Riddle me this…
Recently at a writer’s lunch, someone asked everyone at the table if they felt they were – and I can’t remember the absolutely correct word that was used – but whether or not they felt they were somehow destined to be writers. One of the people present turned to me and said, ‘You told me you felt that, Catherine?’ and I wondered, did I?
It is true I grew up in a family of writers – my father, my grandfather and a close aunt were all writers and I shared important parts of and times in my life with all these relatives. My mother was an editor and still does the odd editing job for people she knows. We owned a second-hand bookshop and many of the people who wandered into the bookshop were writers or would-be writers.
Here’s a family portrait I drew at about six or seven. My Emblem was a quill pen stuck in an ink bottle – because of course, all writers used quill pens! – and there it is – the declaration: A Writer. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t write stories or poems. Certainly my university years weren’t particularly productive until holidays came when I embarked on never-ending torturous stories about Life and Love. I found it impossible to think about writing while reading Virginia Woolf or writing critical essays about post-colonial writers who were richly poetic, ironic and funny and who had lived in places so extraordinarily exotic I had only a remote idea as to where they could actually be found on a map of the world. Still, sure, I thought of myself as a writer.
Lately, though, I’ve been trying on other words to describe myself. I’ve been wondering what it would be like to call myself a knitter, a sewer, a bird watcher. I’ve been questioning whether or not I am an educator as much as a writer. I’ve been asking other questions, too – like, am I an introvert? Would this give me a get-out-of-jail-free card when I need one?
Other people seem to know themselves more thoroughly. I’m in a swamp of unknowingness as though some vital element of me has changed – what could that be? How could it change?
I have no answers yet to these questions. For the moment all I can cling to is the drawing I did, declaring myself with absolute certainty, writer. Nonetheless the questions are important and I feel them surface in the work I’m doing – questions about identity, patterns and change which are every bit as important to my young central character as they are to me, her middle-aged creator.
Perhaps this is what writing always is – a way of making sense of the aspect of the world that is currently a riddle.