned and a few thousand members of the Free Church of Scotland are Right and Saved?
What would happen if you unwrapped an Egyptian mummy? I wonder if I could make a shrunken head like the Jivaro people? Why did people paint pictures on cave walls thousands of years ago? “
These issues, fed by reading, preoccupied me for years. I must have written about them, and my essays were often commended. However, attempts on leaving school to obtain my childhood exercise books were met with a bureaucratic “No” .
During my twenties, spent in further education teaching, I had a ‘Personally Speaking’ column in a well-known provincial Scottish island newspaper, a copy of which I was reliably informed went to the British Embassy in Peking in China every week.
I also wrote for the local paper in a small industrial town in West Lothian, Scotland, where I had my first English lecturing job in the local technical college. ‘How I was left on the shelf – and found true happiness’ was my contribution to the West Lothian Courier’s Spring Brides Feature one year. “Couldn’t you have been a bit more romantic ?” was the Editor’s only comment.
Harrowed in my mid twenties by the realisation that time was speeding on apace without my having yet written an autobiography, I then began the first of what were to be many bouts of journal-keeping…….and so the writing went – on, and on, in a dazzling variety of contexts for the next several decades…..
Any writers out there with amusing writing anecdotes? Do leave them in a comment!
550 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2012
Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page
4 thoughts on “On toads, work – and writing….”
I was my senior class poet – and I forgot about the fact until I began blogging! In fact, I didn’t even have a copy of the poem – had not a memory of it except its title.
I so despised high school I threw out all of my yearbooks, so I called the school in Iowa and asked what sounded to be a 20 year-old administrative assistant if she’d dig in the archives and send me a copy of my own poem.
She did, and one of these days I may tell the tale of it. Its name? “Fruition”.
Thanks, Linda! You were more fortunate in your response from school than I was. I’d have loved to have re-read some of the essays I wrote for English in my school. It must have been interesting for you to find out what your poetic ‘take’ on fruition was from your teenage years….. I’ve just remembered writing a poem about my wrinkles – on my 25th birthday. I care a lot less about real wrinkles now than I did about imaginary ones at the age of 25!
Like you, Anne, I am passionate about writing. Many years ago, on a three-day train trip from Vancouver to Ottawa I found myself without paper to write on so I ‘borrowed’ a role of toilet paper from the train’s bathroom. To pass the time, I began to write a long letter on the toilet paper to my friend I had left behind in Vancouver, making up amusing stories about the passengers around me. At one point, when I got up to use the restroom, my toilet paper roll inadvertently slipped onto the floor and rolled away without my knowing. Upon returning to my seat, I searched frantically for the roll. An older gentleman two seats up said with a smile, “Is this what you are searching for?” and held out the roll. I knew right away that he had read my musings…and saw himself in the character I had laid out for him – a down-on-his-luck card player looking for his next ‘mark’!! My face flushed as I stuttered my thanks for finiding my prized toilet paper roll and he winked at me with a knowing look. I had described him too accurately!
thanks, loved this story. I’m sure I’ve also embarrassed myself via inappropriately and inadvertently shared disclosures too. There is also the business of getting so engrossed in eavesdropping on someone else’s life that you lose the place in your own! Years ago, whilst living in the city of Dundee in Scotland, I was on a late bus back home to a fairly unsalubrious area of the city (being a social worker then, I was pretty broke). I became so wrapped up in a fellow passenger’s riotous tale of the sequence of events following a drunk man’s having put his hand up her skirt whilst she was standing in a fish and chip shop queue, that I missed my bus stop and ended up walking home in the rain and dark through some pretty mean streets….oh well, I KNEW it would make a good story some day….