[This was first performed at Bow Storyslam in April 2015]
I used to write stories. Great sweeping epics, at least in my mind. ‘George and the dragon in the playground’, that was one of mine.
And plays; I loved writing plays. I guess I particularly liked formatting them. Making sure it was clear who said what, when and what everyone is meant to be doing and where they’re meant to stand. Says a lot about me I guess, that need for order.
I dramatised a whole novel. I got onto the second draft, though I hadn’t learnt the art of editing at that point so it would have been an epically long play if it had ever made it to the stage.
I wrote my own play too. Many a long physics lesson was spent scribing lines. Maybe that’s why I struggled with science- my mind was elsewhere, in another land.
I don’t think they were necessarily any good. My play was the classic boy meets girl, families don’t approve (though there was a talking tree involved). But the stories and plays gave my brain space to fly, lands to explore. Something a bit out of the ordinary, a different way of looking at the world. Space to dream.
But gradually the sheaves of paper with script and storylines on got replaced by page after page of class notes, book summaries, dates and facts to remember. Facts, dates and hard data. No room anymore for frivolity or fiction: “You’re growing up Caroline. You need to knuckle down, take life seriously. You’ve got a good mind, use it well; reason, think scientifically, work hard, get a good degree, get your dream job”.
So I did. I worked hard, got my degree. But it’s hard to write a story with empirical data and academic references (open brackets comma Butler comma 2015 close brackets). I got my dream job too, as an archaeologist. Only it turned out to not always be a great dream. Digging holes doesn’t take much brain power (who’d have thought?!). Honestly, my colleagues and I would find ourselves having debates over whether a ditch fill was mid yellowish-grey sandy-silty-clay, or mid yellowish-grey sandy-clayey-silt. (Important distinction don’t you know!?).
Between the tedium of yet another blank trench, the threat of redundancy, the mind and bone-numbing cold, it felt at times like the words were leaking from my head. Somedays I’d go to use a word which I used to know to find I’d forgotten it and my vocabulary had…dee…something beginning with di-. You know, ‘got less’.
You can’t write a story with a flow chart or a formula. They aren’t scientific or reasoned. I’d stopped writing stories, on paper or in my head; and the world had got a little harder. Lines a bit sharper, colours more muted or just turned to grey. And with them my heart a bit harder and my soul more cynical.
I wonder what I’d think now if I dug out those old stories and scripts? They’re still tucked away somewhere, in a box or under a bed. Would I be embarrassed by their childish naivety or entranced by the different world I see there? The freedom and colour.
Maybe I should write stories again. I don’t know if I’d write about dragons or talking trees now though. I don’t know if my imagination stretches that far for now. Maybe I’ll start with reflections of sunset in skyscrapers or grass piercing concrete. Real, measurable but also containing something ‘other’. Hope and colour to thaw a cynical heart.