When I was a little girl, (around about 8 or 9 years old) I used to sit on a particular red bench every single break time at school. I liked the bench for a number of reasons. 1. because it was red; 2. because it was in a corner and I could pretend no one could see me; and 3 because the dinner lady who I liked so much always sat there too. I never spoke to the dinner lady though but I liked her silent company. I was a very quiet child, shy, I always felt very cut off from the world, very different. I couldn’t run properly, couldn’t play, skip or jump. I always felt physically removed from the everything.
I was also very sad inside and my sadness poured out all over me like syrup. So I used to enjoy my break times. I could go inside. I’d walk to my red bench, push myself right into the corner so I could feel the two side-panels of the fence behind me, all the knobbly bits, and I’d move my life and my energy and focus into my head.
Once inside all was well. I created stories. I had a riproaring time and my imagination went on many a ride. I didn’t feel lonely, I didn’t feel different, I had friends to talk to that I didn’t feel saw me as an alien (even though they didn’t). I had a fine old time in my head. Periodically the dinner lady would sidle up from the other end of the bench and would say ‘Are you alright dear’, and usually this would make me cry. Even as an adult now generally if someone asks me that I burst into a ball of tears. It doesn’t bother me now, it’s just one of my triggers, but then, as a little girl, it was just way too much kindness.
Sitting on that bench with those stories flowing through my mind was what gave me the first drive to create. I don’t know what quite drove me to turn what was inside my head inside out and onto paper, I can’t mark the point, but at some point I started to bring an exercise book and a pen to that bench and I started to write it down. What was in my head, tweaked in girly-curl handwriting, was then scattered across a lined book. It was a novel from what I remember, set in the Tower of London. It ran to two chapters, and I re-read it nostalgically not so long ago and it made me laugh, such great expectations I had then (and indeed, still do now).
As an adult, I think I can learn a lot from the process by which I expressed myself as a child; the process and the intent behind my creativity. There was something very smooth and organic about the process I had back then. Nothing filtered or clever-clever. There wasn’t a knowingness attached to what I wrote. There it was inside, and now look at it there, out on the page.The creative process was pure, not corrupted by my expectations or other people’s opinions. Yes, it did save me, it did allow me to express, it did remove me from very difficult circumstances but I didn’t write from the perspective that considers an audience or sets an agenda or uses writing as a personal indulgence. The inclination came from a simple need to express despite what was going on in the background.
I think if we can, and I don’t know quite how we can as adults mark you, we need to be thinking about how we can write like the girl on the red bench a bit more. We worry too much about how we express, or what we express, or why we express. If we need to express, we don’t need to be writing for anybody, we don’t need to have to show it to someone to get it validated, but somehow nevertheless we always seem to need to; look at me now posting this out to you.
I look back on that little girl and I do recognise me there and she is always with me. I recognise the place where my creative seed was planted and began to grow, but I feel very different from her now (not surprisingly and naturally). How I shape my words has changed and I have become a congruent being. I’ve shaken off the difference and the shame and the need to hide behind and in my mind, I look back on the little girl on the red bench with kindness and acknowledge that viewing myself like this is just ‘ one way of knowing people…to know the outline and not the detail’. (Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse).