Before we went away I was busy reading. Reading some of the best books I’ve read this year and two were the work of first-time authors. Their stories filled my creative needs and I realised a pattern – when reading takes over I just don’t feel like writing. Does this make me a fair-weather writer? Sometimes I wonder.
On previous family holidays I stole time away from everyone to write and think; walks alone along the beach, jottings in cafes and many sentences composed in my head. The urge didn’t appear this time. Five weeks, two countries, countless new experiences, conversations, observations and not one moment of wishing to jot it all down.
Anaïs Nin once said “We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect.” But sometimes I find that writing in the moment takes me away from living it.
For the last few months not writing has allowed me to taste life more fully.
Reading has allowed me to taste other lives more fully.
Wind in the Willows took on a whole new dimension when read overlooking the willow trees on the banks of the Thames.
Beginning The Diary of Anne Frank while flying between London and Amsterdam and finishing it the night before visiting the Anne Frank Museum made Anne’s presence even stronger as I walked through every room of that secret annexe.
The chiming of the Westertoren clock as I arrived at the museum at 9am took my mind straight back to the pages of her diary written nearly 70 years ago:
‘Father, Mother and Margot still can’t get used to the chiming of the Westertoren clock, which tells us the time every quarter of an hour. Not me, I liked it from the start; it sounds so reassuring especially at night.’
And all this time later I found that chime, loud and resonant, just as reassuring. The same clock bringing past and present together for a moment. A moment I was fully part of. I walked around those rooms, now unfurnished, knowing exactly where each piece of furniture would have sat. Her bedroom wall, still partially papered with postcards and film-star pictures, did look ‘much more cheerful’ as she wrote.
The museum was full of people yet no one spoke and we all seemed to tread lightly. Is that because tasting life in such a way is almost overwhelming?
Or perhaps it’s because we all need moments of stillness; time for experiences to settle, ideas to percolate and distance to experience life again in retrospect.