I was reading a magazine today with a feature about the new Wentworth Prison series (a remake of the old Prisoner Cell Block H). The article looked back at some of the characters from the original series and how they have been re-envisioned for a modern day setting, with photographs of the actresses in their roles. At once I was transported back to 1989/1990, to my own past, and my own sense of re-visioning myself and my writing became strong and definite.
In those days, I split my life between university in Birmingham and weekends/holidays with my then lover, in a squalid, rented flat in Cardiff. I didn’t see the flat as squalid, however, but romantic, magical, alternative. We watched prisoner late at night on a tiny, tinny black and white portable television, in a room that was freezing cold in the winter and unbearably hot in the summer, situated as it was up in the eaves of an old manor style house. Our bed was an old sofa bed with most of the stuffing gone, and no legs, resembling nothing more than a couple of conjoined car seats on the floor, and just as uncomfortable, and we huddled together under a pile of quilts and blankets that never quite covered the both of us for the whole night. While my bedmate smoked and drank coffee or Southern Comfort out of an old Batman mug, I read, wrote endlessly in my diary, and watched the miniscule characters play out the dramas of their fictional lives on the screen.
These days, I split my life between a happy, reasonably busy and generally fulfilling home life and a very busy, generally fulfilling work life, with a daily commute of an hour each way. I live in a four bedroomed house, sleep on a very comfortable kingsize bed, which I share with my very cuddly partner, and Wentworth is watched on a Wednesday night, cuddled together on the sofa, often with a glass of wine. Again, I often write and read whilst it is on, and in odd moments, discussions rage about characters, plausibility, behaviours. At times, the conversation turns to the past, because the new series focuses on uncovering the past lives of its characters, and so, stimulated by this, we talk about ourselves and tell and retell the stories that have shaped the characters we have grown into over time.
A friend of mine calls his blog ‘An autobiography in random chapters.’ This is an apt name, I feel, because it is as if my whole life is my autobiography, a review of my past and a re-visioning of my present, through the medium of the spoken and written word. I have kept a diary since the age of 13, not daily, but regularly, and this act in itself can be seen as a means of defining myself, and defining the parameters of my life. Years of obsessive deconstruction of a previous relationship, mired in everything that was wrong with it, resulted perhaps in my inability to see beyond the scripts that I had devised for this relationship. Yet I was not the only one responsible for writing, or enacting, those scripts. Now, I see every day as full of possibilities to create, to achieve, and to make a difference in the world in small ways. I can write (blogs, academic articles, freelance work, teaching materials, stories), and I can carry out my work role and affect the lives of childbearing women, help to shape the identities and knowledge of fledgling midwives, make a difference as Green Champion, work as an advocate for women’s equality in the workplace . .. the list goes on. Opportunities, possibilities. My goals, it seems, have not changed since those dark days under the eaves, dreaming of a life much like the one I have now.
So I could argue (with myself, mostly), that this life is a re-visioning, a revised version, of everything that has gone before. I have helped to sculpt my own shapes out of the shifting sands of time and experience, chance and deliberation, but the room I sit in to write still resembles the rooms I have occupied over the last 20 or so years. The sofa bed is covered by a tie-dyed drape, the centre of the floor is occupied by a large, many-coloured rag rug, a Goddess altar fills the bay window, bookshelves line one wall crammed with books, and my desk is a pile of papers, a writing slope, two laptops, and a printer. Previous incarnations of this same self have occupied other rooms – some larger, some significantly smaller, with sagging, ageing, disintegrating furniture disguised with cheerful throws, stained carpet hidden by multiple rag rugs, walls camouflaged with listing bookshelves and the inevitable piles of books. My desk has been non-existent, or a kitchen table, or a folding child’s desk set up in a corner. It has been variously adorned with paper, ancient word-processors, typewriters, and various generations of personal computer. It has always had piles of things waiting to be addressed, and a seeming chaos that makes perfect sense to me alone. And always, somewhere in the array, there is my diary, which is always a notebook of some kind, varying in shape, size and adornment, and in different stages of life – pristine and new through to battered and almost full of my random, scrawling script. These books contain the story of my life, rewritten again and again in a palimpsest of personal and private inquiry. Much has changed over time, but the most significant changes are the most recent, when I decided to step away from the self-perpetuating, repeating ‘script’ and the plot that kept on re-running towards the same inevitable conclusions. My life, viewed from the perspective of now, has been rather like watching a horror movie, where the viewer screams at the heroine not to go into the big old empty house alone, or at least, to put the bloody light on!
In this incarnation of ‘me’ I have almost aggressively retained what I feel is important, but have rewritten myself as the woman I still want to be, with a real sense of honesty, and a commitment to trying to see myself and my experiences from multiple perspectives. But here, at this desk, whether I am writing in my diary, scribbling with my special fountain pen on the yellow pads I use for my novel, or typing rapidly on my laptop, I am living that script and rewriting it as I go along. It is only recently that I fully realised that in every part of my life I can change the script, because I am the author of my own future.
Is this what an autobiography truly is? The way we write our lives, ourselves? And if so, how do others manage, when they don’t write, or read, or reflect in this way? How do others write their scripts, characterise self and friends, family, colleagues, all the key actors in their personal play? I have an endless opportunity to rewrite my own character, to erase the unwanted flaws, enhance the positive attributes, and manipulate the action in my plot. Most importantly, I can go into the big old haunted house and turn on all the lights, walk through the rooms armed with my ghost-busting equipment, knowing I cannot know what will be around the corner but at least feeling that this time, whatever it is, I am going to kick its butt.
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