the muse, the memory, the master

Ok -so uni is back. And this week it was my turn to post a workshop piece on the topic of ‘Nostalgia’.

The reading for the week was a piece by Bruce Chatwin called A Lament for Afghanistan. It was an ok piece. Sadly, I am not a fan of travel writing – am kinda not really a fan of travel itself. But part of this course has a focus on travel writing – being, as it is, a popular genre in creative non-fiction.

Anyhoo – the focus question to do with this reading says: “Chatwin’s memories of his travels in Afghanistan are triggered by thoughts of another travel writer, Robert Byron. Has any writer put you on a journey into your own past? Write about it, weaving your reading into the memory.”

I *knew* what I wanted to write about, but somehow I came out with a garbled piece about nursery rhymes, Enid Blyton and Little Golden Books. Gah!!! And I was running out of time (to say nothing of work deadlines and all that jazz).

Then, in a nice collusion of coincidence and intensity, I reached a point where the piece I wanted to write found its way to the very top of my brain.

The muse is a deadset mysterious thing.

Out it came. A piece about what is possibly my favourite book ever: The Great Gatsby. I could weep at the literary perfection of this classic. I loved it then and I love it now. (I even have the Popular Penguin coffee mug to prove it ;-))

But this is just a short piece, just a taste. I feel there is more as yet unsaid. It will come. When the muse says it is time.

Without further ado…

Of Cocktail Music And First Loves

The yellow cocktail music pulled me in. The words – exquisite, poetic and yet duplicitous – seduced me, while the tragic narrative broke me in two.

And in the protagonist I found myself.

I was fifteen, discovering ‘literature’ after a lifetime of books. It was the year when the whole world was wondering if George Orwell’s dystopian vision would materialise. I was, of course, perilously perched upon the Newspeak/ Doublethink/ Thoughtcrime/ Big Brother ride of the times. Contrarily, Emma thrilled me, because – and this was a surprise – I adored it. Catch-22 felt like a private joke Joseph Heller chose to share with me alone. And John Irving blew my mind when he introduced me to the weird and wonderful world of Garp.

Then came F. Scott Fitzgerald. And I fell truly, madly, deeply in literary love for the first time.

At fifteen – desperate to escape, dreaming so hard the dreams that would be my way out – The Great Gatsby gave breath to my deepest and most tender desires.

Metaphor captured me, made me listen: Her voice was full of money.

As a girl with pretensions to a writing future it hit me in my sweet spot.

And as a girl from a poor family, I got the metaphor on a visceral level. I envied girls with voices like Daisy. I was Jay himself – ridiculously smitten by an untouchable world.

He knew that when he kissed this girl, and forever wed his unutterable visions to her perishable breath, his mind would never romp again like the mind of God. So he waited, listening for a moment longer to the tuning-fork that had been struck upon a star. Then he kissed her. At his lips’ touch she blossomed for him like a flower and the incarnation was complete.

This almost impossible articulation of a transformative love – a love which renders the subject powerless in its wake – sang itself off the page to me with heartbreaking lucidity.

My own first love belonged to that world too. A girl of poetic beauty, whimsical charm and gentle charisma.  Like Jay with Daisy, I never forgot her. She made her way in the world and I watched – West Egg to East Egg – as she transcended. Above. Beyond.

While I waited. Below.

And all the time, beneath my own swirling surface, there burned twin ambitions: to be someone. And to be someone for her. To be worthy.

And then. Slowly I moved forward. Running faster. Stretching my arms out further. Hoping that one fine morning



Filed under getting older, uni, writing

5 responses to “the muse, the memory, the master

  1. As always, leaves me knowing I have a lot to learn about this writing gig.

    Great stuff. I’ve got all the popular penguins, I’ll dig out The Great Gatsby next methinks.

  2. Beautiful. Do you know I’ve never read TGG (cough), but it’s next on my pile of Popular Penguins (now where would we be without those…). Thanks for the introduction.

  3. As I’m sure we’ve discussed before, TGG is one of my top two favourite books EVER (and I’m LOL at the Penguin mug b/c I have one too! So weird. I use it every morning) We always planned to name Cameron Jordan after my favourite female character in the book (with her tanned legs and insouciant mouth)- but when she was born Michael Jordan was huge and we knew three baby boys with the name, so I reluctantly let it go- though I did appropriate Daisy’s surname for the protagonist in my latest novel.
    Loved reading this blog- I had much the same experience when I first read the book aged 17. I still re-read it every year, just for the sheer sparse miracle of it; I still watch for the green light across the sound. So we beat on, boats against the current… I don’t have my copy here with me in Broome and you are making me yearn for it!
    Good stuff (and hope you got my email yesterday).

  4. Lucy

    Jayne, I just LOVE how you wrote this piece. And nostalgia actually strikes me as a difficult thing to write about. I love how it feels to experience it but would struggle with writing about it. Also, I agree with how “the muse” can strike at strange times. Have you seen the Elizabeth Gilbert TED talk on that? Not sure if are a fan of hers or not but I found how she talks about “muse” and “inspiration” really interesting. Here’s the link incase you’re keen to watch it:

    • Hey Lucy – thanks so much for your comment. I had seen the Liz Gilbert TED talk and loved it. It was def in the back of my mind when I wrote this. That talk made me trust the muse a little more – it still gives me grief though.
      Thanks for reading.

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