A poet sends me a poem. It has a line in it which goes, ‘This is a song of sorrow’. That is her song and she is singing it. It is a song for a country which is lost, for somewhere far away, for memories and dreams, for long-dead family, for childhood tales, for something marvellous and ruined and yet marvellous still.
And I think: yes, it is a song, and everyone has their songs but so many people don’t dare to sing them. They don’t know how to sing them. They don’t think they have permission to sing them. (Why me? Who is going to want to listen to me?)
Every day, when I work with my writing clients, I try to give them the courage to sing their songs. I don’t give them long, soul-sapping lists of grammatical howlers or technical must-dos. I go to their hearts and their spirits and their psyches and gently help them clear away the creaking hurdles and the dead wood and the fallen trees of the mind. I encourage them to listen to all the voices that say yes, instead of all the voices that say no.
Sometimes I do this well, and sometimes I miss a trick. Today, I did it well. Something was right. The music came pouring out. And I felt so inspired by the bravery of the person I was working with that I came straight here to write.
I was going to sing you so many songs, and yet for days and days I fell silent. I write every day, because to be good you have to write every day. I can’t do without words. They are my solace and my balm. They are my people. But I was writing other stuff, easy stuff – stories about my red mare; funny little tweets in which I try, in some hazy way to add to the gaiety of nations, because I think we all need a dash of gaiety just now; short blasts on Facebook. I could do all that writing. But this writing, this diary, suddenly became a thing. I fell into the trap which I try to spring for my writers: I got frightened.
The weight of the lockdown was pressing on me and I didn’t want to bore you with that. I didn’t have the spirit to record these long, dour days, with the low white skies and the dirty ice and the sloppy snow. I was cold all the time, and I kept thinking that I must write this down and that down, as one extraordinary event succeeded another. Write it down, write it down, said the voices in my head, and then the other voices chimed in and said, ‘What’s the point?’
But today I came back. I’m damn well not going to sit in the silence just because the world is complicated and sometimes I can’t sleep so well. I think of my poet: if she is bold enough to sing her song of sorrow, I can sing too.
And that’s the thing, I think, about this strange time – it is words which will save us. (Actions too; I believe in doing things, not just musing and typing. But in my mind, often words are action.) Words unite disparate human hearts; they soothe troubled spirits; they give hope; they let another person, half-way across the world, know that they are not alone. There are words written four hundred years ago which are still as alive as if the ink were not yet dry. Sometimes, when I read beautiful words, I feel them in my body, as if the very atoms of my being are rearranging themselves. (I get this feeling often when I am with my red mare. She is a kind of poem in physical form; she has her own song, and she sings it every day, through the wind and the weather.)
Words will, in the end, see me through. And that is why I write these ones now. There were some long, blank days; now, I’m not sure why, I can once more hear the music.