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  • Writer's pictureVG Lee

A Snail's View of the World

As a rule I write fiction containing a pinch of fact from my own history but for my present novel I've reversed this process and much of the writing is biographical. This may be a contributing factor - along with a birthday last weekend - to my posting on Facebook earlier this week of experiencing an increasing sense of hopelessness around growing older. However, this morning having taken time to reflect, I surprised myself with memories of similar periods occurring throughout my lifetime – nothing at all to do with ageing - and I also recalled how each down-period came to a gradual conclusion, followed by a fresh and optimistic dawn. Shmaltzy or not, this is true. I’m going to give a for-instance because I know I’m not alone in that descent into mist and cloud.

My for-instance: I left my husband when I was thirty-five. I’d wanted to leave for several years but the idea of initiating any process towards that conclusion seemed impossible. Whatever I do, I do it painfully slowly and that includes thinking, finding answers, making decisions. Those years between wanting and doing were hopeless ones. Within the marriage I had no power, no right to an opinion, no space to call mine, no look or emotion that wasn’t monitored. I had no future. Only my thoughts were my own.

'One evening, bored with the television he walked over to her table. She was engrossed in a collage of trees and shrubs shaped like green lollipops. He picked up her sketch book and flicked through, stopping at a drawing of a woman, her head resting on her thin arms. Rocks pressed down on the woman’s head and shoulders, more rocks were falling out of the sky towards her.

He’d asked, “What does this mean?"

“Nothing,” she said. “Just a drawing.”

“She looks like you. Is that how you feel?”

“Sometimes - not often,” she’d added quickly. '

The lesson I learnt from that time is that you can be completely crushed by a situation or another person, but once you have been SO reduced there comes a moment when it may be possible to slip away – if you hang on to hope. Secretly I bought a frying pan; blue enameled outside, non-stick. I left it in the care of a friend. It was a token gesture towards a different life for myself sometime in the future. I didn’t truly believe in that new life. I thought that eventually I’d be forced to tell the friend, “Go on. You have it.” But that action of buying the pan, the daring to step out of line, the pan being lodged elsewhere, somehow laid an actual claim on the world outside my unhappy marriage. I saw the frying pan in a kitchen only familiar to me, then in a home only familiar to me.

A day came, one Christmas, in a supermarket, when my husband told me, “If I say smile, you smile.” And I did smile. I did as I was told but like magic, a door opened and for the first time I saw my life with him, a path stretching out – only getting worse – till death. I couldn’t get rid of that image of the path. Six months later, I slipped and slithered – even now I see my snail-like self – easing away.

And life did open up. And life did close down again and then open up. And the years I’ve had have been good for my writing and writing is good for my life. I may not want to grow old, I fear the illness and deaths of my loved ones, I fear the diminution of my self but hope will spring eternal - I've had more than enough proof over my lifetime that it does.

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