Spirals on the office wall…

Half-term harmonograph

I’ve been sitting at my desk this week working on a story that feels like it will never be quite right. I see the shape of it in my head, I can almost touch it. When it is in front of me on the screen, or even when I’ve given up and picked up a notebook, hoping the feel of the paper and the scratch of the pencil will allow it to flow out, it just feels off-centre. Out of balance. All of the threads are there but it seems they are unwilling to be woven together into a whole. I can’t seem to capture the essence of the feeling. Words have limits, I guess. How can they capture the essence of a life? The facets of a person, or, in this case, the briefest of moments that encapsulate the sense of loss and grief we feel for a parent, brought to the fore by the loss of a grandparent. A last, lost connection to childhood.

Perhaps my own sense of disquiet is clouding my objectivity. Perhaps this story doesn’t need to fit the accepted conventions. It is a marked assignment that I have to pass. Therein lies the problem. When I started this course I loved everything about reading and writing. Increasingly, I feel I’m jumping through academic hoops instead of following where the words want to take me. Lack of discipline? Laziness? Impostor syndrome rears its head a hundred times a week and I shake it off, or try to ignore it. I’m working to an extended deadline which is adding to the self-inflicted stress. Instead of taking things one step at a time, I find my mind racing ahead, wasting energy worrying about the next assignment that I should already have been working on for the last fortnight.

I’ve been here before, with the self-doubt, but without the extension. It is doable. I have about 48 hours, I can scrap what I’m working on and try to pull something else together. I’m just not sure I want to. Is it possible that a story sometimes needs to be written? And, if it does, is that any guarantee that it will be good? I guess I have reached the point where I have to decide if I want to concentrate on grades or on writing what I want to write.

My go-to-guy isn’t around to talk it over with (or, more accurately, isn’t around to tip his head over to one side and listen as I throw the pieces into the air and put them into the order that I already know is the right one). I miss him. I’m fortunate enough to have my own little tribe around me, husband, family, friends and colleagues who all have their own ways of lending an ear, a kind word, a hug or some home-made Hungarian plum dumplings, which quite frankly are the closest thing to a hug in a bowl I have ever encountered.

My cheer-squad went to the science museum to give me some space to work. I was relieved to have some peace and quiet, but secretly jealous. There are a million things to look at, touch, play with. They are constantly changing the exhibits. My favourite is the Harmonograph, a huge arrangement of pendulums that is used to create pictures. Each is unique, depending entirely on the movement of the pendulums. I have spent hours watching it create the most astonishing geometric designs. If you haven’t seen one in action, I recommend it. I’m now the proud owner of a Harmonograph picture which the boys brought home, along with a Plasma Ball and a Crystal Growing Kit (definitely an outside toy; imagine trying to get potassium permanganate out of the white-washed floor).

It is mesmerizing. The snap doesn’t do it justice, but I have spent at least two hours today standing in front of it marvelling at the way the lines of colour interact and over-lay each other to create a whole that is made up of different threads. Time to sit back down and look at those story threads, this time with the knowledge that maybe they don’t have to weave together, they might just find their own way.



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