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Lessons in Creativity





We were in the second form at Intermediate School, so probably 11 or 12 of age.  The class project was on the bombing of Hiroshima, and the assignment to do a page out of a diary found in the rumble after the bomb went off.  I had spent the night before, writing, rewriting, trying to get the sense of shock, of bewilderment, of a little girl whose world had totally changed in a blink of her eyes.  The words captivated me, driving me on.  It was this assignment that really brought this out in me, until then it had always laid hidden, briefly showing itself only to run for cover.  But that night I had sat for hours, watching the words come to life, watching them speak to me, as if in a secret language.  I was only young, and no genius in disguise, but even I could see the potential, the ability that was rushing forth in me, and I was giddy with excitement.  Strange to understand for most, but for me it was like discovering a secret, finding a talent that had been overlooked.  And I loved it.

The next day, a Saturday, my parents had a friend, an ex-border, come and visit.  He remembered me, this strange child that spoke in words no one else understood, he joked with me, was interested in me.  And I liked it.  Even when I noticed the looks of the others, of my family, annoyed someone was playing me attention, I didn't run from that attention, instead I soaked in it.  I was working on aging the paper, making it look like it was old and had been through a disaster.  He asked what I was doing, and when I told him of the project he took the page and read it.  He gave me hints, wiping tea bags over it to give that dirty aged streaking effect.  Then he asked what book I had used, to copy the diary from.  When I told him I had written it myself he was shocked, and proceeded to praise me, to tell me how brilliant it was.  He was an educated man, at the time the only person our family had known that not only completed High School but had gone on to University.  My family, snobby as they were, were both in awe of this and also thought it a waste of time.  But if he said it was good, then maybe it was.  I felt this pride welling up in me, I loved hearing someone's thoughts on my writing, not just saying it was good, but talking about it, talking about the words, even correcting my spelling didn't seem a problem.  I have to admit I thought I was something special at that moment.

But I noticed something, inside a sense of panic, the need to run.  As I looked around me I saw the faces of my family, the annoyance slowly turning into hatred, the more this man complimented me the more angry the rest of them became.  I knew this sign, like a genetic memory, knowing without knowing something bad was coming.  But even as the trees became visible, as the sprouted out of the floor, and the two worlds combined, I fought to stay, I wanted to hear what he was saying, I wanted ideas, and inspiration.  I wanted to remain so I could feel good about this new ability.  I stayed for the next hour, remaining with this man, but still lost in the woods.  Not able to be fully there, but still unwilling to give up this man and his words.  When we walked to the door, he looked at me.  Maybe it was more my hope, and time and confusion playing tricks on my mind, but he seemed to have a look, a sadness, a wish to be able to do more.  He made some comment about keeping up the good work.  I wanted to hug him, to thank him for this gift, but as the door closed behind him, the trees crowded around me, and pulled me away from the world he lived in.

It was three months before I left the woods.  The warmth of summer had changed into the cold bite of frosts and bitter winds.  I do not know what happened to the diary assignment, it was gone, and there seemed no sign of it.  I returned to a world that was changed, a world where I knew, without knowing why that words, the beauty and power of them, would have to remain hidden, would always be a secret that only the brave would use.  It was now not just the writing of them that was dangerous but the reading of them as well.  I put away my poetry, my literature, and began reading what would be more appropriate.  Pathetic stories, girl stories, about boys, and dresses, first loves and mysteries.  But the mysteries I wanted were of language that flowed off the page, of ideas foreign and exciting.  But they were gone now, I had to give them up.  I didn't understand at the time, what it was that made all those beautiful mysterious things so dangerous, why when I started to write my language would turn simplistic, predictable, boring.  But I knew also, without questioning that to do otherwise would result in disaster, something evil and horrible would happen if I let out my desires, my interests, my words.

What happened in those three months?  Even now over twenty years later, we are only able to piece bits together.  It seems that the praise of me, the idea that I was better, more able than the rest of them sparked a level of abuse from the family unseen of before.  From what we now understand for the next 10 weeks it was unrelenting, there was not a moments safety for those that took over from me when the woods finally claimed me.  Abuse itself was nothing unusual, but this period was different, in its intensity and duration.  Those that endure this period number high amongst the Patarahi (walking dead) and those that held onto life have remained forever damaged.  Our ability scared our family, they wanted it destroyed.  Maybe their fear came from the belief that they would lose their control over us if we had something good to hold onto.  Or was it just a simple hatred of anything we were?  Whatever their reason, their hatred for their child exploded, and they fought to destroy the one good thing she had.  For a long time they succeeded, the joy of words was replaced with fear.  A single word could send the community into a spin of self destruction, for it spoke of something that once held hope and was now forbidden.  We abandoned words, their beauty, their inspiration and comfort.  We let them destroy that for us.  But it was only the battle, for the war rages again.

I struggle now to write with words, that speak the meanings I want.  Each word is a challenge against the power held over me.  Each word terrifies some of us, causing ripples of fear through the world, making the restless turn and scream.  The creativity, the love of words is hidden now, kept in the secret place where no one can walk.  We fear our own ability, words that were once like old friends now hurt like acid in our mouths.  We struggle to bring it back into the world, to release the once pure gift.  But it is a tiring fight.  We were taught to be afraid, to hide and run, and those lessons how strong, still grip us.  But the dreams come, when I allow myself a moment in safety, dreams of writing, dreams of people reading my words, the light shining in before the darkness sweeps over again.