Black ants and driftwood, when writing means life

Everyone wants to be a writer. And they should. Leading the dance of words across a page to create a picture that the reader can see themselves in is a privilege, for writing takes time and time is not a given for many in this world.

Truth is, anyone can write. Truly. Like any learned skill, the more you do it the better you get, the easier it becomes. Mostly. Until you get the dreaded block, when words no longer tumble onto a page and sentences start but never end.

Self-doubt is often, but not always, the culprit as we judge our work while it’s being created rather than letting it ebb and flow. Writing, like life is about letting go of the outcome and seeing what comes up. It’s in the failures we learn, the struggles we grow.

Words have, to me, oft been as vital to living as blood. They are how I have constantly made sense of a life filled with chaos, eggshells and uncertainty. When life got “too much” I could always find some solace and understanding on the page, weaving my way through years of eating disorders, depression and disconnection to find a way through.

We all have stories. Whether we share our story with the driver on the number 199 bus, our children over dinner, in a journal or published publicly for the world to read, it’s really all we leave behind. It’s through words that we find connection by sharing our tales of our own human flaws with tenderness and gut grabbing hilarity.

During the year of my mother’s death seven years ago I wrote my way through the humungous loss of the life that gave me life, and published my musings on my personal social page or on my blog. When I didn’t write I would receive messages and notes asking me to continue, for the words that I poured were filling cups of others who too had felt loss.

When I lost my father this year, I lost my words. Though I suspect I had been losing them since Covid came to play the year before.  The elevation of social media vigilantes had me swallowing my words lest I cop abuse for speaking up. Gone were the opinion pieces I wrote regularly for my own travel website while Covid ravaged the revenue that kept it alive. The fear of losing more had me frozen in trauma, unable to flee due to closed borders.

I’m a runner, or rather I should say I was a runner (words are important) until I found home. Discomfort had in the past come with a plane ticket out of here in the belief that I could outrun my broken heart. When I lost my father this year, I had no choice but to stay. Borders remained closed and lockdown soon followed and still my words stuck like a mound in my throat.

I feared the barrage of black ants that would escape my mouth should I try to put into words the hell of watching your remaining parent die a horror death. I couldn’t run and I couldn’t write.

So I drank rosè, a lot, wrestled with my father’s flaws when the estate was revealed, struggled with family fractures, tried to keep my Covid damaged business afloat while Facebook locked Australian media out and ended horizontal with a flu that was a long time coming before shingles eventually also came to play.

After my mother died, I felt like I was on a ship that had lost its ballast, bobbing at the mercy of the deepest ocean unable to return to a balanced spot, the horizon always shifting. When my father passed and I became an adult orphan with no children of my own, that same ship split apart with just driftwood left to cling to, each piece floating alone.

Yet I have never felt as loved as I did when he left. My father.

Friends, old and new, showered me with grief gifts that warmed my heart, soft scarves for the throat in which my words were lodged, candles and oil burners to clear the air that held my tears, food cooked with genuine love for the down days when alone inside four walls. Flowers arrived by the dozen, preserves from gardens held in a jar and beautiful crafted gifts from far off lands to remind me the world, even with Covid border control, is small.

It’s been ten months since I moved to my father’s town, nine months since I sat with him to say it was time to go into care, eight months since he moved to palliative and seven months since I witnessed the final brutality of liver cancer the night before he died. Six more months of funerals and executors and real estates, navigating family dynamics that would floor a woolly mammoth, then packing up eighty plus years of one man and his stories from this earth.

I wrote one poem during this time, for a friend that matters, that’s the total sum of my word dancing. Poetry seemed easier, more melodic, short bursts of phrases straight from the heart designed to touch the skin and move the soul. As though all I could say could only be said with song.

Some days I still feel the black ants while clinging to the driftwood. But the words are slowly coming back, changing shape and flow.

Because writing never really leaves you. The page sits patiently knowing you’ll return when you’re ready, broken words and all.

That’s the privilege of writing, time.

Speaker of ElephantTruths, teller of ElephantTales. Author, writer, journalist, blogger, producer, humorist.

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