Posted By Tania Kindersley.
Last night, I made a noise. It came out of nowhere. It went: ah, ah, ah, ah. It was quite loud. Even though there was no other person to hear, I felt slightly embarrassed. I was brought up in the Irish tradition, I live now in Scotland, it’s all Celtic fringe with me, but I lived my formative years in England. So there is that English thing of not doing drama; the great tradition of phlegm, of not making a fuss. Don’t make a damn fuss, says the voice in my head.
The noise went: AH, AH, AH, AH. It was like the beginning of tears, but there were no tears. There was no water; everything stayed dry. My shoulders started moving up and down. There was a tremor through my body. AH, I said. I breathed out, like an exhausted racehorse. Bloody hell, I said.
At once, I thought: I must write this down. That is always my instinct. When it is written it is true; on the page it makes sense. Maybe the thing I love the most that was ever said about writing was Chekhov’s stern instruction: if you hear a gun go off in the fourth act, you must see it loaded in the first. My own little trope, the one I have used over and over again, is: in actual life, you don’t even know there is a gun.
I was always rather proud of that. I think I thought it quite clever and correct. But now I see that I am with Chekhov, after all. In my gut, I want the first act to make sense of the fourth act. That is why I love the written word. It’s not just for the prose, or the rhythm of a sentence, which, if you do it right, can sound like singing, or the sometimes cunning or surprising placement of a semi-colon. I love it because it makes sense of things that make no sense at all.
If I can write a thing, then it has a pattern, a truth, a meaning. If it is not written, then it is just life, which is too messy and random and inexplicable. It has no shape. It has no sense.
Even now, as I feel the tap tap click click of the keys under my fingers, I feel my shoulders start to come down, and the sensation of movement return to my tight body. When people talk of writing as therapy, I think sometimes they make a fundamental error. It’s not the spilling of the stuff that brings reason back; it’s the shaping of it. We can all share with the group, and I don’t underestimate that. I talked to a man today who lost his dad two years ago, and there was a huge relief in that. ‘You know all about this,’ I said, and he smiled and nodded his head, and I knew I would not have to make excuses or explain the oddity.
But the writing of it is a different thing. It is not the telling, it is the gathering into complete sentences. It is the plain, comforting fact that there is a beginning, middle, and end. It may be that I am a little freakish that I find comfort in that, but I do. There is something about the lovely, sensible, comprehensible black marks on a white page that fill me with relief. As long as I can do that, all is not lost.