Thursday, 8 September 2011

Blah, blah, blah; with a side order of hope

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

I am fairly conscious when I sit down to write this that I am writing for an audience. Eyes will fall on this. It is not just me shouting at the wall. I am aware that, as with all human transactions, good manners obtain. It is not polite to bash on and on and on about oneself in a dull and repetitive and self-pitying fashion. So even though I give you the truth, sometimes I put a nice little gloss on it. Just a lick of lipstick.

There is a kind of irony in this. This is the only public writing I have ever done in my entire life which is first draft. When I talk to my students, in the workshop I give each summer, I tell them that there are very few immutable rules in writing, but one is: never, ever show anyone your first draft. Not your mother, your lover, your agent, your friend. There is a reason for this. It is because first drafts are bad. First drafts should be bad. That way you can throw everything at the wall without worrying about critical eyes. That way you get yourself freedom. If you try and write a perfect first draft, you will find yourself cabined and confined.

So the weird thing is that, in that way, this exercise is much, much more revealing than anything I have ever done before. You get to see my prose with no polish. If I think about that too much, I get frightened. But in another way, it is liberating.

It’s not quite first draft though. I do a quick read for semi-colons and solecisms. Even so, some slip through the net. Luckily, the Dear Readers very quickly spot, and gently correct. Then I, pushing away shame, rush back and amend.

The thing is, this was never meant to be a dark night of the soul blog. It was just that I suddenly got a lot of death and it seemed fraudulent and stupid not to speak of that. I’m the one who is always banging on about the fascination of the human condition, in all its light and shade. But I suddenly realise that in some ways there is a drama, a rightness, even a nobility, in high grief. Deep sorrow is one of the great human emotions. It sounds a bit strange, but it is not that hard to write about, because it carries a terrible sort of beauty in it. (I think this is because it is both profound, and universal.)

Much harder and more alarming to admit are the third level emotions, the ugly, stupid, banal, messy ones. These compose the detritus that washes up in the wake of loss. It’s not the great, soaring, breaking wave that crashes onto the pristine beach; it’s the shit that’s left when the tide goes out. It’s the plastic bottles and single shoes (why do people always lose one shoe?) and the abandoned tupperware and bits of frayed binder twine. There’s nothing heroic or aesthetic in that.

All of which is a very long way of saying: I had a really shitty day.

There is no need for me to tell you that. I could tell you a funny little story about The Pigeon or The Brother or my lovely tall friend who just sent me a picture of his wedding on a beach somewhere off the Iberian peninsula, and how delightful it was to see two men look so happy. I have stumbled into confessional mode, and I’m not sure if that is a good thing or a bad thing. Perhaps it is just a thing.

This story does have a happy ending, though. Look, look, there, over the horizon, comes galloping The Redeeming Feature.

After my grubby, stupid, tiring, grumpy day, in which I stomped about, thinking what a pointless emotion anger is, I bashed down to the village to do some dull but necessary errands. My mind, clogged with nonsense, was not working well, so I was staring blankly at the freezer cabinet in the shop, unable to make a logical decision, when I heard a voice say my name.

It was my friend K, who, two days ago, had her first baby. I had spoken to her on the telephone yesterday, and gushed my congratulations.

‘I saw your car and thought I’d come in,’ she said. ‘And here is the baby.’


I was so overcome, I can’t quite remember what I said. It was something like: Oh my God, oh my God, there is a whole new human.

I couldn’t quite believe that K was up and about. I always think that when women produce an entire new person out of their stomachs, they should lie down for a bit.

The baby was quite enchanting. Some new babies look rather like Winston Churchill, but this one looked like Robert Redford. He had perfect, smooth skin, and a serene expression, as if he were contemplating the Universal Why. As if he had a damn good answer.

‘Oh, oh, oh,’ I said. ‘Oh, but he is bonny.’

‘You made a person,’ I said.

‘New life,’ I said.

The baby was wearing a very smart white hat, with a little point. I remembered one of my favourite episodes of The West Wing, when Toby meets his twins for the first time and looks down at them and says: ‘I did not know babies came with hats.’

K and her other half and I stood in the middle of the shop and grinned at each other like loons. The baby slept, in his special carrying device. The shopkeeper came out of the storeroom, peered at the babe, and said: ‘Well done.’

‘Yes,’ I yelled. ‘WELL DONE.’

It’s quite weird that I like babies so much. I don’t want to have my own, never have. But I am beside myself when someone else does, and am passionately grateful that they do it so I don’t have to. I think the thing is that when I see a tiny bundle, I see hope. I see great prairies of possibility. I think: oh, oh, all the things they will see and do. I still think it is an absolute miracle that only two days ago there was not a person, and now there is.

And this makes me happy because it means I am not a cynic. Even after a real bugger of a day, my internal thermostat turns out to remain set to optimist. I can’t tell you what a relief it was to be reminded of that.

So, lovely little baby Aaron – Welcome to the world. It’s a funny old place, but I think you might like it.


Pictures of the day:

8 Sept 1

8 Sept 2.ORF

8 Sept 3.ORF

8 Sept 4.ORF

8 Sept 5.ORF

8 Sept 8.ORF

8 Sept 9.ORF


8 Sept 19.ORF

8 Sept 19.ORF-1

Two hills today; one from a distance, in panorama, one slightly blurry from the usual angle:

8 Sept 20.ORF

8 Sept 21.ORF


  1. First draft or's all good and so what if there is a semi colon missing?! There isn't by the way...
    I overuse semi colons; they are my most favourite punctuation mark. Life and death, we all wonder what it's all about but babies in white hats...what more could restore faith? Lou x

  2. You have such a lovely clear voice that comes over in your writing as immediately identifiable as you that I look forward to each blog post. It's like having a quick phone call with a particularly clever, funny friend each day.

    Sorry for the bad day, and glad that there was a point of brightness in it.

    Much love to you and the Pigeon.

  3. Ah, this post made me smile and even tear up a little at the thought of a new little baby, especially one named Aaron (the same as my first-born). There is nothing more optimistic one can do than to have a baby. I love that you allow us to see your "first draft" - Kate puts it correctly when she said it's like a conversation with a particularly clever, funny friend. Thank you for sharing.

  4. Lou - you always say the best things. I am OBSESSED with the semi-colon, and, just like you, use it far too much. But a punctuation mark of such nuance surely should be celebrated?

    Kate - that is such an incredibly kind thing to say. Thank you. My bad day is now officially GETTING BETTER.

    Mary - such a lovely and generous comment. How enchanting that you too have an Aaron. I think it is a glorious name.

  5. "Great prairies of possibility". What a wonderfully evocative phrase. I am nowgoing to attempt to use it as often as it is fit.


  6. Lovely blog, about the miracle of birth and a new personality. Isn't it strange how children born now will never know the 20th century!

  7. I am sorry you have had one of those days. Quite understand as I have been having a week from hades.
    Even though I have a child I still get quite emotional when I meet a new baby.
    Now I'm going to catch up on your other posts x

  8. Kate is completely right about the phone call.

    The shit that's left when the tide goes out: what a perfect description.

    The beautiful, bonny new baby: YES. (Why, oh, why do people assume that if I don't want children myself that I must dislike them???)

    Thank you for an exceptionally fine blog today. And we are privileged to read those first drafts.

  9. Excellent post.

    As someone who's been brought up on an island, I can tell you that among the "shit washed up on the beach" is where you find your real treasures. The perfect shell. A bit of gnarled driftwood. The soft-edged, frosted bit of sea glass the color of a robin's egg. A four-carat diamond ring that someone threw at their lover when they broke up. (Still waiting to find that last one, but you know what I mean...)

    I also never wanted to have kids, but enjoy appreciating them when others decide to. Now, if they'd just invent a baby that stays three months old forever, never needs braces or goes to college, I might look into it! *wink*

  10. Vivien - yes, yes, you are so right. 20th century will just be history in a book to them. Such a strange thought.

    Em - ah, the hades weeks. Yes, yes, know all about that. :)

    Cassie - you always do say the kindest things. Thank you.

    Marcheline - LOVE the sea glass the colour of a robin's egg. What a beautiful image.

  11. Helen - you are kind. Hurrah for the prairies. :)

  12. I want to weigh in too on the first draft as is, it is! -- and I really appreciate your willingness to put yourself out "there" to virtual "strangers"!

    There seems to be one of those baby "booms" on at the moment. Two nieces had eight pound plus boys a week apart, both long, lean, incredibly serene and beautiful. (Thank facebook for those photo ops!)(Both names also begin with "J", all quite coincidental since these two nieces don't really know one another, have never met, live 1,000 miles apart.)


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