Sunday, 8 April 2012

Tea Chests, Dreams and the Colour of Snow

Since starting a small writing group and making a decision to try and take writing more seriously, I've prepared myself for the two main things aspiring scribblers face - work and rejection.

Since the first one was always going at snails pace (blame the internet, cooking, reading, working etc.), I told myself that I will write short pieces, for flash-fiction and short story competitions, and if those don't win - well, I can always put them on my blog.

Dermot Bolger
The first competition the group tried was the Dermot Bolger 'Tea Chests and Dreams' monologue writing, where you are supposed to relive, in 600 words, an experience of moving to a new house. The selected monologues were then to be read on the night of each performance of Bolger's play. The best two then would be published in a newspaper.

I wasn't very surprised when my piece didn't make it (probably being a bit too modern and non-Irish), but the rejection I got (a very nice and long email from Dermot) was the best one so far. I really wish all rejections came with a little feedback. When negative, it gives you an idea where to grow, when positive, it tells you that it's not always your writing that's bad, you just may not fit into what they are looking for.

The most curious thing is that he liked "the juxtaposition between the high speed internet world and the notion of the snail carrying its home on its back," that I wasn't actually aware of. It's interesting when other people find things in your writing that you didn't intentionally put there...

On a good note, a friend of mine was actually selected to be published, and we had a lot of fun, tea, biscuits while compiling her short biography for the paper, so I didn't feel disappointed at all. At the end of they day, I got something done and found a new interest for theatre that I never dared admit to myself before.

Illustration to the Snow Queen by Vladislav Erko

The Colour of Snow ­

People like me travel with lives in laptops. Family on Skype, work on email, friends on Facebook, quotes on Twitter, photos on hard drives, thoughts in the blog. The whole world is there… Just open the lid and start it, anywhere you are, even in the sky or underground. It’s handy. Like a snail, I carry my home with me.

I was talking to someone the other day…they were moving from a huge house with all their dogs and artworks and books and papers, and it occurred to me: when you move country, it’s a whole different business, because you can’t take any of that with you.

I had to leave behind all of the bric-a-brac that constitutes the typical notion of home. The favourite pillows and cups, books, dresses, photos and drawings, CDs.  I left the views from the window, smells from the kitchen, scratches on the door from the long-dead cat, car lights on the ceiling at night, hours on the balcony under the huge sky with four different glimpses of landscape between the buildings…They are like scars on the timeline of my home: from first love, heartbreak, quarrels, holidays, every days…

I was leaving my childhood behind, trusting it would still be there when I come back. It now feels that a younger me is still living there and I just dropped by to visit.

How much could I take with me without having to play hide-and-seek with Ryanair? Clothes that still smelt of the familiar washing powder. Presents to give away. A few books in Russian, one on a famous ballet dancer that I still haven’t finished. My dance costumes, just in case.

My diaries… God, nothing sounds more pretentious than writing of a sixteen-year-old going through depression. But I kept them, one for each year. Bought a new one today… Moving to a new diary is like moving houses too – I miss the old but love this one already. The pages are bare, like rooms, no ideas or dreams here yet.

My art supplies I left behind, all but this one brush. It has a phrase burned out on the side. ‘The snow is never white’.

It is blue, purple, pink, green, yellow (the one you shouldn’t eat), orange even. I protested too. It’s not what they taught us at school. But my mom would insist. She would take me by the hand, and drag me to the window, and point at the winter landscape outside, at the space where a house cast long evening shadows at the fresh heaps of snow, and say: “Now, what colour is it?”

And I would follow her pointing finger to this triangle between the lamppost and the road that was so distinctly and inappropriately…


I was five and this was my first art lesson.

What can you really bring to a foreign country but yourself? Nobody is waiting for you there. You don’t know whether your dreams of a fresh start will come true, whether your talents and skills will be needed. Some immigrants drag the whole suitcase of customs with them: the ascents, the beliefs, the food, all those rules of mentality that no longer apply. What’s the point? The lighter your luggage the easier it is to adjust. And new things collect so quickly.

I build my home in people, not the walls. Here is mine, looking for his keys or socks. I know I’ve arrived, with all my badly packed bags and useless memorabilia, when he puts his arms around me. Maybe I moved house, but it feels like home.

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