I’m work­ing on it

There’s no gar­den­ing leave, or leav­ing the gar­den or the house to tend to it­self for this writer, who con­stantly wres­tles with the art of re­lax­ation.

HOME Magazine NZ - - Contents - Text Dou­glas Lloyd Jenk­ins

A writer’s co­nun­drum

Last Christ­mas and most of Jan­uary, much of my time was spent at work on a book. That’s not un­usual for a writer. It’s about then that you need to be writ­ing so that the fin­ished book makes it into the shops for the fol­low­ing Christ­mas. What was un­usual is that the sub­ject of my last book was the beach. So while the coun­try was rest­ing up at the beach, I was work­ing long con­cen­trated days in a small, hot, room. I ad­mit I could have planned it bet­ter, but those cru­cial signpost dead­lines that keep large projects sane had largely been ig­nored and I had few op­tions but to knuckle down and write. There were com­pen­sa­tions, mostly pho­to­graphic: hand­some life­guards, beau­ti­ful houses and, with all the neigh­bours away, it was peace­fully quiet. How­ever, noth­ing quite makes up for miss­ing out on those cru­cial en­ergy-restor­ing mo­ments of sum­mer be­cause you have to work. This sum­mer, Beach Life is out. I hope that hav­ing been un­der a few Christ­mas trees it is now on the ta­ble at baches and hol­i­day houses around the coun­try. My next book, still be­ing re­searched, is com­fort­ably a while away. Back in Novem­ber, I kept telling my­self that this sum­mer I was go­ing to have a proper break and, just like ev­ery­one, do noth­ing at all. Do­ing noth­ing. It’s a se­duc­tive propo­si­tion, some­thing to work to­wards, but I know that sum­mer breaks, full of ex­tended noth­ing, hover just out of my reach like a mi­rage. Some­thing in my pro­gram­ming has an is­sue with do­ing noth­ing, while at the same time yearn­ing for the state of mind it prom­ises. Along with many of my gen­er­a­tion, I wasn’t brought up to rest. Rest­ing, it seems, needs to be learnt early. With par­ents who be­lieved rest­ing and be­ing lazy were, in their chil­dren at least, in­ter­change­able, it never made it into our fam­ily cur­ricu­lum. Per­haps be­cause of a phys­i­cally ac­tive youth, I still strug­gle to sit still. Nei­ther am I very good at ly­ing down, ei­ther in the sun or in the shade of a tree. The re­sult is never re­lax­ation but a state of height­ened men­tal ac­tiv­ity and the urge to turn that into im­me­di­ate ac­tion. Over the years I’ve no­ticed that although the green sum­mer lawn might call like a soft car­pet laid out in the sun, once lured there, you end up look­ing at the house in which you live. Then it be­gins. One of the things that plays in the mind of any suf­ferer of ‘sum­mer-re­lax­ation-in­duced anx­i­ety’ is house­hold main­te­nance. The truth of it is that fit­ting those things in around two-day week­ends is dif­fi­cult. So when you sit there and look at the house that needs wash­ing or paint­ing, the days around De­cem­ber and early Jan­uary seem the ideal time to get stuck in. It doesn’t mat­ter that it gets too hot and that you should be re­lax­ing – you will even­tu­ally pull yourself up off the green car­pet and go in search of the hose or a paint brush. Then, a week or so later with the hol­i­day over, you’ve for­got­ten to re­lax and no one much no­tices that the house has been painted. Of course, one of the ways to avoid main­te­nance is to plan an al­ter­ation. A few long days star­ing at things that need do­ing can so eas­ily trans­late into ‘what say it wasn’t there at all?’ Even now there’s a build­ing plan hov­er­ing in the deeper reaches of my mind – a need for more space that’s been dis­cussed pe­ri­od­i­cally over the year. But what space, what kind of space? How

I’ve even been caught out weed­ing in the cool of Christ­mas morn­ing. My neigh­bours, hav­ing al­ready had their first re­lax­ing Cham­pagne, stag­gered out to an early brunch: “Work­ing on Christ­mas day?” they asked. “It’s re­lax­ing,” I said.

would we do it? Give it an hour or two sit­ting un­der the fig tree and out come the pen­cil and paper. Out come the mag­a­zines, books, mea­sur­ing tape and cal­cu­la­tor. Could we do this? Could we do that? Why don’t ar­chi­tects an­swer their phones in early Jan­uary? Oh that’s right – they’re re­lax­ing. Turn­ing away from the house, your eyes come to rest on the gar­den. It doesn’t mat­ter that the height of sum­mer is the worst time for gar­den­ing of any sort: it’s when most of us find time to get out there and do it. Prob­a­bly be­cause win­ter weeds are now wav­ing at you, sig­nal­ing that they’re at the point of send­ing seed heads into the at­mos­phere. Get up, get out there and weed – the urge is too strong. I’ve even been caught out weed­ing in the cool of Christ­mas morn­ing. My neigh­bours, hav­ing al­ready had their first re­lax­ing Cham­pagne, stag­gered out to an early brunch. “Work­ing on Christ­mas day?” they asked. “It’s re­lax­ing,” I said. I’m now go­ing to take the old­est route to re­lax­ation that I can re­mem­ber and read. Dis­cov­ered in child­hood – although read­ing was then con­sid­ered in­ac­tiv­ity and a close cousin of lazi­ness – it re­mains a sum­mer plea­sure. What will I read? I am too much of a snob for those big, thick sum­mer nov­els and too flighty for Proust, but the pile of to-be-read-for-en­joy­ment books at my bed­side (nov­els and bi­ogra­phies), now numbers 12. At least one is a Christ­mas present from last year. It mat­ters lit­tle that, for a writer, read­ing is a big part of work: I shall re­lax, take a bus­man’s hol­i­day and, sit­ting un­der the po­hutukawa tree, only oc­ca­sion­ally peek over the top of my book to con­sider the state of the house or the pos­si­bil­ity of an ex­ten­sion. And the weeds – well, I sort of have to deal with those.

De­spite his best in­ten­tions to join the na­tion in its an­nual sum­mer lie-down, Dou­glas Lloyd Jenk­ins worked on his next book.

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