[This was the first creative piece I wrote for my Creativity module at uni, and it didn’t end up making it into my final portfolio. I decided to post it here. The assignment was to “rush” a book – what it would be about, what it would include, how, etc. This was my spin on that.]
A decent book needs a decent voice. A decent book about experience demands decent experiences, or at least the knowledge to decently fake those experiences. I do not have decent experiences. I do not have exciting tales of past adventures, and my voice is shaky at best. There are things I could write about experiencing, of course, because I am alive and so I have experienced, but my book would have no dramatic author lighting a cigarette and sipping on scotch, and it would have no battle-scarred narrator holding your hand and taking you through the first trees of a jungle.
My book would have scars. I have not left Britain since I was old enough to properly appreciate that I had, but I have battled in here. My book would retell the first time I tried spaghetti bolognese and decided it was the most simply delicious meal I had ever tasted, and it would retell how it turned to ash in my mouth, my throat trying it’s hardest to reject the food before it hit an empty stomach that squirmed with every piece of pasta that forced its way down. It would tell of my fast-developing hatred of school and the way my stomach clenched every morning I woke up and excitedly awaited bedtime. It would tell of how that want of sleep became bus rides wondering whether we could crash on such quiet roads, before becoming overcome with guilt at the thought of letting the other passengers come to harm just because I was so exhausted with trying to live.
I should write a book about growing up surrounded by a cloud of mental illness so thick it took over a decade to realise that my family, mentally, was the Other. I should write about how much I adore my family, but how absolutely exhausting it is to all hold each other upright when we all want to topple. It would talk about the guilt I felt for resenting my sibling for her attempts of suicide all while yearning for the same. I should tell people about the doubt. I should tell people how I worried I did not have enough reason to be depressed, and how that is not even how mental illness works. I should tell people about the drugs, and the advice, and how slowly I stopped seeing a doctor not because I was better but because I was so damn tired of his breezy dismissal. It should be an eye-opening account of a girl who took twenty years to admit she was depressed, and how I am not better but I am still kicking. But I won’t write that book.
I won’t write that book because of all the reasons I should. I still doubt the validity of my own mental illness even though I have studied and researched enough that I know that no one person has more ‘valid’ mental illness than any other. I won’t write that book because the guilt still consumes me every time I recall all of the horrible things I have thought and I am afraid that if I admit them I am permanently stamping myself as a terrible, irredeemable villain. I won’t write that book because my scars are still wounds and I am afraid they will always be wounds, and a braver or more elegant person should write that book. But their book will never be my story.
There are other books I should write, offshoots from the one tree that represents my life, entangling themselves beautifully with all of the darkest, heaviest pieces of myself, and with the branches that hang highest and proudest. I should write a book about falling in love. I should write a horribly cliché book about her smile and her eyes and her cackling laughter, but I won’t because I am selfish and I want to keep the softness of the curve of her neck to myself, and I want to keep the way my chest swells with pride when I make her laugh to myself, and I want to keep the way she babbles in her sleep to me all to myself.
I could write about her discreetly. I could write about falling in love with another girl in a terribly Catholic school. I could write about the fact that the students were over us within a month but the adults, the teachers, the people I had believed I could trust singled me out, threatened me, made me so scared to come into school that I had to jump over their heads and ask the headmaster for help. I could write about how he was surprisingly angry at them, about how he assured me that there was no need to worry. I could write about how I believed him but the fear did not leave and I ran from that school as soon as I could.
I could write that book, but I won’t. I won’t write that book because I refuse to let my voice be that of a scared teenager. Scared teenage voices are important and beautiful and they hold the hands of thousands of frightened youths, but that is not my voice, and I cannot pretend that it is. I will leave that story to someone less selfish than me; I will leave that story to a willing guide to those troubled teens and I will walk on. They will not tell my story, but they will tell an important one.
The problem with writing a book from my voice is that I am tired of it. I am tired of my own disillusioned experience and I am tired of hearing myself sarcastically mutter, “this is fine.” I am in love with reading because there is little more precious than those few hours where I am allowed to be someone who isn’t depressed or poor or stuck in a town that she loves but knows too well. I am in love with reading because I am in love with other voices, and I am in love with writing because I do not have to relive my life. Being a writer means my voice is every voice, and that is the story I need to tell.
I need to tell the story of something I am not bored of. I need to tell the story of the girl with the daunting family legacy that rips her from her home and forces her to have an adventure. I need to tell the story of a girl who is not the chosen one but is the one that just so happened to be around and so was chosen. I need to tell the story of a girl with the fire of a dragon and the cunning of a fox, because those are things I do not have.
The story I want to write is not about me. The story I want to write is about Her. It is about the sun and how after thirteen days without rain the sky feels so desperate for moisture that it is like walking through a fine powder. It would tell in great detail about the crack of the sky as it splits and rain pounds the tarmac like gunfire and every drop makes your skin feel like it is being torn to shreds. It would tell about the way fear of the ferocity of the storm mingles with excitement in your chest because it feels new, because you had forgotten how the air tastes sour after rainfall and that the tarmac smells like winter and summer are locked together in a dance for dominance. And the heat! The rain stops and it is suddenly still so hot that you are overwhelmed with regret that you fled from its forceful embrace and you long for rain to return so you can join it, so you can remember a cool evening and not just the way walking barefoot made your feet feel like they were made of blisters and your vision swim whenever you entered a building. In the story I want to write you would find me in the fickleness of the weather, undecided as to whether I was up or down, always on the edge of my seat waiting for the downpour.
The story I want to write would have a festival I have never seen. The streets would crawl with people decked out in colour, the town kissed by a rainbow and blessed by an artist’s favourite palette. There would be music so loud and clumsy with joy that it beats the most perfectly performed symphony and every child is screaming along with it, tiny feet pattering the floor with passionate dance steps. The young would rub elbows with the old. Boundaries would be lost and every lone attendee would become part of the whole. Art would drip from every person marching down the street, in poems and songs and masks and paint, splattered over shoulders and sticking to old clothes with new memories. The festival itself would be a celebration of everything. The festival would be a celebration of the fact that everyone at the festival has made it that far. The festival would celebrate the fact that every person there has survived every single thing they have encountered up until then, and it would be a reminder that there is no reason they cannot keep surviving. The festival would be a celebration of hope, and in the story I want to write you would find me in the spirit of that festival, clinging on for dear life.
In the story I want to write there would be a train journey. Through the train window there is barely time to glimpse the world around you; it is an odd experience to move so fast and yet be stuck in one place, unable to move. There would be green fields and grey platforms and yellow shores all within seconds of each other, and yet She would remain in the same dirty white room the entire time. In the story I want to write the people around her would not ask to chat as they boarded and exited the train. They would sit beside her and bury their nose in their book or newspaper and She would sit, eyes focused on a smudge on the glass because to look beyond the window would be to accept the journey, and just because she is already on it does not mean she is ready for that. In the book I want to write you would find me in the nervous turmoil of fast and stopped, of inside and outside, of setting out on a journey to an uncertain destination because life does not slow down long enough to give us time to think.
If I were to write the full story of Her you would need to see all the people that she brushed arms with, all the people that moulded and shaped her and all of the people that made her shape herself. You would need to see their good intentions and see the crumbling road they paved. You would see her mother and father, well-meaning but overwhelmed, and see how she tried to find her own footing but was too unsure and slipped on those rocks just the same. You would need to meet the friends she found at the bottom and see how when they made it back to the top the rest were already gone. You would need to see the rats, the common rats you would already know but the gentleman rats, too. The gentlemen rats, and the gentlewomen rats, of course, who have climbed from the bottom and lost their hope. They are selfish because that’s what life requires, because you can fake class just as easily as all the rest of them and nobody will question the stench of your elegance. They are rotten inside and She will see them and understand them and reject them, because understanding is not acceptance and she will hold onto her hope until it is plucked from her cold hands.
There would be places. There would be so many places that I have never seen and that is why they would be there. There would be red clay begging for a stream that has long dried away, and there would be rivers snaking into the distance, swarming with life and undoubtedly death, too. There would be forests that were unnaturally red and woods of the most shocking green. There would be slate grey rivers and ice blue streams. There would be yellow sand and brown rocks. There would be heat and burning and there would be winds so furiously cold that you would swear the Anemoi had left Greece and were blaming you for their confusion as they tried to find their way back. The nature would be a character itself; it would influence her story, it would shape her decisions and it would be her support and her antagonist. It would be more than a backdrop to her story because that is not the way the world works. How could it be there and be anything less than what it is?
If I were to write a book I would lend my voice to a new story. I have lived and am living my story and it has given me my voice and I will hold it proudly, but it is not the story that needs to be told. I am not enough of a writer to do justice to those people that have shaped me, to the parents and to the friends and to the rats. I am not enough of a writer to tell you about the days of rain and how the grass behind the school building was always waterlogged and we would squelch home, shrieking and bouncing on the balls of our feet. I am not enough of a writer to tell you about the fairgrounds and the lost pennies and the way the excitement buzzed from person to person so vibrantly you could hear it in their voice. I am not enough of a writer to tell you about the woods, about falling into patches of nettles and coming out unstung, about the trees we climbed despite our parents’ warnings, about the fields of wheat and the walls we climbed over, about the rotting plank of wood we placed over the stream so we no longer had to jump from bank to bank. I am not enough of a writer to tell you about the car rides and train journeys and the way anxiety spread to my fingertips for so long that I didn’t realise it was anxiety until it left and only upon its return could I painfully give it its name. I am not enough of a writer to tell you about the ups and downs, and downs, and downs, and I am not enough of a writer to admit that up is still a way off and to admit it in a way that tells you I believe that it is still there, or that I will arrive there one day. I am not enough of a writer to tell you that sometimes bad things happen and there is no reason for it, and sometimes things don’t get better in the way you think they would. I am not enough of a writer to confidently tell you to make the choices I made and I am not enough of a writer to tell you that any outcome is better than any other.
I am not enough of a writer to tell you my truth but I believe I could tell you another truth. I could fabricate something I believe in and it would be more important than my story would ever be. I could make up a story and believe every word so deeply that it becomes true, and in that story you will see me far more clearly than you would see me in any experience I could retell you because you would hear my voice and glimpse my attitudes and feel my values, and that is the story I would write. That is the story my voice is shaped for.
There will always be more stories to tell, and there will always be new characters to add, and there is no point in telling you my story because it will never be yours and yours will never be mine, but I will tell you a story that we can share because it is no one’s story. I will tell you a story that can be anyone’s story.