16 November 2015

When will normal life resume?

TV test pattern
Once, when my mother was older than I am now, she told me that she’d been waiting all her life for life to become ‘normal’. She wasn't even sure what ‘normal’ life would look like, but it wasn't what she was living.

It’s easy to understand why she might have felt that way. She grew up in a rough and impoverished area. Her childhood was fractured by her father’s illness and blown apart by the second world war. In her teens, just as things began to settle, her father died. Her life had been punctuated by more illnesses, accidents, upheavals and deaths than most. She had no ‘normal’ by which to gauge things.

In the past twelve months I've often thought about her words. I've found myself waiting for ‘normal life’ to resume. A slow but steady series of dramas have interrupted my routine, some of them more-or-less expected, like my mother’s death, others quite sudden. I've kept telling myself that when things get back to normal, I’ll start writing regularly again.

It’s not that there haven’t been hours in the day and days in the week when I might have found time write. Rather, my ability to focus has been limited. Even when nothing was on my agenda, nothing grabbing my attention, I've had a sense of waiting. Waiting for the next phone call, the next email, the next emotional firework. A sense that whatever I start might be interrupted at any moment by disaster.

I've become a bit suspicious of those articles that tell you that you can do anything you like, be anything you want to be, you only have to try. They don’t seem to take into account the unexpectedness of life. If you’re healthy and your family is healthy and you don’t live in a war zone, perhaps you can do whatever you put your mind to.

But what happens when your parents become old and frail? Or you become older and frail? What happens when a bushfire or a flood sweeps away everything you've worked for? Or you fall off your bike, or you get mugged going home, or...fill in the gap with your own disaster. (Not that I've experienced most of these, I hasten to add.)

I probably sound very pessimistic, but it seems from recent experience that the one thing we can expect in life is the unexpected. And compared to many, my life is humdrum, uneventful.

So what is 'normal life'? Is it days and weeks and months and years of busying ourselves doing mostly the same routine activities, with some entertainment and holidays thrown in to keep it from becoming boring? Or are routines and timetables and plans just distractions we use to fill in the gaps between the ‘normal’ dramas of being born and dying, watching others being born and dying?

During the past year a wonderful and diverse group of friends have  listened to me, encouraged me, prayed with me and for me, and provided practical help. I've discovered what an amazing family I belong to. I've learned much about 'patient endurance', trust and hope. Perhaps that is part of what 'normal life' is about.

I've no doubt that, provided nothing unexpected happens in the next few months, I will return to seeing life as a more predictable affair. I'm aware that lots of people do all sorts of creative things while dealing with major life events. Some even use what is happening to feed their creativity. Where else do novelists get their material if not from life?

In the meantime, while there’s a lull, my aim is to keep writing.

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