In the midst of all the upheaval in my life lately, I’ve been thinking of my Nan Marquinhas and my Great-Aunt Alice, and their seemingly incongruous ways, more often than usual. They were a steadying presence in my early childhood, and as I grew up I found them always full of a philosophy of life that felt natural and intuitive, but which often seemed to jar with the world around us.
At least, they seemed to jar with the world as I was being allowed to perceive and learn in the city, where everything was new, glittering, fast — and passing me by. Life was changing in the village too, and though there I was far less sheltered than in the city, things somehow seemed more linear, and Great-Aunt’s and Nan’s pronunciations didn’t seen so out of place somehow. Maybe it’s just that city life appeared so glamorous and safe, so new and benign… I wonder how I could be so drawn to the unknown: was it because it was the world my parents inhabited?
“Always expect the unexpected”, one of them would start almost as soon as I finished any of my frequent I never thought sentences, and whatever the story I was telling them. I always came back from the city full of silly everyday stories to share, and some other more important things I wanted their comments on, but didn’t want to ask. No soon one had spoken her little wisdom, though, the other would then immediately complete the thought, as if they were extensions of each other, sharing the same mind, the same reasoning: “Because you never know what’s round the corner.” And round the corner would then come the advice I was secretly needing. Unexpected?
This philosophy was useful in all sorts of situations, including some of far less levity. Other times there were when mystery and secrecy — and a light but pervasive scent of fear — would pierce the quiet and darkness of the night, as if part of it. Great Aunt would shush the conversation, adding with a knowing look at the rest of us, “You never know who’s on the other side of the door. Or what may happen if…” The warning would linger for a long time, seemingly suspended around the four of us: what may happen if someone hears us talk about this. And so we’d shush the conversations we shouldn’t be having, turn down the radio station we shouldn’t be listening to, check the locks as a pretext to take a look outside. Those were dark, difficult times.
For whatever reason, this is one of the pieces of advice they had for me that seems to have stuck: always be flexible, ready for changes of plans, conscious that things often do not turn out as one wants or has them laid out. And also, be careful. Be mindful. It’s never out of place to be mindful in this world, no matter how fast it might be changing. I can almost see them now, one sitting by the big table and the other standing by her side, her hand on the door frame and her back so humped she seemed to be leaning at an impossible angle. Their voices suddenly ring inside me as clear as today, framed by their big loving smiles, little welcome bits from a past now long gone: See, you weren’t counting on that, were you…? Always expect the unexpected, little bird.
And I do. If I hadn’t learned such lesson from my two beloved old women as a child, life in general, but certainly the events of the last few years, would have taught it to me — only, the hard way. Life is not gentle, I remember Great-Aunt also saying, and even though she always had a soft smile on her thin, Paris Geranium red-pink lips, and a caress at the ready on her fingertips. Life lessons that would serve anyone who cared to listen well: back then, and in our mad, mad today.
… … …
So, what else have I been up to, and what bits of ‘unexpected’ came my way this week? Well, nothing overwhelming or terrifying. Life seems to have settled into its new routine, with Mom a bit more accepting of the constraints now imposed on her.
If I’m to be absolutely honest, I’m struggling to keep up with all the work this house needs, and taking care of Mom so comprehensively. As was to be expected, I don’t seem to have time to go out in the garden any more, let alone maintain it. It’s all overgrown with weeds, seedlings sprouting all over the place, ghostly fruit bushes the black ice killed last February standing helplessly in their beds.
My writing has suffered. My reading has suffered. My blogging has suffered. But am I being selfish and thoughtless in the midst of all this? I ask myself this everyday, as I long to be able to sit down and carry out the work I had planned, follow the course I had set for my life now and in the future. My plans — those were the first to suffer. Those are what has to be left behind, together with me-time. And Philip. Philip, and our married life. Separation is hard, hard, hard…
Kindnesses come our (Mom’s and mine) way almost every day, though: a basket of broad beans left by the front gate; two magnificent rose blooms ‘to brighten your dear Mam’s spirits’; a helping hand as I take her into the medical centre. And smiles. Smiles galore, mingled with approving looks. Did people think I would abandon her…? But maybe they’re just happy she has someone, visibly has someone here.
I don’t know who any of these people are (not yet) but they seem to know Mom, and to care. I find this genuine care for the next human being rather touching, unused to it as I am. Expect the unexpected. And I smile, maybe for the first time as these things are concerned: life’s not all bad surprises after all. That is the lesson I now remember I’ve forgotten since those days in São Pedro, and seem to have to learn anew.
… … …
So what else has been happening? Not much: a book turned interesting after all (a memoir), and a quite surprising piece of my own writing. If you’re curious about either (or both), just read on.
So… I #amreading, of course — as much as I can, and whenever I can, and despite.
Just don’t ask me where I steal time from. The fact is, I’ve been reading a bit all over the place, hopping from book to book as mood and tiredness allow me, from sci-fi to thrillers (I’ve discovered a couple of indie writers who’ll soon be making it to my Authors’ Focus) and, of course, I’ve been reading memoirs.
Of all the memoirs I had pegged to read this spring, I have funnily enough started with one that, at first, did not feel a good fit, though I could not put my finger on why I wasn’t becoming interested.
The last thing I need right now is for a less accomplished text and voice, or something that fails to captivate me altogether to put me off the genre, because it is what I happen to be researching at the moment– and that piece of research is quite crucial for developing my own writing.
Having read the first few pages, I thought it seemed a bit… well, not my thing. I put it aside for a while, as I often do when I’m not gelling with a text only to return to it at a later date. I read a few things in the meantime, and every time I thought of returning to it, I simply wasn’t motivated. Eventually, I thought of abandoning it altogether, even after reminding myself that I have never abandoned a book before, as I always feel that if someone wrote it and I chose to read it, then I owe it some attention — even if only to tear it apart in the review.
It was then that I received an email from an (understandably a little impatient) editor, as the book released but not my review, and that did the trick: I decided that I had to stick with it, no matter how impatient and despondent it was making me feel. So I returned to the first page, hoping that a second read would change my first impression.
Am I happy I did persist! Rifka Kreiter eventually developed into a very interesting narrative voice, with a candour and authenticity that is at times touching, at times a bit jarring in her critical self-evaluation. I love her already, and half way through the book as I am now I cannot wait to get to know the rest of her story. Full review probably by this coming Monday.
And I (most certainly) #amwriting too! (or trying to, in any case)
I must be reading far too much dragon stuff lately. That’s the only explanation I can find, really, for this sudden access of… I don’t know what. But the outcome is what looks like the beginning of my very first dragon story. My very first dragon story. WOW.
(To tell you the truth, I really needed the relief. It can all become far too intense in a single instant, writing about one’s past and memories — which are not all and not always glowing with happiness — at a time like this. But more about this some other time)
I already love this little boy dragon (or is he a dragon boy?), and I have some idea of where it’s all going, dragon, mother and story. What’s in between only the clouds know right now (or maybe the witches?), as I have so many ideas I do not know yet which will make it into the final draft, and which won’t.
All I know right now, and after publishing what I thought was a revised and more or less final draft version of what I wrote so far, is that I’ve already spotted a missed opportunity for a first description of our little boy dragon. It will be fixed, though, and then you will have a clearer glimpse of what he looks like at this point in the story.
I’d love to hear what you think of my little dragon story — though I hope, of course, that you already love him as much as I do. Here’s the link to the first couple of pages, in case you missed the earlier blog post: