Silence, when it came over, was noisy. Ringing in my ears, clacking unceremoniously, making itself known as if I’d somehow, god forbid, miss its entrance. As if it’s so easy to remain impervious to the raging, galloping rush of nothingness as it tumbled its way into my bare room. It pressed itself on me, pushing my face from both sides, trying to squish out whatever remained of my pale tear-dried cheeks. Compressing them as though they were a petty jpeg image of something larger, more significant than they seem.
Silence, when it came over, was unkind. Grabbing my ears by the edge, it pulled, tugging hard to make sure I strained. Fresh tears drained. It waited for the drops to drip, just long enough for them to solidify before forcing my eyes to renew the flow. Invading my comfort, it pulled the wind out of my lungs, extracting all joys, twisting, as it went, words that rumbled deep within my belly, croaked in angst, and crouched in agony.
Silence, when it came over, was swift. In one flawless motion, she swerved out of the road, and my world blackened. Cars don’t make good presents.
Australia is famous for many things. One of which is the largest living organism in the world—The Great Barrier Reef—that sprawls across a large part of eastern Australia. And then there’s Ayers Rock or UluruAyers Rock in the north, Port Arthur way down in Tasmania, the Opera House, the Old Melbourne Gaol, and countless other convict houses that framed the history of this great country that remains a wondrous mystery to the rest of the world.
There’re so many cultural and monumental buildings and memories in this country that global history texts celebrate. And yet, there’re also so many iconic elements that go entirely unnoticed—even by Australians themselves. People talk more about the gorgeous wine regions* than about the more noteworthy things they ought to talk about.
Here’s an example.
I was chatting with some friends, who come from various parts of the country and have travelled and lived much around the world, and I learnt that the world’s oldest living thing is right here in Australia, an unknown fact to most people.
It’s not the Reef. That’s the largest.
The oldest is a natural phenomenon called stromatolite or stromatolith. My enthusiasm for geology makes up for my beyond pathetic knowledge of the science. Stromatolites are rock formations. They’re layers of sheet-like sediments of silt, limestone, and a single-celled microbe called cyanobacteria. The word’s root comes from Greek and translates to “stratum” or more loosely to “stony cushion.”
Stromatolites are common and occur in many places. However, in Western Australia’s North Pole (apparently, WA has a North Pole of its own. Who knew?), you’ll find stromatolites as old as 3.5 billion years. They’re officially the oldest in the record.
The most extensive collection of stromatolites is in a Hamlin Pool in Shark Bay, also in Western Australia. These are about 4500 years old. And you can just as easily walk up to them as you would to a tree in your back garden.
We seldom appreciate the greatness within our reach. As in a game of hide and seek, we seek the special all around us, sometimes even going far off in the wrong direction, only to have equally uninformed guides misguiding us under the false impression of finding the right spot. And we think we’ve found it too—until we see it for real, and realise, that it’s been sitting in silence right under our noses.
*Don’t get me wrong—Australia is home to some of the world’s best wine regions. And it’s critical to showcase them too. I only call for a more balanced distribution of paparazzi.
I don’t believe in co-incidences. But I also don’t run away from them. Unable to write much today, I jumped from one tab to another on my browser trying to locate an idea that’d spark and open up my well of thoughts. It almost never works—I often read random things for hours before giving up on finding inspiration. I end up rambling or publishing a quick haiku.
Today, however, as I read through last week’s newsletter from the ACT writers centre (while this week’s newsletter lay open on the next tab), I stopped at this quote.
I’ve heard it, or something like it, a hundred times before. It’s the standard advice any writer offers a wannabe. I’ve said it plenty of times too, to myself and to others.
Waiting for a lightening bolt of inspiration to hit you is like taking the bus south and hoping it goes north. I know because I’ve done them both. Waiting is an excuse not to write. It’s a way to get around the larger fear that encapsulates your being, the uncertain possibility of an outcome you’re uncomfortable or unfamiliar with. And I think that’s how writer’s block comes about. It’s a reason to avoid seating yourself on that chair and getting work done. That’s what happened to me.
This afternoon, I arrived at my local co-op ready to write. It’s a great co-working space—they sell bulk foods, snacks, and have free artisan (sourdough!) bread. The best part? It’s almost empty after lunch.
And so I propped my laptop on an empty desk, wandered around the shop, bought some onion and sesame seeds, got coffee, nibbled on some bread, read through notes from a panel discussion I attended two days ago, and got distracted at least ten times before the newsletter came as a slap in the face.
The only reason I kept avoiding the blank screen is because I wasn’t sure what to write. And yet, the moment I started, I knew what I’d write. That’s the biggest hurdle most people never cross—they linger at the beginning for too long, and give up just before they discover that a world’s waiting to unravel underneath their fingers.
I recently attended a panel discussion about going and receiving criticism. The panel consisted of writers, reviewers, and art critics. It was an hour-long showering of insightful opinions and ideas that I had to note down and mull over. As I mulled over, an incredible urge to write them down gnawed my brain.
One of the points that a writer of over 30 books, brought up is that in this age of social media, writing as an art has taken a massive turn. People can now share their opinions with the greater world even as they watch a movie, read a book, or wander through an art exhibition.
And that got me thinking.
From being a slow, iterative process like a stewing stump of steak, creating art has now become quicker, like pre-packaged chicken caesar salad, to offer instant gratification for souls so eager to tweet out their amusing reactions to a book as early as five pages in.
Since writers and other artists are aware of the instantaneous effects that the audience’s opinions will have on their work, they tend to take safer strides in their writing. Afraid of being criticised by people who don’t see what they see, artists adjust their art to satisfy the audience that happens to see their work. As a result, art becomes tailored for a specific audience, instead of reflecting the artist’s being.
Bad reviews and harsh criticism isn’t always about the artwork. In most cases, especially in today’s social media-powered world, adverse reactions come from people who didn’t necessarily enjoy the work. This also means that the art hasn’t reached those who would enjoy and appreciate it. When put that way, any review becomes mildly questionable. Sure, this reader hated the book. But there may well be other readers who’d love the book but haven’t read or reviewed it yet.
That’s a good reason not to rely too much on reviews.