Houses for Letterhead

In a couple of days, I’ll be heading off to my annual big trip to Cambodia — one month in Siem Reap, most of another month traveling around the northwest, over two months in total, 3 weeks of workshops that I’m running, 2 weeks overseeing workshops run by other Writing Through Facilitators. That’s a lot of balls to juggle. It’s a good thing I’m an A-type compulsive.
I  have spent most of January doing every bit of preparation I can think of. But as the departure time approaches, I realise that all this preparation can only do one thing for me, and that is to help me to be more flexible. No matter how much I plan, things never can really be controlled and something always changes. Cambodia seems to run according to its own rules. Put it this way — they are much more spontaneous than we are back here in London. On any given day, I can never be entirely sure of what will happen, which kids will show up, what time a lesson might start or end. This drives some people crazy, and I have seen many volunteers storm off in a huff at the “impossibility” of it all. But for me to do the work I want to do there, I have learned that two things must happen in unison. I must be as prepared as I can be. And I have to be willing to chuck all those preparations out the window at any given moment.
It’s been a difficult, though important, lesson to learn. I have also come to realise that this is a crucial lesson for my writing as well as my teaching. You should see the notebooks devoted to each of my novels. They are full of timelines, charts, notes. When I start to write I know exactly what each chapter will be about, who will be in it, what will happen and how. And the same holds true for poetry. For an A-type compulsive like me, it’s the only way I can begin.
But then…..
I have learned to let it all go. I have to be flexible and allow my characters to move as they will, even if it goes against all my schematics and flowcharts. I think that it is within the disorder brought on by flexibility that the creativity lies. The more rigid I am in my work, be it teaching or writing or whatever, the less creative I am, and the less happy. A good lesson to learn.