The Meditations is a curated series of reflections on writing and storytelling from contributors to the thirty-third issue of Going Down Swinging. This reflection comes from Melissa Howard on her piece ‘The Beginner’s Guide to Travelling With Children’.
We do not write in order to be understood, we write in order to understand.
— C.S Lewis
I MET A WILD-HAIRED HUNGARIAN CYCLIST while backpacking through Laos with my boyfriend and daughter. I could smell the sweat on his skin.
“Where are you going?” I asked him.
“Oh,” he replied, absently. “Everywhere.”
Nothing happened. But he, or my imagining of him and this life I could have with him – this better, more truthful life – gnawed at me for months. I felt bone-sad, as if I’d lost something terribly important. But I hadn’t. Not really. It was all in my imagination.
‘The Beginners Guide to Travelling With Children’ is trying to understand the dangerous side of the creative imagination, and the devastating loss that can accompany the realisation that when you choose one path, you’re missing out on whatever, or whoever, is down the other path. Or at least, you’re missing out on what you imagine could be down it.
I didn’t know this when I started writing. (Do I even know it now?) I just knew I had to obey the message from myself on a scrap of mango-stained Laotian newspaper that said, write a story about the Hungarian cyclist.
Early drafts were non-fiction, indulgent and terrible. But rewriting the character into a young father enabled the story to move away from me, like a child growing up, and to stand on its own two feet. I wrote it initially in first-person past tense, but I wanted the reader to be the narrator. I wanted it to feel like a section of a travel guide, or a chapter from a parenting book, and for it to be happening to the reader right now. I rewrote it into second-person and present tense. (This incidentally, was a bitch to do – there is no autocorrect for changing person or tenses. But there should be. Bill Gates, looking at you)
I had a surprise baby very young. A lot of what I write is trying to make sense of growing up at the same time as my fiercely loved daughter, and how hilarious, inconvenient and devastating that can be.
By Melissa Howard
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