I’m supposed to be writing an assignment about cultural encounters in Africa, doing some reading and writing about prefaces, getting the kids’ school uniforms washed and dried, making lunch, paying someone’s wages that works for my husband, finding safe activities for a five-year-old, nagging two adolescents about their bedrooms because it’s the end of the month and therefore monthly allowance day. On top of that the clear-up after what can only be described as a mini-tornado needs attending to and the whole house could do with a vacuum (but then, couldn’t it always?).
So… with all that to do, I have plonked myself in front of the computer instead while the mini-tornado thumps around destroying goodness knows what…
I’m wondering about my life and where I am and if I did all this in the right order; if starting to write at forty is too late or if my whole life was heading toward this and I’m right on track. Do you believe in fate, providence, what-will-be-will-be? I don’t. I believe I’m where I am now because of a serious of choices, experiences, hormones, lucky breaks, unlucky breaks, apathy at times, being in the right or the wrong place at the right or wrong time. But most of all I think I’m where I am now because of my soul, my instincts and my needs.
As a young child I read a lot, more than a lot. The only other children I knew that read as much as I did were my sisters. Above all else I loved fairy tales. Not just the happy ever after ones. I enjoyed all of them and the experience of getting lost in a totally other world. I was a quiet, shy, dreamer.
At fourteen I didn’t know what I would do with my life. I loved writing and inventing situations in my head. But it never occurred to me that being A Writer would be something that I could actually do.
Now here’s the bit that will have you shouting ‘Why, Rachel? Why?!?’
At sixteen my English teacher said I was one of two pupils that she had chosen from the school to go on a creative writing course. I said ‘Er, no…. It’s okay thanks. I don’t think I’ll go’ (or words to that effect)
Lack of self-belief? Nerves? Shyness? Fear of failure? Fear of the unknown? An overwhelming feeling that I couldn’t possibly go to a strange place on my own and mix with a bunch of strangers and stay away from home? Yeah probably. I had also retreated a little further into my shell from a nasty dose of teenage girl style bullying (you know the kind) and therefore was finding that my lack of enthusiasm for anything school-related was giving some adults the wrong impression of me.
I wish I could have overcome all those mini-hurdles. Oh – I could slap me!
So three years later I was working in a pub. Genius.
But I did meet the man who would become my husband while working there. We did have three beautiful children together and climb up the property ladder enough to become financially safe together and we did start a business together. Lovely. Settled. Complete. Happily ever after?
Well, no. Not entirely.
Have you ever felt like you were in the wrong place? I was being the best housewife I could be. The best mother I could be. I took over all the bookwork for our shop and was busy all the time. I started doing all the things I thought I should do – toddler groups, mixing with other people with children, one-heck-of-a-lot of really dull domestic stuff – and being a perfectionist I was very tough on myself about doing it all well. I started to notice I wasn’t having many conversations with people and when I did, they weren’t very interesting. I also noticed, that despite my best efforts I wasn’t really satisfied that I was doing everything well enough. And I began to see myself as dull. On the few occasions we went out as a couple people would ask me to define myself: ‘So, Rachel, what do you do?’ Do I give a list of all the little things I do? Or do I just say ‘Oh you know – housewife, mum, the most demanding, unpaid job in the country’
I became even more shy and self-conscious. And I realised that people who had successful businesses or academic qualifications weren’t interested in me. I was just someone’s wife and mother. And when you don’t even believe you’re doing that well it’s depressing.
A series of things have happened that have brought me back to writing. I haven’t dug out the old ‘Rachel who might have been a writer if she’d made more effort’. This is the new Rachel who has suffered and been influenced by loss, disappointment, misunderstanding, grief and who has observed life. I have watched how families work – and don’t work. I have longed for an outlet when my father recently died after suffering terribly with leukaemia, I have listened to the sound of my mother’s heart breaking when she talks. I have felt the most enormous frustration and real tangible pain of being misunderstood again and again and again … And I NEED to write it all down.
So here I am. Maybe I was just a little longer in the brewing than some. After all ‘real’ and ‘ale’ are words you can make from the letters of my name.
Forty, fragile, frustrated and fuming, but still fizzing and frothing!