Caught when young.
Why I write.
Little ringlets of smoke curled from between the red roof tiles into the blue morning sky.
I was on my way to the village school and, as I did every morning on my solitary walk past farmhouses with their neat front gardens, I pondered about the beauty of nature, the bright flowers, the blossoming apple trees along this country road and the solitary, cheeky call of a cuckoo in the nearby copse.
As I came closer to the farmhouse I noticed more and more smoke, now darker, escaping from many places of the roof.
"My God," I gasped, "that house is on fire. What shall I do?"
Looking around, there was nobody in sight, so I ran into the opposite farm, banged on the door and yelled, "Fire, Fire." A woman opened the door and I pointed to the burning house, across the road, where flames now squeezed their fiery tongues into the air.
Soon a number of people had gathered, alerted the occupants of the burning farm and helped them carrying furniture out onto the roadside and driving the cattle from the stable.
When the fire brigade arrived from the village centre, all they could do was preventing sparks flying onto neighbouring properties. The fire had started in the haystack, which was built onto the main house, as is custom in this area. Fortunately no lives were lost.
As we often connect seemingly disparate events, so the images of the burning house and my first attempt at writing are forever connected because it was precisely on this road where I composed my first poem on my way to school.
Not that I conscientiously decided then that I wanted to be a writer. I was ten years old at that time and attended a village school. Although born in a large city in Germany, we had lost our home in a bomb raid and had been evacuated to the countryside. It was a blessing in disguise because despite all the hardship of that time, I grew close to nature and much of my early poetry evolved on long walks among the open fields.
Writing Poetry was simply something I did. My mother wrote poetry from time to time, so why shouldn't I be able to do this?
Being German and reading the works of our great poets, such as Goethe, Schiller and Eichendorff was a great inspiration to me. To this day I have of their works in my bookshelf here in Australia.
Since we had become very poor during the WWII, in which my father perished, there was no way that I could attend high school because we didn't have the money for school fees nor for transport to the nearest city. Perhaps that too was a blessing in disguise because I was spared analysing the poems I loved so much. Instead I simply enjoyed reading and reciting them.
My teacher discovered that I wrote poetry and he asked if he could borrow the little booklet in which I kept them to show my headmaster. He liked what I had written but unfortunately I never received the booklet back because soon we moved to another village.
When I started work at age fifteen years of age there was little time for thinking or writing because we worked long hours. Then I married and had three children in quick succession and I led a busy life caring for my family. So there were many years during which I did not write creatively, except that I was haunted by one story I had started when I was about twelve years old. It was to be a fairy story about 'The Lilac Queen'. Lilac is one of my favourite flowers and I still remember the heavy sweet scent of its purple and white flowers in my grandparent's garden and in the villages where we lived.
Anyway, I was stuck with half this story and suffered from sever writers' block. I had written a beginning but just couldn't find a continuation at the same time I never could put the half written story completely out of my mind. I just would surface from time to time out of the depths of my memory. Fairy tales, of course, are part of my inherited culture; I grew up with the original Hansel and Gretel story and the other fairy tales by the brothers Grimm and some from Hans Christian Anderson. However, constructing such a story myself was a different matter. This unfinished story followed me all the years of my life until about two years ago I finally sat down and completed the story. Now I need an illustrator to bring the story of the Lilac Queen alive.
So, as I grew older, married and had children my artistic inclinations manifested more in the areas of painting and craftwork. Although I did write some travel diaries, it was only when I went through traumatic emotional episodes in my life that I felt the need to write again. Yes, there was a real urge to express myself in poetry. To me the compressed style of poetry acts as a release of frustration and pain without having to resort to too many words. The poems don't evolve spontaneously, only the ideas do. I have to work conscientiously on the form and choosing the words in the right places. This is an enjoyable process and I know deep inside when a poem is finished.
Years ago, when my life was in turmoil, I wrote every day about my feelings and what was happening to me. That act of writing was part of a healing process. Getting things out of my system without loading it onto another person. I was very effective and when, a few years later I read the thick volume of my outpourings, I was amazed how distant I felt from those traumatic events. I had changed, forgiven and walked on in a different track. In retrospect it was also a blessing that I never shared those memoirs with anyone else. That chapter was closed. The writing had prevented me from harbouring bitterness inside me. Those writings I destroyed; they had done their duty and I felt free and empowered to go on with my life.
Over the years I have begun to write poetry again, not only when I am in emotional turmoil but, once again, as I did as a child, I can write about other events and experiences.
From time to time I share my thoughts also in a short story like I did in a story called 'Gardens of my Life', where I described the different gardens that I had owned and the significance they had for me at any given time.
Having travelled much over the years, it has become my habit to write down my impressions of foreign countries and the interactions I had with people in those places. Travelling often alone, I miss sharing my feelings with another person. It would be a shame to just let all the impressions just dissipate without being given a more permanent form. Therefore I like writing a travel diary and later shape it into more readable form so others can learn from it and share a little in what I have experienced. Stories about sailing in the South Pacific, trekking in the Himalayas and visiting South Africa and several other countries have thus come into being.
Now my children are urging me to put my life story on paper (or at least in the computer) and I have started doing that but I am still debating whether to write it in the first person or in the third and wether or not to make it a story or more of a documentary of my life. And having lived, and still living a quite colourful life, it is not always easy to decide what to put into the memoir and what to leave out and yet remain truthful in the process. On the one hand I want to tell as much as possible yet on the other hand I do not wish to embarrass those people who played a significant yet negative role in my life. Nor do I want to re-visit some of my foibles again and fix them in readable form. I guess all writers of memoirs face the same questions. Whatever I'll decide, I know the story must be written and the book be published.
Having laboured several semesters over my doctoral thesis and finally finished the research and the book and now feel I want also to do some more research and perhaps write a book about it without going through the academic pressures.
Recently I finished writing a book to challenge older Christian women not just to sit at home and let the world go by but to actively take part in mentoring the younger generation by using their God-given skills and talents, as varied as they may be.
So, summing up the urge to write does not limit itself to one genre. Sometimes it is a poem that wants to be born, sometimes a travel story to be shared or other memories emerge and at yet other times my need to write has didactic reasons. Whatever it is I think, like most writers do, that writing is an act of communication, of wanting to share and possibly even get responses.
Elisabeth Puruto lives on the East Coast of Australia. She is a born-again Christian of mature age and has taken part in a number of part time mission outreaches. At age 67 she obtained her PhD in Linguistics and is currently studying for a Master in Divinity.
Copyright E. Puruto 2013.
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