On Not Getting Down To Write
By Pat Gallagher
I think this morning, after I check the headlines and start the laundry, I’ll get going on a couple of pieces of writing I have in mind. Exploratory things. One, an account of my year in Walthamstow, East London over 40 years ago; a year of robust immigration to the UK of British Subjects from India and Pakistan. I was living in Manor Park, E. 12, and teaching reading in a primary school in E. 17. The idea for this piece was sparked by a news story I’d recently read about the arrest of several putative airplane bomb plotters from Walthamstow . I think I’ll see if I have anything to say about that so I begin:
Manor Park, E. 12 – terraced houses built for the East London working class, now home to immigrants from Pakistan. Rows of doorways distinguished from one another only by window trim color, and the patterns on curtains behind front door glass. Every now and again a set of shops – grocer, newsagent, bakery, pub – interrupts monotonous lines of windows and doors. Blocks and blocks of dull concrete facades made duller under London’s famously leaden skies.
I write on for a few pages – about my fruitless search for garlic in our neighborhood greengrocer; about my son Brendan’s encounter with the kid with the turban and how it led to Brendan’s bloody nose; about the lovely Goan woman driven from Uganda after Idi Amin seized control and began expelling Indian residents of Kampala – about her desperate search for work in London while her husband subsisted on cheese and biscuits searching hopefully for work thousands of miles away in Toronto. I morph into a social commentary about the pernicious class system and the way it works against immigrants and how that breeds anger and…. [Come to think of it I wonder, “Could those plotters have been children of the kids I taught at Markhouse Primary School?”] I am soon out of control of the whole idea. It is becoming much bigger than I had first imagined. What story am I hoping to tell?
I start to get “itsy”, to get the “yips”, a signal I must get up and move away from the screen.
I’m thinking about all this as I go down to get the clothes out of the dryer in the basement and well, as long as I’m outside I’ll just take a sec to water the daisy bushes in the front of the house. I’ll fold the laundry later. Before I get back to Walthamstow I’ll just check out some things in my family research file; won’t take a minute. And while I’m here at the genealogy sites I’ll just take a peek at some other things (Has it really been 2 hours?!) and then get down to doing some writing.
Oh gosh – lunchtime already? Stiff and dry-eyed from staring at 1920 Census images, trying to read the enumerators’ handwriting, I put Mac to “sleep”, hustle downstairs to the kitchen. I make a quesadilla , grab an apple and head out to the back patio with the NY times . Of course, before I go back to writing, I’ll need to do the dishes because I didn’t at breakfast and I like a clean slate. Oops forgot to ice the bruise on my left leg this morning and well, I should really rest a bit after lunch anyway. So I set my leg on the ice pack and work on the NYT Crossword puzzle –the Monday puzzle – the only one that fakes me into believing I’m competent. . When I attempt the Thursday puzzle I am convinced that I am not smart enough for even USA Today. But today I finished the whole thing and ready now at last to write.
Am about to head upstairs to return to the Walthamstow story but remember to call the Dr. and report on the leg progress. While I’m listening to the Dr.’s voice mail options I glance at the calendar and realize I haven’t responded to Helen and Paul about the jazz concert at their house on the 17th. While I’m there – it’s a long voice mail menu – I note that I haven’t sent a check to Richard for the ragtime concert at his house on the 24th and, while I have the checkbook out, I notice I haven’t balanced it for some time. I call the bank to do that and… uh-oh Kim’s birthday is Thursday and the card I bought last week is still unsent. Must do that right now – before I start writing. Otherwise- you know how it is –it’ll stay in the back of my mind and distract me from concentrating on the story.
Well, now it’s 2:00 and J calls from school inquiring about dinner. We chat a bit. Then, before returning to the computer I have to water the back garden – it’s very warm this afternoon and the anemones are drooping. Done. Back inside I settle down at the computer. Oh, before I forget , I better make a “to do” list and e-mail my brother with news of our new-found family members. I haven’t corresponded with him in nearly a year. It’s complicated. So I write away, avoiding land mine topics, and press “Send”. Done.
Well, 3:00. Here I am at the low-energy point of my day but I must to work. If I’m going to show up at the writing group next Sunday I must show up with something. And I need to stop talking about what I’m going to write and get on with it. 975 indigestible words later it is 4:20.
That’s it for today; I shut down the computer and jog to the Post Office with Kim’s birthday card.
Oh, right, the Walthamstow story. I still haven’t figured out what story I will tell but it will have to do with immigrants, religion, and social class. Come to think of it the story isn’t so much about what happened in Walthamstow in 1973; it’s about the immigrants, religion, and social class issues in our own family in the last 140 years. What am I thinking about all that? I’ll have to write it out to see what I mean.
Tomorrow. I promise.
I’ll get an early start.