I’ve just discovered something and would like to share it, and to know if others have had the same experience.
This afternoon, at three-thirty, I drove to my son’s primary school to collect him and his friend Edward, who was coming to our house to play for a few hours. The pick-up went as they always do: I chatted to other parents as we navigated the school yard, talking about holidays just gone or upcoming, swapping details of tradespeople, babysitters, restaurants and the like, until the bell sounded and the doors to the classrooms were flung open. I watched my eight-year-old son tumble down the wooden stairs to the yard, laden with his schoolbag, football, the craft creation of the day, and dripping bits of paper from his unzipped bag as he made his way towards me. Walking beside him was Edward, who was looking straight ahead and talking, to me, though we were still a good five metres away from one another.
Edward continued to talk to me through my greeting, our walk back to the car, as he buckled himself in, and while I rolled down the window to greet a mother I’d not seen in the yard.
On the ride home, Edward talked my son and I through the day’s catalogue of injuries, one of which was particularly galling because it came exactly atop an injury he’d sustained to his knee the day before, which was also a spot where mosquitoes bit him. He listed his worst-ever injuries, in order of where he was in the world when they happened, then explained they were nothing in comparison with what would happen when the tsunami came tomorrow. He said the tsunami would come from the north and would reach his house by the end of the morning, just as it had in the 1700s, the decade in which his sister had been born. By my silent reckoning this meant the tsunami would be rolling in from the arid lands of northern Victoria, an area usually prefaced with the description ‘the drought-ridden area of’, and his sister is considerably older than she looks.
I assured him that I’d listened to the weather reports during the day and that no tsunami was forthcoming. He replied this was good since it meant we could visit the café he went to on Saturday with his mother, where he ate ham and cheese pancakes and was served by a bearded man who has lost twelve kilos since Christmas. He said his meal at the café was so filling that he could get through only two-thirds of it, maybe three-fifths, but that if we ordered something else from the menu we might have better luck finishing. He said that we should definitely not order anything with honey in it because honey is bee spit. The pancakes were very good, he repeated. They were probably the best thing he’d ever had now that he thought about it. But not as good as the party he was going to on the weekend, to which my son has not been invited.
The drive from the school to our home takes eight minutes. Edward did not waste one second of it. His monologue was funny, tedious and intriguing in turn. I marvelled at his ability to move from thought to thought with absolutely no self-consciousness or self-censorship. I was slightly jealous.
Prior to driving to school I’d been sitting at my desk, berating myself for frittering away a whole day when I supposed to be writing an article that was due the next morning. It happens sometimes that I find myself with a blessedly open day immediately before a piece of work is due. The weather was overcast, the phone was quiet and the house was clean. I had a fresh pot of coffee to one side of my laptop and a neat pile of notes to the other. And yet, the words didn’t come. I’d interviewed a perfectly lovely and articulate woman about her new book and had only to fashion the interview into an article for an editor I know to be supportive and approachable. But I didn’t type a sentence worth keeping all day.
Then, in the car, while I was trying to keep up with the stream of babble from the back seat, half-listening to the news headlines from the radio, noticing I needed petrol, and that the car in front of me had a broken brake light, it came to me in a rush, a gush. The whole structure of the article hit me like one of those wide, clean, quick-flowing rivers you see in Canada, and I knew which quote to start with, how to whip the middle mess into shape, and how to close with a snap. It came seemingly out of nowhere and for that brief moment, while I could still hear a faint wash of noise in the background, I experienced the only moment of clarity I’d had all day.
When we arrived home, I stayed in the car for a moment scribbling notes onto scrap paper while the boys played in the front yard. I wrote and wrote until I was sure I’d captured enough to allow me to write my article properly later on.
Now, I may be wrong but this suggested to me that I hadn’t been able to think before because I’d simply had it too easy. I’d had the luxury of solitude, silence, and hours and hours in which to stare out the window. As soon as my sleepy, meandering, half-baked thoughts realised they had to fight for their space they did so. Maybe they were itching for a challenge or a reason to rise up with ferocity.
Obviously, one can’t write with an exuberant child chattering in their ear. For writing you do need solitude, silence and time. So I didn’t begin working from my car notes until Edward was safely back in his own home, where I now know he lives with an unspeakably patient family. But to kickstart my thinking, to wake me up, and help the adrenalin to flow I really needed Edward today. Perhaps I’ll invite him around next week too.