Once upon a time it was tango.
Then, I heard myself say to a friend the other day, Tango isn’t an obsession any more, and later, I wondered about that.
What is obsession? Well, for me it’s when I’m a bit out of control with something, in the sense that it is driving me, taking a skewed and exaggerated position in my life, and other things that matter are getting squeezed out: it can feel unhealthy because I sense that my balance has gone and that chaos has decided to throw a bit of a party.
From the day I first walked backwards in October 2006, I was obsessed with tango: I danced every night (given the chance) and if I didn’t, I felt that I wasn’t breathing; when I wasn’t dancing I was thinking about the next time; and my experiences in and around tango sent me flying or crying because all things tango mattered, mucho, and perhaps a bit too mucho. In the end as it turned out, tango had a massive role to play in the life of this little housewife from Hampshire. It convinced me to come to Buenos Aires: I swapped countries, languages, lifestyle, cultures and tango cultures too; it led me to meet C.; it brought me to a place, both externally and internally, where I have never been happier.
It’s been over two years, and I am no longer tango-obsessed: tango is part of life, but it doesn’t have the power to shut out non-tango friends and experiences, food, sleep or upset my emotional applecart in the ways that it once did. Don’t get me wrong, I couldn’t be without tango… a week or so without dancing, and I need to dance. Yes, tango is a vital element in creating the overall life I want. However it has now relaxed its hold and in the process has handed me over to another obsession.
Around the same time that I discovered tango, I stopped writing.
Here is my final poem from November 2006. Tango is present: tango, and pain.
He placed a silver splinter in her skin
that she could not remove. The magnifying glass
was useless. A skipped heart beat
is elusive, impossible to explain.
He smashed her big picture,
mixed it into a jumbled jigsaw;
how many pieces fell through his fingers,
pierced his days?
She searched for the missing colours
in video games, her iPod, logic.
Found them in his voice, his dance, his arms –
the parts he always took away.
After that poem, I stopped trying to create with words because I was sick of writing about the dark side, the sadness. Plus at the same time, in offering me tango, the universe presented me with a chance to stop writing about my torments and do something about them instead. And oh boy, I did. I did. I changed my life forever.
Between then and now, the writing never really stopped though, did it? This blog. 167 posts, and God knows how many thousands and thousands of words, and the truth is that tango made me do it. Tango kept the words flowing on this blog for two years until I was ready to pick up other sorts of pens again. Thank you tango. You kept this writer alive.
In 2008 the urge returned to write outside of the blog. I dreamt of big bestsellers, inspirational tomes, a memoir that could change lives. I also dreamt of a little ‘friend in your shoe bag’ tango guide for first time tango travellers to Buenos Aires, and I started writing it. I met VOD. I stopped. I met Barbie. I started it again. VOD won over. I stopped. Barbie punched VOD on the nose. I started again, and this final time, I did not stop.
The inspirational book, one day maybe, if the universe wishes it. The tango guide – Oh my God, eight months after I wrote the first words of the first draft, I am pretty confident (note the disclaiming VOD in those words), that it will be completed… lets just say 40000 words are in the computer, and I can see the end in sight. It has been through three life cycles in terms of structure and style. I have asked myself a million questions in terms of what it is and what it is not: I have the answers now. Despite VOD and actually despite Sallycat, this project has fought to survive: every time I have abandoned it, Barbie has woken me up one day with a new idea; I thought I’d lost the lot when my laptop blew up, but the marvellous PC doctors managed to save my manuscript; in my weakest moments wonderfully encouraging people keep popping up and telling me to keep going. So, I have plodded on: 1000 words here, 2000 words there – every day, I say to myself: Sal, just keep going until the end of the first draft – then decide. Now, unbelievably the end of the first draft is now just days away, assuming I keep doing the plodding on thing!
BUT folks, the tango guide is not the point of this little tale, just a step on the journey.
A few days ago, out of the blue, two people in the same day on different sides of the globe sent me a link to a travel writing competition: 800 words, a theme, 48 hours to the deadline. I decided to have a crack at it.
Whether or not my entry via email even reached the judges on Friday is not important.
I know that what I wrote was beautiful.
And it just came out of me as if from a spring that was probably called Barbie, or should I say, The Great Creator.
OK, Sallycat crafted it afterwards but, the initial words came from a place that I have never felt when writing prose before. And I know that if I had not been writing this blog, and this tango guide, and bits of memoir, every week and every day for months and months… well, Barbie would have been asleep in the cellar under VOD’s lock and key, and I would have sat and stared at a blank page for a very long time. In a flash, I saw that every single word I write, whatever happens to it, matters. And it matters if only because it is leading me to the next one. The joy I felt to write my 800 word essay this week, is the ultimate writer’s prize, but I could not have won that prize without every single word of the journey I have been on. And that joy, the joy I used to feel when I completed a poem, is a joy I want to feel again because in it I breathe deep and free and know that I am being meeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!
The trick, if I can manage it, is not to become too obsessed with chasing the writing joy: awake half the night searching for a perfect word; being unable to enjoy the company of a friend because the search for the perfect word, or format, or title is on my mind; my eyes needing to be propped open with matchsticks over the laptop at 4am. I’m afraid it is hard for me. I am an addictive type. Tango. Writing. Twitter. Coffee. Galaxy chocolate. Open top bus tours with mi amor. Balancing them all without sacrificing healthy food, sleep, staying in touch with everyone, paying the bills on time… it’s tough.
On the other hand, how absolutely bloody marvellous it is, to have actually discovered some stuff that I am passionate about! For forty-odd years of my life I wanted to learn of the things that could feed my soul and give it wings, and in tango and in writing I have found definitely found two of them. If I get a bit obsessive about them from time to time, not too much harm done eh? At least I’m not addicted to the evil weed any more.
Is it desirable to try to stop a runaway train of creativity that may verge on becoming an obsession, when you have fought so damn hard to discover it and get it going in the first place? I’m on the side of letting it race on unfettered, because one day it will undoubtedly slow down of its own accord, and then, there will be a time to rest.
What do you guys think?