When I was in my twenties and early thirties I put a lot of pressure on every relationship I had. Through the fogginess of dodgy mental health and a sense of direction that twisted to the rhythm of whims which came thick and fast, often with no sense and a bewildering plurality of intent (neuroscientist, poet, teacher, furniture-maker, midwife, minister, gardener, editor, chef), I was always steadfast about two things. I wanted to be a mother, and I wanted to write.
Since I was tiny, I loved babies; I wanted to hold them and help care for them. I remember once, when I was around six, an auntie was coming to visit, and she was bringing her newborn with her. I figured that if I sat on my sofa for hours, holding my doll, God (this man in the sky who decided how stuff went down) would see me, note how talented I was at holding babies, and then give me a chance to hold the real thing. When my auntie arrived, I was allowed to cuddle her baby – only to drop him immediately, to vigorous tears both on my part and his, as all the adults yelled, and he no doubt wondered at this brief slip in security so early in his life.
So every man I met was sized up as a potential father, I couldn’t help it, and I also couldn’t hide that I was desperate to be a mother. I wanted babies in my twenties. Obviously most men ran a mile, pretty quickly. The ones who didn’t, I was suspicious of: why on earth would they want to stick with someone like me? There must be something wrong with them – and so it went, until I met the father of my children, who is a stalwart sort and somehow saw beneath all the mental high jinks to the person underneath.
Anyway, last night, I lay thinking, as the heavy rain fell with luscious drops on the roof of the mobile home where we are spending this Irish summer. I am doing exactly the same now with the book I am writing. I am putting too much pressure on it. I want it to be something it is not right now, which is a first draft. I want it to be The One. The One that gets finished, the one that is a masterpiece, the one that gets me an agent. I’m killing the relationship before it has even started, because what the story needs is space. By that, I don’t mean I have to down tools and let the words languish: I mean I need to give them a break. They’ll be ok. It’ll work out. It is the same with any creation, in any sphere: over-crowding it, over-analysing it, will be the death of it. These wispy ideas that come to us must be offered succour, and treated with gentle respect when they do dare to tap us on the shoulder. You can’t let them wander up and then coldly hit them over the head with a hammer, killing them stone dead before they have had a chance to grow.
This is what I am doing with my ideas at the moment, as I did with relationships all those years ago. That critic’s voice is so powerful, and it has felled me before, to the point of just stopping creativity altogether – a state which I think is non-human, and seriously detrimental to your mental health. If you are not creating, you are dead, because to create is to live.