At Seventeen


For a long time I have kept and maintained, admittedly sometimes sporadically, two very different kinds of journals – the first the repository of my daily writing practice, the other a kind of on-going commentary outlining my thoughts and musings about everything to do with writing, both my own and that of others, a writer’s diary if you will. Recently I have turned this practice into something a little more focused. I begin by choosing an event in my life, something from the past which shimmers a little around the edges, the light reflecting upon the waters of my sometimes still, sometimes turbulent mind, and while all that glitters may not be gold, still it is usually worth exploring. And so I dive in and mooch around a little, first in this spot, then in that, and if I am lucky, if it is a ‘good’ day for writing, I might discover something new, something that might reward sifting through the sieve of mindful interrogations. Of course ‘good’ by its very definition is a relative thing, so what might be treasure today may, on the morrow, be nothing more than sand slipping through spread-eagled  fingers, offering no gifts worth grabbing on to. But that is tomorrow’s problem. Today, this moment, is all that concerns me now.

That this moment extends beyond the limited expanse of my habitual quotidian and paltry vision, stretching the eternal now upwards, and inwards too, to the furthest frontiers of space and time, transforms the experience into time beyond time; it is all there ever was, or can be. Herein lies freedom, the spaciousness of mind which carries me above and beyond the petty shenanigans of a life hardily lived. Even my dreams are beggarly in comparison, for I fail to dream big enough! But if I dig and delve, if I am not afraid to dive in, take a deep breath and jump, trusting that there is something much bigger and grander and a whole lot more powerful than me out there ready to catch me, call it what you will, who knows where my curiosity might take me?

To prepare myself for these big adventures, first I sit and meditate for 15 or 20 minutes, just breathing, following the breath however it is in the moment. Then I take up my pen and start writing. When I am done, and I always know when I have said all that needs to be said, for now anyway, I walk away from my writing desk for about 10 minutes, just enough time to make a cup of tea and carry it back to my desk, sipping it as I re-read my own words. Next I pull out my writer’s diary, and I begin to ponder what it was I was trying to express. What exactly was I trying to say? What did I mean here? And what of this word there – is there another which might better express, more accurately, what I am attempting to articulate? I become my own first reader.

Invariably this part of the process opens up multiple possibilities, an almost endless stream of themes to consider and explore. I pick a few, the ones which appear most pertinent to me in this moment; they would be different at another time – it is this specificity I believe which makes this kind of writing ‘mindful’, for here I am focusing upon the treasures, the gifts of this moment in time without thinking about the future, or worrying about the past; I am simply open and receptive to what lies in front of me now, unfurling, unfolding at my feet.

Today I wrote about an incident that happened to me when I was 17, desperate to escape from the shackles of a life I believed was slowly strangling me. I wanted so much more than what I had, but the wanting itself, the yearning was the impetus, the motivation, the trigger to do something, to change. All I knew was that I wanted to run as fast as I could, believing that the freedom I experienced in my fantasies would be borne out by lived experience far away from home. Sometimes I still hear the siren call of this dream of another way, something different and new, something elusive and ephemeral, beckoning to me, whispering my name, calling from across vast swathes of time and space, inviting me to walk on from the mist of memory into the sea of possibilities, to not be afraid, or rather to release the fear, to breathe deeply and to feel that breath seep down, lower and lower, slipping past shoulders and chest, tight with unresolved pains, down, down, dropping down, behind my belly and it’s fluttering knots, sliding across sore sciatic nerves of dis-placed hips, the price of a rushed birthing a very long time ago [what was the hurry?], slithering over sore knees and swollen ankles, too painful to take any weight. But the breath itself is magic, and as if I am swooping downwards in a kamikaze leap, I leave my fear behind, and become all breath, until by the time I reach my toes I am free, utterly free. Feeling my feet, I am flying!

So why couldn’t I then, and why can’t I now, just be happy, content with this, just this? Why must there always be this yearning for something more? What is this yearning, this burning desire to find something anyway? What, for God’s sake, do I think is out there? And why is it always writing, only ever writing, which seems to touch upon this inexplicable impulse to stumble upon meaning, to track down and ferret out the significance of the events set down and laid out like the living dead upon the slab of the microscopic gaze?  What is it precisely that draws me back so relentlessly, eating me up and spitting me out, and still I crawl back, over and over again, incessantly chasing the dream that this time, today, I will write my way back home, wherever home might be? And just for the record, it wasn’t where I landed when I was just 17! Still, though that soon-to-be young woman didn’t get it all right, she did intuit a thing or two worth re-visiting. Good to know my writing can take me back any time I feel inclined to mine her-story again.

Edith Ó Nualláin lives with her family in a small village on the east coast of Ireland, snuggled between the mountains and the sea, where she reads, writes, and sits at her spinning wheel, spinning dreams with words and fibres. Some day she hopes to learn how to spin straw into gold. Her poetry is published in Crannóg, an Irish literary journal, and her book reviews are published in Calyx: A Journal of Art and Literature by Women, as well as online at Story Circle Book Reviews. She writes occasionally on her blog, In a Room of My Own

One response to “At Seventeen

  1. Pingback: At Seventeen | In a Room of My Own

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