This piece is part of something I’ve been working on with my longtime friend and fellow writer, Kiersten. I’ll let it speak for itself. MUCH LOVE.
She hadn’t written a thing in months. The idea of writer’s block – god help us all – brought out the cruelest cynic in her, even if it did feel like a reaper – some dark phantom in the corner of the room, stifling her without a touch or a word. Maybe guilt kept her skeptical of its existence: what was writer’s block other than a fat, ugly excuse for being out of practice and out of ideas?
It was obvious; her naivety, her mediocrity. And that wasn’t a slice of humble pie – it was the truth. Thoughts flowed through her like a tape that wouldn’t stop: cyclical and fading, concerning themselves with the same principal memories, only adding new ones if they were reminiscent of the old. She was intent on the preservation, surely a sick practice. A perversion or an inability to tell her story, to find the right words for it.
So she’d write out the preserved nuggets again and again, different shades of the same colour, and delete it all. Her stories had begun to spoil from too many alterations – rips and smudges and all of that. Didn’t someone once admit to writing the same story over and over, just disguising the main line in the details? That admittance seemed attention-seeking. If you can tell it well, let yourself tell it. Although that could be like watching your spouse perform the same party trick for years. You’d eventually tire of it, maybe even grow to resent it, and perhaps that’s how the writer felt about himself. But she remembered a great writer – an Aboriginal who revealed the essence of storytelling. Something about stories being all we are, which she knew was a smart thing to say, but couldn’t quite understand it, though the notion was starting to become clear. That same author had also warned his readers to be careful of the stories they tell, and to watch out for the ones they hear. She thought that was right too, but how? It was something she thought about more than she realized.
Lately it felt easier to stay silent. As a child she’d noticed some adults seemed OK with doing most of the listening. She admired these people but never understood why until she realized how difficult it was for stupid, boring folks to shut up. She did love a good talker, a good story teller, but they were rare, weren’t they? Unless it’s obvious, most kids can’t discern an entertainer from a bullshitter, and in the case of being precocious, becoming subject to a dumb bore was their own fault.
She wasn’t exactly precocious, but it took her parents telling her she was a bit of a know-it-all to quiet her a little. That wasn’t the exact phrase they’d used (it was something about thinking she was always right). It was true, so she started practicing silence, and realized that was a perfectly fine thing to be doing.
Her new habit was in full swing, and she found was hard to break. It wasn’t because being attentive was a virtue (although it was nice to practice virtues), but being quiet got comfortable, and eventually easier than the alternative. She even took one of those personality tests and was overjoyed to score as an introvert, more or less. Those extroversions were alive and well, and she indulged, yet, turning inward seemed like the best course of action.
They’d been abroad for three years, and she was finally settled, yet anxious (like the expats she’d met had confessed to being). It would be time to switch jobs when the contract was up, so she spent time thinking about the groove they’d carved out together. It’d be four years married this summer, eight together, which astounded her some days and felt accurate on others. He liked to remind her they were just getting started, and in those moments she knew he’d never leave. She wasn’t sure if this would happen in the earliest days, but she loved him more over time, and felt like nothing could break them apart.
Having Hong Kong – a former figment, a bit of eavesdropping or news immediately forgotten, a fantasy in a film – become their home was surreal, yet not as wondrous or terrifying as she’d imagined. Other travelers made expatriate life seem ordinary, but she felt they were either pretending or so unlike her that she couldn’t imagine what kind of people they were. Lifers had often struck her as people out of place; runaways. There was that group, and then those who were so wild and free nothing could strap them down. Who didn’t envy them? She would never admit to putting people into a box, but she did see patterns and clusters, especially among the motley crew of internationals.
Maybe people were running away, and why wouldn’t they? Everyone ran at some point, it’s just that most people came back. The choice not to return, to make this or some other foreign pocket their home nakedly awaited, and that was a source of unease and exhilaration.
He wanted to return to Canada. Not soon, but eventually. She couldn’t say the same, not right now. She’d watched others develop that four or five year itch and return home only to realize the grass was indeed no greener (what did they expect?), so they’d come crawling back, resuming old posts or even taking lower positions than they’d left behind.. They’d done so much to get here, then they’d panic or tire and flit off only to end up where they started.
There were many rays of light in expatriate life, like the prospect of new beginnings being real rather than the pipe dream rusting at home. She always dreamed of Scotland, just because of stories and movies and her literature classes, but those dreams now seemed a little childish, a bit selfish. God, really vague actually. Who knew? She’d vacation there with him, her husband who would take her anywhere, follow her everywhere, and they’d see, wouldn’t they? Before starting a family, she proposed a big trip, but not to put off having a baby, just to have one last adventure. After all, they were just getting started. But she felt like she was becoming transparent.