Sydney – Hanoi
I am flying Thai Airlines to Hanoi and I'm on the plane as I speak or should I say - as I write. The impeccably groomed stewardesses have just begun giving the safety demo and I am completely transfixed. They glide into position like dancers in an exotic ballet; their very formal Thai silk outfits, each one a different colour, with a gold edged princess sash across the chest; seem to sparkle in the dim cabin light. I am glad I am watching so carefully for when they don their life jackets, I notice they buckle up a different way to normal. Not that it will be much use if we have to crash land in the desert. Parachutes would be more sensible. Just an extra tab to pull, so a bright Thai silk parachute could pop out instead.
I’d rather be flying straight to Hanoi but instead I will be transiting for a couple of hours in Bangkok. I’ve never been to Thailand. I know there must be more to it than beach resorts teeming with British backpackers and aging potbellied sex tourists, (there’s a few on this flight) but I am not drawn there yet. However stepping on to any foreign plane is like stepping into another country; each time we do, we get a little taste, like now. I’ve been senso-perving since I hit the departure lounge, not just watching people, but picking up colour, shape, scent, tone, light, sound, texture. I’m pretending I have a torch camera stuck to my forehead with a sense detector on my lapel so l can zoom in and out at will, capture grabs of sound, light, movement; feel the temperature on the back of my neck, the rattle of air past my nose. I am a living breathing sense collector and for the next six weeks this is my job.
I know it may seem odd that a writer who also makes a living teaching writing, would to go to such lengths to find time to write. Why don’t I just practice what I preach; write every day if only just for ten minutes, write in your lunch break, tea break, in the doctors waiting room, in the bank queue, go to work an hour or two early and write before everyone else gets in, write in cafes if your partner is jealous and doesn’t like you writing at home. Tell him you are meeting an old flame, he probably won’t find it nearly as threatening.
The fact is I am just as bad as the rest of you. They say ‘what the teacher teaches, the teacher needs most of all’. I put things off, in the too hard basket, say I will do it later - I don’t have time right now! I close the door on my writing instead of leaving it open, just a crack, just a smidgin, even for writing in small ways - jotting, making lists, word collecting, grabbing ideas when they turn up unannounced. You have to be at the ready to catch them. You have to have notebooks planted everywhere, a tiny one for wallet or purse, not so tiny for the car and gym bag, medium size for the magazine rack in the toilet and the special one with a pretty cover for beside your bed.
You have to say ‘I am a writer’ even if you don’t think you are. You have to make a commitment. We do it for love, for marriage, for work, for a football team, for a guy or gal we know deep down will probably leave us sooner than later.
Better to ‘marry creativity’ I tell my students every year, and when creativity starts to lag, find a way to stimulate it into action again. Take a trip. Go alone, or with a writing friend - make the arrangements, take care of all the details: visas, plane tickets, hotel bookings - turn fantasy into reality. If you can do it for travel why can’t you do it for writing?