I keep a black velvet bag tucked quietly away for keeping special treasures – beautiful, strange, surprising – things that make me go ‘Mmmmm!’ It’s there for when I forget that I can write. It’s where I hoard the words of encouragement, of praise lest they get washed out with the tide of my own self-doubt.
I have told my creative writing students – actually I’ve told all of my students – that they all need their own black velvet bag. Because writing can be lonely. Because when it is just you and the pen or the screen your own demons can think now is a find time to waltz you around the floor of your own insecurities.
So my black velvet bag is there for when I forget that I can soar.
When thinking the best of things feels like lugging a load of wet laundry up a hill on a rainy day.
When I can’t be bothered finding the candles to put on the celebration cake let alone a match to light the damn things.
When I feel I wouldn’t have the energy to blow them out anyway.
But over time it’s become more than just a little scrap of something to turn to for when I am swamped with creative chaos. I find myself searching for it when I think I’ve forgotten certain things that I need. You know, those times when reality does its level best to show you that loving and celebrating and expecting bliss to jump out from behind a corner is fool’s talk.
That’s when I’m glad I have a little pocket of hope trussed up with a golden cord.
Don’t ask me where I hide it because it changes and quite frankly I never quite remember where I put it but I know it is always there when I need it. Because that is its job. And I’m pleased to say it seems to take its responsibility very seriously indeed.
Lately it’s been washed up on the shore between my soul and those precious moments when I lie in bed in the morning and haven’t yet opened my eyes.
But then there was today. Stuck in traffic on the way into uni. Amidst the cars nuzzling each other under a bright blue just-rinsed Tuesday morning I saw this in my mind’s eye.
My friend had shown me a picture of his daughter the night before. She’s three and a bit (and maybe a little bit more) and yes, she is a piece of Heaven sent to walk amongst us. I could tell you about her beautifully complex nature – her seriousness, her curiosity, the way every emotion and thought dances across her face so fast it’s like watching the wind blow clouds across the sky. And, how, when she’s used to you being around her, she’ll talk.
Well talk isn’t quite the word. She’ll un-dam the stream of thought that tickles her sparkly synapses and let it flow so that you’re immersed in a string of delicious wordles (that, learned friend, is pronounced similar to ‘wombles’ – yes, I just made it up but it kinda comes close to the half-and-then-more-than-that sounds and phrases she threads together like beads) that confound and delight.
But of course she wasn’t speaking in this pic. She was smiling at the boy standing next to her, who is all of one year older than her (is that a lot when you’re three? I think it’s the equivalent of three of adult years). He had his arm slung over her shoulder.
He was looking at the camera, big grin splitting his “Look- at-me-I’m-a-boy-and-me-and-her-built-this-REALLY-REALLY-big-cool-thing-out-of-Lego-and-it’s-a tower-a-real-tall-tower-and-mine-is-the-blue-bit-there-and-the-red-bit-there-and-the-green-bit-she-did-and look-at-it – it’s so-so-so-so BIG” face.
Well the expression is priceless – she’s looking at him with such a gorgeous, confident, “yeah, I know we’re great, we did this, we ARE the best, EVER and hey, I NEVER doubted it for a second! Damn straight you’re lucky to know me!”
Ease. Grace. Strength. Beauty.
In one glance.
So yes, that image is in my black velvet bag and now it lies there gleaming like a diamond – burning with its own fiery heart. And wrapped around it, always, will be the look on her dad’s face as he showed us the photo. Have you ever stood next to someone when they swell with love? They fill with it and you get to bask as their heart glows gold.
Now this is an old-fashioned, archaic kind of a word but I’ve reached for others and this one keeps getting hooked on my line so I’m going to use it. Here goes. Humble. I feel humble in the presence of it. And privileged. I tend to hold my breath hoping to make the moment last longer.
So it got me thinking what else lies in my black velvet bag. I’m going to write a list. For anyone who knows me you know I adore a list. The sheer abecedarian nature of it – the neatness, the flow! Lists ROCK!
And it also got me wondering – what’s in your black velvet bag?
Tell me. I must know. (And don’t anyone dare quote Princess Bride to me just because you can!)
And yes, I know by asking this I’m clearly breaking my own rather bizarre and self-defeating rule of “I may write a blog but I don’t really want anyone to read it cause that would be scary and strange and altogether too much of a ‘look at me’ kinda thing”. I know. And now you know. If you didn’t already. But there it is.
So until you show me yours I’ll content myself with tipping the contents of mine onto my lap and foraging through the jewels that lie there. Oooo look! Bright, shiny things!