I don’t think I’d be overstating things if I said it’s been a strange, uncertain year: a year of fire, flood, murder and disease. One certainty that I’ve clung to throughout all this confusion is Gunther Kress’s observation in Before Writing: Rethinking the Paths to Literacy:
‘We know that tomorrow will not be like today.’
However grim things get, we know they will change in some way – whether for better or worse we don’t know, but change they will. Events have twisted and turned so swiftly that change is the only thing we can be sure of. To borrow and adapt Kress’s title somewhat, we’ve also had to rethink the paths we currently tread.
But is this something new? I’d say not. Change is part of the human experience: growing up, the passage of time, the progression of the seasons and so on. It’s the scale of change in recent events that has been unnerving.
My five offerings here have explored the theme of change in different ways.
With pubs in the UK closed as a result of lockdown restrictions, it will be some time before we can meet for a drink and a chat while listening to a deliciously raucous open mic session. Until then, we have Kieran Devaney’s memoir to sustain us. With a career in the media spanning 30 years, Kieran has a vast array of stories to share. In Bohemian Days he recalls days spent in Grogan’s tavern in Dublin and the legendary craic that ensued. In particular, he focuses on Tommy Smith and his part in the peace process. Kieran tells us that ‘the highlight of our year in Grogan’s is the annual Christmas Art exhibition – an eclectic mix of works by young and old painters, sculptors and photographers.’ Tommy Smith’s last Christmas at Grogan’s in December, 2019 must have been an emotional affair. It feels appropriate to share that memory in our December issue and to remind ourselves of what we can achieve with a little conversation and a pot of tea. A remarkable man.
Turning away from the Dublin’s bright lights, we saunter along the highways and byways to Ysella Sims’ new village home to hear her winter memories. Ysella has recently joined The Write Life team as a contributing editor and regularly shares insights gleaned from her walks in the surrounding countryside, revealing the comfort that nature brings. Her article, Three Carols and a Song explores the memories that have become part of her story. She explains how so often it is the shared experience of singing that embraces those who feel outsiders. ‘And for a moment we became a part of that congregation, feeling it stretch out to draw close to us all the people that we loved, so far away’: a poignant image.
Sarah Leavesley takes us on a different kind of journey, her development as a writer. Whereas some have a clear idea of where they will end up, for many of us the journey is far from straightforward. Sarah shares with us her experiences as a poet, film maker and writer, emphasising that it is often being ‘open to spontaneous possibilities’ that has made the difference. Serendipity remains a powerful force in her life. In the end, though, the power is in our hands because we can make changes whenever we decide. ‘As we move towards the winter solstice and year’s end, now might be a good point for reflecting on what’s gone before and what might lie ahead. But the truth is that actually we can do this whenever it’s useful to us as writers’: inspiring words!
It has been a particularly tough year for writer and reviewer, Elizabeth Jaeger. Many Blue Nib readers will already have read When Daddy Died on our website, in which she explained not only the impact of contracting Covid 19 herself and of losing her job as a result, but also the deep impact her beloved father’s death had on her family. In Adaptations we move into slightly different terrain. Emerging from the trauma of her recent tragedy, she explains how and why she decided to home school her son G3. This honest account takes us through the peaks and troughs of her experience. She reminds us ultimately, that nothing is gained from fretting. Elizabeth could be speaking for us all when she says, ‘Maybe we simply need to enjoy each other’s company. School will always be there, as will tests and assessments. But life is fragile, it could be gone tomorrow. Why am I worrying today?’
Our experiences this year have reinforced the central importance of literature in our lives. But what exactly do we mean by ‘good’ literature? In their article ‘How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Book’, poet, writer and musician, Ada tackles this tricky question with erudite good humour. They explore the notion of literary texts as possessing a quality in the same way a colour does, before arriving at the conclusion ‘And so now, I must admit a difficult truth. Studying these works has taught me something about myself—I’m a bit of a lit snob.’ Well, if that’s the case, what should we do about it? Ada has the solution ‘So, my fellow snobs, let us make an effort to grow. Let’s read something we think is trash and try to appreciate it.’
Perhaps, with this, Ada has offered us a way of approaching the challenges that 2021 will present. If we are open to possibilities we will grow, just as Sarah suggested in her essay. And that openness can lead to many things: in Elizabeth’s case a deepening relationship with her son; in Ysella’s a receptiveness to the world and community around her. And when Grogan’s opens its doors again, it’ll give us all a chance to take that morning train to Dublin, if we’ve a mind to do so, to raise a glass with Kieran. In the meantime, we have our stories, our memories and our hope in the paths we continue to tread.
Thank you for reading,
Editor of The Write Life