Life's lucky dip
I’m getting fed up with this. Or as my friend Marilyn wrote on Facebook recently: “I’m done”.
And I am ‘done’. I’ve had enough of not knowing when this pandemic is going to end, and when I’ll be able to have friends for dinner safely. I’ve had enough of worrying that I might be asymptomatic and putting those I do come almost into contact with (no hugging) at risk. This morning in the shower I found myself comparing how I’m feeling to desperately searching in a ‘bran tub’ for hidden treasure.
Are you familiar with the ‘bran tub’? Some call it a ‘lucky dip’. When I was growing up I’d love visiting to local village fetes on a summer Sunday afternoon when locals would man stalls such as the coconut shy, the ‘bash a rat’ and the hoopla. My favourite game stall, without a doubt, would be the ‘bran tub’. I’d pay my sixpence, or whatever, and wait in line to be able to bury my arms past their elbows in a deep, dry, gritty barrel of wood-shavings, until my grasping fingers landed on a prize. A worthless, plastic prize most probably, but finding it would make feel like the luckiest girl in the world. You’d always want to get to the bran tub early in the afternoon, because the earlier you visited the more prizes were buried in the bran and the greater your chance of striking oil.
So, this morning, as I squirted Aesop body wash into my palms, I got to thinking how life, right now, after 130 days of lockdown, feels like scrabbling around in the bottom of a bran tub in the late afternoon, hoping against hope that there was still something worth having lurking there.
Writers get most of their ideas by ‘getting out there and doing stuff’. I’m endlessly inspired to write by the places I visit, usually overseas, and the people I meet, the conversations I have and the things I notice when I am ‘out’. At a time like this the opportunities to do the things I need to do in order to feel ‘writerly’ are limited. It’s hard to come up with new things to write about. It’s scraping the bottom of the barrel.
What’s left then when the new places, people and experiences have shrunk to nothingness? What’s left to get those creative juices flowing? Well, I have noticed that what’s left, what is always left, is how you feel about it. The emotion.
When I teach people how to write with SPICE (Specifics, Place, Incident, Character and Emotion) in order to create compelling stories, the easiest three to master are S, P and C. During lockdown we have less I, but even now there is never any shortage of E. We have loneliness, boredom, frustration, confusion, sadness, bitterness, anger, sure. But we also have what I call ‘pockets of joy’, the times when you realise life has slowed down enough to allow you to notice the lingering scent of geranium long after your Aesop body wash has been placed back on the shelf. The bliss of being able to sit outside a café again with a flat white and how you eat the tiny cookie in the saucer in four bites rather than stuffing it in whole, noticing it was chocolate chip today.
I have a book beside me on my desk called The Poetry Pharmacy. In its pages there are poems designed to help you through the toughest of emotions: depression, lack of courage, obsession, displacement, grief, losing the spark. But even here, in a sad poem, there is joy to be found in the way it resonates, how it makes you see the situation a little differently and, importantly, how this emotion was the catalyst for something of great beauty – a poem.
I challenge you, today, when you too feel that life’s lucky dip is getting old and dry, to examine what might still be left there at the bottom of the barrel after all – how you feel.
Now go write about it.
Jo Parfitt's Monthly Inspirer