My Raison d’Être

[W]hen I sally forth either on foot or Horseback, I feel quite elastic in mind and Step; I feel I am quite at my own work, the real cause that enticed me out to Swan River.

Thus wrote Georgiana Molloy, amateur botanist and emigrant to Western Australia, to Captain James Molloy in England in June 1840.  I think of these words from time to time, as they signal how Georgiana, a mother of seven children (of whom two died) isolated in the Australian bush, with no-one equalling her intelligence to converse with aside from her husband, overwhelmed with homesickness and grief and what she frequently referred to as “household drudgery”, chanced upon her vocation of botany. As she sought to eke out whatever time she could to collect specimens of Australian flora in the bush, and as she wrote enthusiastically and obsessively to Mangles of her discoveries, I recognised the same tendencies in myself, with regard to writing.

At what point did you think of yourself as a writer?” someone asked me as I presented at a tutorial for Creative Writing 2nd years at the University of Wollongong. It was a good question, I replied, and noted that it was probably when A Curious Intimacy was published. Even before this, though, I remember thinking in my own second year of my creative writing there, that if I wasn’t going to make something of my degree and the support that my parents were giving me, then I should do something else. I decided then and there to get serious about it.

When I came home from England I figured that, as I had already been an impoverished student for 10 years, it wouldn’t hurt to continue being an impoverished writer. So I only work part-time, and my skill for budgeting is tremendous, although, sadly, quite misdirected (ie funds for entertainment and food usually go towards expensive skin products and shoes). But even more than this, I find the choices that I make are engineered to maximise the amount of time and energy I have for writing. I don’t drink much, because hangovers make me tired and then I can’t write. I have a job that doesn’t cause me much stress, and because of this I won’t look for something with more hours or which is better paid (also I do really like working there), because if I get stressed I can’t write. My choice of a partner (if I ever get that lucky) will also be guided by the degree to which they can put up with my obsession and who, again, provides calm and stability. I ignore my body’s constant clamouring for a child because I have another two novels and a work of non-fiction to get out before an ankle-biter consumes all my time. And frankly, I don’t even know if I will get to the point of having children, however much I want to, because writing, as the wonderful poet Dennis Brutus put it (though for him it was in relation to South Africa) “takes precedence of all my love”.

These concerns have been prompted by a promised contract and a deadline for delivering Entitlement to the publishers by the beginning of April 2011. Already I feel a thousand times better because I have direction and my aimlessness has vanished. I’m tying up loose ends — finishing short stories and preparing my thesis for publication — as I know that, once I editing the novel, I won’t be able to concentrate on anything else until it is published in April 2012. This kind of all-or-nothing obsession isn’t conducive to a healthy relationship and prospective family, and yet, as I remind myself, Georgiana managed it in the mid-19th Century.

And, as I also remind myself, I am perfectly happy with being broke and with the superfluity of time this brings. I have enough clothes and shoes to live out the century. I love my independence and the luxury of being selfish. And despite the boredom and loneliness that writing occasions, there is something so intoxicating about creating and being in another world that it becomes like a drug, and I get agitated when I can’t write enough. So even if I can’t afford a house until I’m 50, and I am constantly rebuffed by men, and the children never arrive, I know that there will always be the consolation of pen and paper, my raison d’être. For, as I said once to a friend, “I only have one life, and I need it for writing.”


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