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Wow.  Today, right now, I find myself feeling peaceful, so very peaceful.  It might have something to do with the blue sky, which is such a relief after the weather we’ve had around these Southern Tableland parts, blustery and drizzly, sleety even, so it makes your hands turn grey-black and your nose feel as though it’s going to snap off.  But it’s not just the weather, that deep dark blue Goulburn sky.  No, it’s because yesterday, I feel, something momentous happened.  It’s not momentous as in a change of government, or a great sporting achievement (as if sport can ever be such a thing), it’s just momentous to me.

You see, yesterday I submitted my second novella to my publisher.  Yes, I’ve done this before; I’d thought I was finished, because I felt finished.  It must have been some kind of trick, because Blemish Books came back with changes, good changes, and wise, which then set in train changes I wanted to make.  So that’s how the last seven days have been, making changes to a manuscript and thinking about changes, even at night, and making more of the bloody things, until everything – everything – is perfect.

So I hope.

I’ve been going through I’m Ready Now with a fine-toothed comb, well, in reality it was just a Bic pen.  I’ve agonised over words, sentences, paragraphs, chapters.  I’ve never forgotten something that the Australian children’s-book author Mem Fox once said: ‘Care about writing because it matters.  Ache over every detail.  Be involved in the painful and intolerable wrestle with words and their meaning.’  So that’s what I’ve been doing: wrestling with words and their meanings until I’ve ached.  Until the deadline loomed, the deadline that was 5pm yesterday.

At 4.45pm yesterday I bundled up the manuscript onto a flash-drive, loaded it onto my laptop, crafted an email…and pressed SEND.  The next time I see the manuscript it will be professionally laid out, and the opportunity for making changes will be limited.  Oh, what a relief.  Last night I celebrated with a glass of wine and a fire in the hearth.  And two steaks of salmon, which was an extravagance, but why not.  I slept well.

Today, yes, such extraordinary peace, as though every worry I’ve had has simply dissolved.  But I’ve not given myself a day off – I’ve been in the writing room, in uggboots and tracksuit pants and an old stripy-brown jumper my mother knitted for me when I was a teenager and I’ve kept it with me all this time, it has holes but who cares.  And I’ve worked, going back to another project, except I’ve taken it easy.  I’ve even allowed myself to listen to music: the soundtrack to the BBC serialisation of Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited.  When I was a teenager I loved nothing more than wrapping myself in a blanket, lying down on the couch, and writing school-boy fiction to the Brideshead soundtrack, which would be on LP and on repeat.

So here I am, thirty years later, doing exactly that, although I’m at a desk and the music is on CD and I hope the words I write amount to more than school-boy fiction.  Whatever I write, however I’m Ready Now is received, today has been one of the most peaceful days in my life.  And I am so very thankful that writing remains with me.  Tomorrow I might feel differently, perhaps even the opposite, but today is today and today is calm, serene, still.  So very still.

Maybe it’s because of the coming of the Silly Season but I’m thinking a lot about stillness at the moment.  By stillness I don’t mean sitting cross-legged on the loungeroom floor humming ‘omm’.  I mean a stillness that knocks us for a six.  A couple of weeks ago I found myself driving away in total silence from a lunch with a famous writer at his country home as opposed to always – always – having music playing.  I breathed deeply through my nostrils and watched the landscape on the other side of the windscreen.  I felt sure that at some stage I’d press the PLAY button on the car’s CD player, but I didn’t, not for the entire hour and half it took me to drive home.

I’d found stillness, or it had found me.

More recently I was putting in some plants in the back yard when I realised that I’d sat down on the mulch and was listening to talkback radio coming from next door.  It was a terribly narrow-minded shock-jock’s program; he was ‘discussing’ how Barack Obama was in great political difficulty.  But there I was, as motionless as a concrete garden gnome.  I’d found stillness, or it had found me.

Yesterday, I realised that I’d stopped walking through the loungeroom to watch The Old Lady of the House dreaming peacefully on her bed, a clucking sound coming from her mouth, a look of total contentment on her face.

We’d found stillness, or stillness had found us.

Why does stillness matter so much?  Yes, it might be due to the stampeding onslaught of the Silly Season, except I’ve experienced 41 of these by now so surely I can cope.  Or it could be that I’m just at an age where it’s customary to say ‘Heavens above, the world’s getting so fast these days’.  Or it could be that time really is speeding up.

As we all have to inevitably conclude, when we’re kids a week is an eternity, as teenagers a summer holiday is of similar length.  Now, however, as a middle-aged man an eternity is just not long enough, so a drive in the country without music is an anchor, a sit-down in the garden a deep connection to the earth, a pause to watch the dog sleep a tight grip onto something beautiful.  As we all career headlong into the Greatest Stillness Ever.

(First published in Panorama, The Canberra Times, 18 December 2010.  Many thanks to those who commented on an earlier post, called ‘Where stillness is’ – the on-line discussion fed into the writing of the piece for the newspaper, which is rather lovely, wouldn’t you say.)

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The past