Monday, August 22, 2005

Oh! But you haven't changed a bit!

When I was seventeen I saw Les Miserables and was introduced to one of my favourite theories on life – the concept that there are only a limited number of narratives in life, and everyone in the past, present and future can only live by one of these finite number of arcs.

A little time ago I was so appalled with a book I had been reading that as a calming exercise I mapped out the frustratingly small selection of romantic arcs literature allows female protagonists to follow and tried to create a believable subversion of each. Now I find myself writing about my daily life along a similarly limited and well-known track. As a returning traveller writing about the familiar as the unfamiliar, I am beginning to realise I need to subvert this well worn path just to remain interested in writing anything at all.

At the moment the restraints on my writing are rigid and profoundly limiting. All my descriptve devices and observational habits were formed when I was in a completely different country with nothing but 15 years of being a Britophile to inform me. I saw everything for the first time, I was able to call up knowledge to understand what I was seeing and the enjoyment in and discovery of my subject matter was constant and inspiring. My tone developed over the two years and I worked on a distinct voice, an attitude of enthusiasm for even the smallest happening as long as it inspired me to write.

At the moment I am struggling with both subject matter and narrative tone. The tone is the most obvious defect in my current pieces sitting in draft form on my computer, and simultaneously the easiest and the hardest to fix. I am still missing London, I am still mentally planning the activities that I will do when I get back next week *cough* year, I am still not pleased to be home for such a long time. This inevitably turns me into a vicious writer, my venom and condescension oozing out as soon as I start writing and inevitably the first two paragraphs are fine for publication, but beyond that I get a little hysterical and the results deserve only to be shut away forever, too strong even for to be put on here.

The solution is simply to work towards that magic moment when I accept that absolutely everything has a price, and the price is commensurate to the pleasure you experience. I get a family and a town that holds more friends than I know how to handle at the cost of having to put my real life aspirations on hold. I got a wider horizon of travel and experience at the cost of restlessness and a sense of what I am missing when I am home. I will be much happier when I am able to focus on the pleasure and not the price.

The subject matter is a more difficult matter to overcome, mainly because my strongest inspiration, the visible presence of English history and literature, is understandably rather lacking in Perth. In London I had plenty of other subjects to write about - people, life in a foreign city and culture, travel and events - but the current problem is that at the moment these topics are slender pickings. The people, the places, the culture and the activities are so familiar to me that they are practically invisible, and when I do squint hard enough and see them from a different angle, my observations sound forced and trite to my ears.

Perhaps I am simply far better as a travel writer, perhaps I can only report the different and unusual, perhaps I am not destined to easily spot the story in the everyday that means I can stay in Perth and still write.

My final curse is that I only ever write under extreme emotional pressure, and when travelling my emotions are usually pure and singular. I tended to get a strong and uncomplicated feeling for a new experience because it was clean for me, associated with nothing in my past bar acquired knowledge, mine to integrate into my life story as I first saw it.

On the other hand, when I see something familiar in Perth with my new eyes, I can usually only describe my new feelings in relation to my acquired 24 years of association. With my current writing style this is obviously difficult to communicate in a meaningful manner to those who did not grow up in Perth. It makes for a wordy, heavy, torpid piece of writing, bogged down with back story and qualifications. When I do manage to get a light and fluffy piece out of a day, it ends up sounding condescending and then it’s back to square one.

And so, dear reader, the struggle continues. I set mental challenges each morning so I can start truly seeing what I am currently finding too familiar to notice. Now that I have found a job I can start doing things that I would never usually have done in Perth so they will be interesting enough to write about. Perhaps each time someone sees me and says 'Why, you are still exactly the same!' I will not feel like another person has unconsciously ripped all the lessons I have learnt in the last two years away from me. It is this place that is exactly the same, not me. I gotta get off this damn 'same old story' treadmill!

Originally posted on Exiled Britophile, a blog I updated for about twelve months when I returned home from London. Due to it's frank discussion of how horrid I found Perth, these pieces had only been read by my London readers until 2011.

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