Monday, 2 August 2010

I wrote as a child by

filching pages from my school exercise books or on the backs of pages I found in the waste paper bin.
I tried, unsuccessfully, to buy extra exercise books at school. (In those days you bought exercise books at school. The teacher filled out a form. You took it home. Your parent signed it. You took it back to school with the necessary money and then visited "the book cupboard" with permission from the teacher.) I even asked, unsuccessfully, for exercise books as birthday or Christmas presents.
My mother was in charge of such things in our house and she did not approve of my writing ambitions. "You can practice your writing," she would tell me. By that she meant I should spend time trying to make legible pot hooks and straight lines. There was a book she kept for that purpose. I was supposed to do some each day after school.
If I did manage to write anything and my mother found it then it would be thrown out. It was, to her, rubbish. I was not to bother my father with it. (He was trying to finish his university degree, one subject at a time while teaching full time.) My mother had no time for my desire to be creative. "You can't write a book," I was told, "Children do not write books and only people with nice handwriting can write books." I would never have 'nice handwriting' and we both knew it.
I was told this until I knew that manuscripts should be typed. After that there were other excuses. Anything I wrote would be found and thrown out however hard I begged and pleaded for it to be kept. As she taught in the same school as I attended I did not even have the option of keeping things safe at school. It was the same for my siblings. My mother went through our desks each week. We were not permitted to have a locker at school because we lived in the schoolhouse next door. My mother said we did not need a locker.
Anything my mother considered extraneous to our needs was given away or thrown out. My brother remembers losing model aeroplanes, boats, a crystal wireless and other things. One of my sisters kept losing pictures she had drawn.
I do not know why my mother did it. She was a teacher and it seems strange that a teacher should be like this, but she was.
It did not stop me from wanting to write. I kept vast quantities of 'story' in my head, determined that I would write them down one day. Of course I forgot most of it. The stories changed and became more complex with time. In my teens I wrote entire 'books' in my head but, whenever I risked putting something on paper, my mother would find it and destroy it.
In my early twenties I went to the other side of the world - to university - and there was not much time to even think about writing. I did not even go sight-seeing because I had to work part-time in order to keep myself there. I left a sealed box in our garden shed. My father thought it would be safe there. It was not. My mother found it and destroyed the contents. It was, in her eyes, rubbish to be got rid of.
As an adult I tried to argue with my mother. I was an adult. I had the right to choose how to occupy my spare time. If I wanted to write then that was my right. My mother responded by saying that as long as I lived with them (and there were unfortunately good reasons for my needing to do that) then she would decide what I did. Even when I was caring for her in her last illness she insisted that I should not write. Why? She saw writing as dishonest and as secretive. It was not what dutiful daughters did with their time. Just as her mother before her she expected that I would entertain her and be her companion. I think she saw my writing as excluding her.
I could inhabit a world in which she had no part.


Sarah said...

Oh Cat, I just want to hug the child that you were.

catdownunder said...

Thankyou. Oddly I survived - and I now try to write.

Miriam said...

You should write a story about the girl who couldn't write. How awful.

Donna Hosie said...

Miriam had my thought as well because that is a great (albeit awful!) idea for a story.

Sheep Rustler said...

Words fail me. There were many things wrong with my childhood but I was always encouraged to write. It was about the only thing that kept me going sometimes. I, too, want to hug the child you were, and give you a safe place to hide your work. We cannot chose our parents.

catdownunder said...

Miriam, Donna, I never thought of writing it as such - too close to home I suppose!
No, we cannot choose our parents - but my father is a marvellous man and his parents were too. I was very fortunate to have them!

Janet said...

Your account is a story in itself. I suspect that there is a lot more to it that you could write about.

Frances said...

I find this story to be quite tragic, Cat.
And puzzling. Was it about confining your interests to the academic? Was it about your identity only being allowed to be a facet of hers?
I have observed teaching/motherhood to be quite antipathetic sometimes -( the opposite of popular opinion).
In any case, it reminds of someone bonsai-ing a plant, or regularly pruning all its buds so that it can never blossom.
Congratulations on coping with this with courage.

catdownunder said...

Her mother did the same thing to her Frances.