Day One: When I Was Introduced To The Slow Lane
It occurred to me as I wandered the grocery aisles on Day One, that one of the major impressions I was gaining about my first day as a full-time writer, self-employed, no longer at the beck and call of others, was one of life having slowed to the pace of a relaxed heartbeat. Absent, was the white noise - the constant background panic brought on by the feeling of not having enough time.
bird on a blanket, Port Chalmers shop
Through deciding to leave my work in an early childhood centre, I have cut myself adrift; free to float slow. It was a novelty to be quietly choosing produce in a supermarket at 1.30 in the afternoon, rather than my usual busy snatch and run method. Welcome to the slow lane.
A bit later, I was. In the slow lane. Swimming in the (what is called 'Hot' but is really more lukewarm) Salt-Water Pool at St Clair, revelling in the sensation I had of floating in blue limbo. Overhead, thunder-heads rolled on by as I kept snug in the water, hoping that any lightning strikes that this particularly nasty spring weather is doling out, weren't going to force the pool to close. I had already been informed by one of the other swimmers that this had happened the day before.
Juke box, Port Chalmers shop
As soon as I arrived at the pool, I immediately noted that my desire to be left to private thoughts, un-hassled by strangers wanting to engage, was never going to happen; despite my deliberate hunched over, no-eye-contact-demeanour and monosyllabic responses. The body language of other swimmers; such as slightly leaning into my personal space, unsubtle methods of seeking eye contact; made it abundantly clear that I was required to be part of every conversation – the comparing of tans (olive as opposed to freckled), the inquiry as to the pool attendant's recent trip away (as if I cared), the previous day's experience of being pinged by hailstones whilst still in the swimming pool (now that, I must admit, sounded like fun), how clothes stick to you when getting dressed after a swim, no matter how hard you try to completely dry yourself off … This last conversation-bid took place while I was struggling to maintain some dignity in the changing rooms. Really?! You want me to turn around and talk to you while I'm in the process of trying to dress as quickly and privately as is possible under a thin towel? Really?!
looking out, shot from Vogel Street, Dunedin
When my eyes flew open that first day at 7.45. I felt like a child on Christmas morning, ready to leap out of bed. It was Day One and despite the cliché, it actually did feel like the first day of the rest of my life. Later on in the day when I checked the mailbox, I found a card left by my neighbour N. wishing me well on my first day. Inside she'd written, 'Happy 'day 1' of being a full-time writer, and happy day 2, day 3, day 4 …'
Not that I got much writing done. By the time I had rung up about getting Ruby (our Toyota Corolla) a new battery and waited all morning until the guy came with one, then did the grocery shopping, then mailed a parcel overseas, then swam, then napped (to recover from either the swim or the twenty-five years of gainful employment in the early childhood sector, I can't decide which) it was time to cook dinner.
heavy wooden door, Water St, Dunedin
On my last day at work, I was fare-welled very sweetly by the staff and children at the centre. I was given a generous book token and a giant, brightly-painted card the children had made. 'We Love You' it said, and 'We will miss you'. At my stage of life, leaving paid work is an acknowledgement that my working life is over. At the end of my last day at work, when I went to start Ruby to go home; she wouldn't start. Her battery was flat. The significance of this didn't escape me.
Being this close to retirement age means that I am tempted to feel like I'm already there, with the ground I have stood on up until this point of my life, cut away. A door has been closed. This could be seen as diminishment; if I hadn't chosen to close the door myself. However, the truth is that I am like our car, Ruby, after we got her new battery fitted; leaving paid employment has given me a brand new go; I am primed. Start the engine, hear me purr.
Day Two: When I Did Not Read 'War and Peace'
It appears I received another good-bye present from work … a tummy bug. Part of working with pre-schoolers is that you are in direct line of fire for sickness. After a few years, you build up a certain degree of resistance and this invisible suit of armour fends off most of the illness that swirls around you in the form of droplets and toxic fumes from suspect bowel motions. But not always. As my second day of 'retirement' has demonstrated. One of the bugs obviously made it through the fine mesh of resistance I had over the years carefully and methodically constructed. Perhaps my decision to leave lowered my defences, leaving me disengaged from defence mode and vulnerable to attack.
Two-year olds have been proven to be the biggest carriers of disease in the universe. They have an enviable capacity to spread bacteria. Anyone planning an evil, viral attack upon the community, for whatever dastardly purpose, need look no farther than a two-year old. With no idea of how to 'catch that cough' or about frequent and thorough hand-washing, their success rate for the spread of disease is truly astonishing.
At one stage during the day before my last day at work, J. sat on my knee while I read him a story about Rapunzel. He spent the time sneezing openly with the abandonment of spittle and mucus that only a pre-schooler can manage. Chances are it is because of this (or some other up close and personal moment with a toddler) that I spent last night throwing up.
Consequently, Day 2 of my life as a-writer-and-that's-it, was spent in bed. I slept and watched Graham Norton shows on TV On Demand. I ate a banana and three pineapple chunks. I drank one cup of tea. I kept up with my Facebook timeline. (Our son in Kyoto posted another photo of a Japanese roof to add to his collection of Japanese rooves. Japanese buildings have astonishing rooves. My sister posted a photo of a tui being a tui).
Suffice to say, I did not spend the time in bed profitably reading 'War and Peace'. I didn't even do a crossword. That day my brain cells did not fare any better than my digestive tract.
chalk drawing, Vogel Street, Dunedin
That day a space-craft made a perfect landing on a comet; right on schedule, upright and to the second; like a Japanese train driver.When I saw on-line footage on Facebook of the scientists celebrating the instant of point of contact, I did have to chuckle at how inept scientists (who can programme with genius precision a landing on a comet) are at high fives and hugs.
As evening approached, my tummy bug turned coward. It was no longer the rough, unshaven ogre lording it over my sense of well-being. It had begun to whine and to plead for forgiveness. And because the smell of the chicken stir-fry Robert was cooking for dinner smelt so damn fine, I decided to be magnanimous and grant Hairy-Ol' Gut Bug my pardon; then promptly booted it right out into space where it could kick up merry hell and infect the comets.
Day Three, Four, Five, Six, Seven, Eight, Nine, Ten: When I Love My Job
People ask – what's it like writing full-time, with no deadlines or rules, being able to take a tea-break whenever you like? Etc. After a week and two days, I can say that it's harder than you think.
Sticking to a routine and being disciplined enough to actually write, is not easy.
My stock replies to inquiries seem to be; I am so busy being me, I have no time left over to actually write.
Or; I spend so much time doing stuff to do with writing, there's no time left to do any actual writing.
An office away from home would be the answer, then I wouldn't see that the bird dishes need topping up with sugar water, that the washing needs hanging out on the line, that the washing needs to be brought in from the line …
Lumsden railway station; Northern Southland
In order not to seize up, I realised I needed to replace what physical exercise I was getting from my work with early childhood (it had more or less provided a useful daily work-out) with some other form of physical exercise. This takes time. Swimming, an Irish dancing class, walks … all good fun, but each requiring up to two hours to prepare for, get to, do, then recover from.
J. and A. Cooke's garden, Queenstown
Important too, to keep up with family, friends and other writers. Always highly enjoyable, stimulating and necessary to prevent any slipping into a shrivelled indoor-world that a writer like myself is tempted to allow. This, however, requires such occupations as meeting for coffees, lunches, emailing, texting, on-line networking ... All of which gobble up time.
Then there's the necessary shopping, housework, meal prep. Writers also need to daydream and to read … Fitting ACTUAL writing around all these is frustratingly difficult.
caravan, Ranfurly Camping Ground, Maniototo
One day I decided, right. Let's be disciplined and organised about this. I worked to a strict timetable in order to complete the urgent things I needed to do and, with the aid of a trustworthy crock-pot, cleverly carved out a chunk of writing time for myself in the late afternoon. I achieved it, but in the end decided to use the time I should have used for writing, to write out Christmas cards. It is still November – am I going crazy? All I succeeded in doing was hi-jacking the writing space I had so earnestly created. The next day I was so exhausted from a day of being strict with myself time-wise, I woke up with what felt like hangover symptoms - without the benefit of having had any alcohol-fun.
But I am not complaining about these predicaments. I am loving it. As I said to one of our sons; after all these years I can finally say, I love my job. Really. I do. When I get round to actually doing it.
Day Ten: When There's Always Tomorrow
I've given up counting the days now. Being a full-time writer is becoming normal. Hell, I am even writing! I have moved on in the novel. A paragraph. I count that as advance.
I used to have 'tomorrow never comes' paranoia and push myself to achieve much in one day. Now I feel there is 'always tomorrow'. It's a very South American attitude. In the seventies we did hotel work while overseas and one of the staff we worked with (Joaquin) was always saying, 'Manana, manana' which kind of meant, 'sometime soon, sometime never'. Joaquin ( another of his jokes was to say when introducing himself – “I'm Joaquin and I'm not jokin'”) would be very proud of me these days. What doesn't get done today, can be done tomorrow. Manana, manana. Another paragraph, another chapter, another poem. It's as if tomorrow has taken on a new personality. This attitude may not get a novel written in quick-smart time (luckily I'm not working to any publisher's deadline) but for today, I'm liking tomorrow.
magnolia and Cecil Peak, J. and A. Cooke's garden, Queenstown