“To write: to try meticulously to retain something, to cause something to survive; to wrest a few precise scraps from the void as it grows, to leave somewhere a furrow, a trace, a mark or a few signs.”
George Perec, Species of Spaces and Other Pieces
I‘ve been looking back through my notebooks for a piece I’m trying to write. Again & again, I’m startled by things that I’d completely forgotten. Rhythms and routines that once seemed they would last forever. A page from 21 February 2010, when the Moose was five days old: ‘How blissfully happy I am, day & night — B talks about what they’ll be like in a couple of years & I cry that now ever has to finish.’ And, beneath it, the quote from George Perec. Two days later: ‘And how it has rained this whole first week of his life & at night as though we are under a tin roof as the comforting heartbeat of drops leaks through the guttering.’ 2 March 2010: ‘The second week liquid: tears & milk & rain.’ I think the tears were mine.
I have a wonderful book edited by Kate Grenville and Sue Woolfe called Making Stories: How Ten Australian Novels Were Written. Woolfe & Grenville interviewed ten writers about how their published work came together, the ‘rough notes, dimly-glimpsed ideas, and trial and error’ that led to acclaimed novels. Here is Helen Garner on the notebooks that she carries in her bag at all times:
“I keep these small notebooks — I was going to say at random, but I mean without any particular aim except that I can’t bear to let things get past me. Philip Larkin says somewhere that ‘The urge to preserve is the basis of all art’. That’s pretty much my approach. Small things are so fascinating and precious that I can’t bear to let them go. So I write them down as they strike me. I don’t invent a book out of thin air. I need — or at least I did at the time I wrote The Children’s Bach — a bed of detail for the thing to be based on before I can start to make something up.”
I feel that ‘urge to preserve’. I record compulsively. I feel anxious if I don’t capture things: the rhythm of our days, things my children say and do, how the light looked that evening when we sat out late in the garden talking of the future. I don’t look back at my notebooks often, but I know they’re there. My children grow, things change even as they appear to stay the same, but there is a trace, a mark, a few signs of what once was.
Today the children went to school dressed as superheros for Children In Need. T with a tutu skirt and an old curtain as a cape; the Moose with shorts over his thermal leggings for that authentic superhero look, a gold sequined cape that had once been his sister’s tied round his neck. ‘But Mumma, who am I?’ he asked anxiously, looking round at a class full of Supermen and Spidermen. ‘You’re Superhero R of course!’ ‘Oh, okay then.’ He smiled and disappeared into the crowd of red.
Photos from Sunday morning in the garden. B still working on re-building our ancient shed, and the light just so.