For several years, I participated in a writing-on-the-spot group that met once a week. Each Tuesday night a group of ten to fifteen women (and the occasional man) sat around the table and wrote to the prompts our facilitator brought. We read to each other what arose. Not only did I get some great starts for stories, boosts for works in progress, I also developed increasing confidence for reading my writing and accepting that the rubbish that sometimes arrives on my page is just part of the process. And I got little odds and ends like this one, a response to the prompt that asked us to write where our loves of reading and writing originated. They were meant to be two separate pieces, but I couldn’t separate mine. Here it is:
I cannot tell you where my loves of reading and writing began. To track the start of those loves would be like tracking the beginning of a spring, bubbling up and bursting through some gap in rock and soft soil. I can dig down for clues, the way I might spread moss and dark stones, cast them aside, stare down into the water, to try to see the start. There, I will find the bottom shelf of the smoke-stained bookcase in the corner of the back room of my Granny and Grandpa McCree’s semi-detached council house in Glasgow. I will find myself, book in hand, stepping backwards until I find my Grandpa’s lap in his wide green chair in the front room. His meaty, brown fingers will hold the book alongside my small, freckled ones. He will read and read and read as long as I ask, while day gives in to night and men wearing wool caps walk past the hedge outside and orange streetlights cast their glances from the corners of Kinalty Road and Muir Street. This is not the beginning.
I can dig further; find tributaries flowing over rock, hard like the chairs in the Kilmarnock library. Here, like a place underground, is a stillness, a silence more sacred than church. Here is the book of Gaelic that takes up both my arms as I carry it back to the table. Here lie the secrets of all the words I know and do not know in languages familiar and foreign. Here I spend hours digging quietly, turning page after page, feeling the frail, gold trimmed edges of some; the thick scallop of others; the weight of the books, solid like granite, held since time before anyone I know existed.
Here is where I take up the pencil, place my page next to a bound book, begin to write. Here, then, is where my spring becomes visible, bubbling up and spilling out in thick lead strokes onto firm white page.
I had no more choice about where to erupt or when or whether than does some spurt of water that finds its way up through the ground. I ask only that my words be allowed to flow down the mountain, to combine with the words of others, to course over rock and soil, to quicken and slow, growing as more join us, making our way to the sea, making our way to each other, to the point at which we all connect.