Monday, 15 November 2010

SWAN SONG?


The words ‘Cornwall’ and ‘paradise’ are often linked. And yes, Cornwall’s glorious light and wonderful coastal paths drew me to move here from London seven years ago, together with the fact that for less than the price of my one-bedroom flat in Chiswick, I could buy a four-storey Victorian cottage with 180 degree views of the river from every floor. Yet for the last four years or more I’ve been struggling with a growing sense of misery. People here look at me with non-comprehension. How can you – dare you – be miserable in paradise?

But I have been.

I don’t intend to dwell on the reasons, but on the growing realisation that this environment is not a ‘fit’ for me. It’s ironic. I moved here believing that my creativity would find a home. Cornwall, after all, is a hotbed of artists and writers. And I’ve met some very good people, particularly writers. But I’ve never felt like I fit. And a nasty little voice keeps whispering: you are so ungrateful. You have what so many people dream of.

Then I read a passage from David Whyte’s Crossing The Unknown Sea where he quotes from a Rilke poem, The Swan, comparing the awkward, lumbering way a swan walks on dry land to the wonderful moment when it lowers itself into the water, its element. Whyte likens this to the process of setting out to find his own element as a poet. I also read the old story of the Ugly Duckling, who flutters and lumbers from place to place until he eventually finds his ‘tribe’of swans.

I believe we all have metaphorical - and sometimes, if we’re really lucky - actual tribes and elements – places where we belong. To other people, they may appear to be strange places, strange activities, strange ways of being. But for us, they’re ‘home’. We can struggle to fit into other people’s worlds, which uses up a lot of energy and convinces us even more that we’re ‘wrong’ or misfits. Or we can pack our bags and head out into the unknown in the hope that we will find our tribe.

Perhaps you are wondering what this has to do with writing. Well, I’ve just been reading a wonderful blog post by a writer who floundered for four years, trying to write Young Adult. It was only when her (wonderful) boyfriend asked her what she most loved to read, and what she’d most loved to write, that she realised that romance was her element. Since when she’s got a job as an editor at a romance press and is sleeping, eating and writing romance to her heart’s (literal) content. She has found her element. For a different kind of writer, the very thought of this might be hell. For her, it’s paradise.

David Whyte had a similar experience. He was working in a corporate environment and getting more and more exhausted. In despair, he asked a wise friend for help. This is what Brother David said:

“You are like Rilke’s Swan in his awkward waddling across the ground; the swan doesn’t cure his awkwardness by beating himself on the back, by moving faster, or by trying to organize himself better. He does it by moving toward the elemental water, where he belongs. It is the simple contact with the water that gives him grace and presence. You only have to touch the elemental waters in your own life, and it will transform everything…Let go of all this effort, and let yourself down, however awkwardly, into the waters of the work you want for yourself.”

Whyte decided from that moment to do one thing each day that would move him towards his life as a poet. Within three months, he was on stage, ready to read.

I’ve no idea how long it will take for me to find my element, my home. But like that little Ugly Duckling, I’m setting out on a journey. Maybe one day I’ll find that water, let myself down into it and recognise my own reflection in it and in the others who live there. Wish me luck…

15 comments:

Dan Holloway said...

The problem is that paradise is such a personal thing, and when we are somewhere or doing something that for many others fits the bill, we lose sight of that, and once we start doing that the guilt isn't far behind, and you end up in a downward spiral. My wife and I rent a beautiful barn conversion in the country, and everyone thinks we must live in heaven, but we only live where we do because, like you mention, we can't afford a place in the city.

I love the idea of doing one thing a day - it very soon adds up, and it gives you something in your day that makes the rest of it more bearable. Wishing you the very best

Helen Black said...

I think it's always worth remembering that what pleases one person, won't float someone else's boat...this is one of the reasons why, as writers, we shouldn't take critisism personally.

It's just one person's view.
HBx

Geraldine Ryan said...

What an amazing post, Susie. I always love your musings. So thoughtful.

Caroline Green said...

I love your posts, Susie. I know that out-of-my-element feeling so well. I hope your move brings all you wish for.

Love Dan's suggestion about doing one thing a day too, so thanks for that Dan.

Debs Riccio said...

Oh, I *heart* this so much I could marry it... lovely, lovely post and such an insight into the way our bodies and minds try to help us navigate our lives unintentionally...
If I'm honest, I could only stand living in the 'idea' of paradise for probably a fortnight. That's why God invented annual leave.

Kat said...

We moved to Devon a year ago and I love it - I'm from the area anyway - but I know the feeling of not fitting in where you live. I felt like that when we lived in Sussex, I hated every minute of it, but that's where hubby's job was so that's where we had to stay.

I agree with Dan, paradise is so personal, and I wonder if any of us are ever truly happy. I love where we are now, but we have no money, so that mars our happiness. But I expect if we suddenly won millions on the lottery, there'd be something else we weren't quite happy about.

Live for the moment I say. You never know what's just around the corner.

Great post.

Karen said...

What a lovely post. People are often surprised when I tell them that I moved from my home town many years ago, and that I have no desire to go back, because I never felt that I 'fitted' there, so this really resonates for me.

I also spent quite a while writing stuff I thought I 'ought' to be writing before finding my niche :o)

Susie Nott-Bower said...

Thank you, everyone. :) I'm so glad to hear that this resonates with others. May we all find our tribe and our home.
Susiex

Anonymous said...

Hi there,

I have a question for the webmaster/admin here at strictlywriting.blogspot.com.

May I use some of the information from your blog post right above if I provide a backlink back to this website?

Thanks,
Peter

Caroline Green said...

Hi Peter
Can you give us a few more details? Feel free to email us at strictlywriting@btinternet.com

Susannah Rickards said...

What a beautiful piece of writing, Susie. Lyrical, exact, heartfelt. What you say is so true and it takes enormous courage to waddle out of the groove and try to find the right place to be - to really be yourself.
What you say about tribes is so true. As is that sensation of release you get when you are in the right mode. Julia Cameron has some really interesting stuff to say about this, in her chapters on true North and her book Vein of Gold.

Susie Nott-Bower said...

Susannah, thank you so much! I so appreciate.
*hurries off to look at Vein Of Gold which is on my bookshelf but hasn't been looked at for a while...*
Susiex

Derek said...

More than Luck, we wish you Love and Fulfilment.

Life is too short to waste time being unhappy and too glorious not to grasp the adventure wholeheartedly. Your next chapter awaits!

Susie Nott-Bower said...

Thanks, Derek, that's lovely. :)
Susiex

Kath said...

Hi Susie,
only just found this post, and it made me very sad and very proud of what you are doing, because it takes courage to go forth into the unknown, the same kind of courage it takes to write, which is why I know you'll find your tribe somehow. This particular duckling will miss you though, don't doubt it.