Some of you may know that I run a writers’ circle. Once a month for nigh on 30 years I guess. It is key to my settling in process in a new country and where I find my soulmates and remind myself what matters to me most.
The meetings always follow the same format. First we do a bit of a speedwriting exercise on a topic picked at random and then I set an exercise. Normally I get round to devising the latter in the shower that morning. Last week the idea came to me a little earlier – the evening before as I was reading my book. This time it was Vladmir Nabokov’s memoir, Speak, Memory. I found it rather turgid to be honest with too little ‘story’ content, no plot and no dialogue, but no matter, the writing was exquisite.
Towards the end, to my delight, I discovered a chapter on living abroad. The section opens with the words:
“I have sufficiently spoken of the gloom and the glory of exile…”
That was enough to provide the inspiration I needed and so I asked those who gathered at my house that morning to simply write a piece or poem on the top of ‘the gloom and the glory of living abroad’. We had 15 minutes. This is what I wrote:
The Gloom and the Glory
It’s the invisibility that gets me at the start
when I become so cellophane
pale and insignificant that
I have no place here.
It’s the ignorance that fells me
when I lose my way, my words,
my joie de vivre and find that
I have no voice here.
It’s the impotence that lets me
long to walk away too soon for
I cannot control this fate. You see that
I have no strength here.
But then, one day, I look beyond the window pane
and see two magpies as they tip and totter
twig-mouthed, filled with purpose and I see
the way light falls on the roof tiles
and know that while my back was turned
spring knocked on my door with a basket of promises.
It’s the opportunity that thrills me
now my neighbour knows my name
and shares a joke that lets me know that
I’ve found my face here.
It’s the exotic otherness that fills me
now I walk through blue-sky days with
this welcome familiarity.
I’ve found my joy here.
It’s the swell of friends who join me
in my hopes and in my home
that creates belonging in my soul and at last
I’ve found my place here.