I wrote this in Geraldton a few weeks ago – before NaNoWriMo swallowed me whole!
I like being in slightly different timezone. I’m writing this in Geraldton, Western Australia and it’s not even 6.00 in the morning. This makes me a morning person! I’m the kind of relentlessly cheerful person everyone who has stayed up too late wants to murder. Slowly. At home, I’m one of those people. But over here, I can try on another self.
I’m in Western Australia conducting writing workshops with the Young Writers Programme that’s run by The Literature Centre in Fremantle. It’s a unique programme that offers young writers in the West the chance to work with a visiting author each term. The students come from schools everywhere and arrive at the workshops – sometimes after two hour drives, this is a huge state! – eager and excited. There’s always a buzz – some of them have been in the programme for two or more years and it’s a chance to catch up with friends they’ve made. It’s free dress day – and they turn up in berets, pirate socks and butterfly leggings. But most importantly, they turn up ready to write.
I spend the morning on poetry exercises. This year I’ve tweaked one of my ‘recipe’ poems and turned it into a self-portrait poem. I’ve written one and pinched my title from Walt Whitman. It’s a poem about contradictions. The students get it straight away and the work they produce is revealing, metaphoric and complex. This exercise is not just about poetry – it’s about allowing the self you could be or the self you secretly are, the one you might choose to hide – out in the open.
We move on to best friend/enemy/frenemie poems – and the results are generous, image-laden and, often, humorous. One frenemie poem ends ‘You are my challenge.’ A girl comes up to me and reads me her best friend poem. Her friend is ‘the whole galaxy to me.’. She tells me I should meet her friend, who has saved her from every kind of despair. I want to hug her and wish her friends like that for the rest of her life. She bounces back to her seat, her dip-dyed pigtail swinging. At the end of the day, the boy wearing pirate socks comes up to me and tells me he hadn’t known he could write poetry and thanks me for showing him that he can.
I want to cheer these brave writers. I want them all to keep writing with the same energy and fierce joy they show at these workshops. These workshops, I realise waking at my new early morning time of 5.00 am, are a chance for these students to live in a slightly different timezone. And, just as I do, they relish the opportunity – away from the timetable, the curriculum, sometimes away from bullying or derision – they have a day when they are their writerly selves. It’s a taste of who they might choose to be in the larger world, when they shuck off their school uniforms.
My time-zones have settled back into their normal pattern – but NaNoWriMo and the challenge to write 50,000 words during the month of November – that headfirst plunge into a different world – takes me back to the first joy of discovering I was a writer.
Wherever you are, whatever time zone or head-space you currently occupy – I wish you this same unsettling joy. May it fuel your chosen tools and occupy your dreams.