Last Saturday I left my writing book on the bus. It was red with a purple binding, with the words: ‘REACH FOR THE STARS’ embossed in gold on the front. A friend gave it to me for my birthday. I’d only recently started writing in it, and it lived beside my bed. I liked the idea that the epigram on the front cover might influence its starry content. There were personal meanderings, diary extracts, observations of what I’d seen and been moved by. The beginnings of new personal essays I’d written in those moments of inspiration that you must grab, and lose yourself in; capturing that feeling, so specific to place, so particular to that instant and its realisation or emotional tone, that you will never ever experience in that same way again…! Lost. I left my writing book and its personal writing on the bus. I am bereft!
It’s not just that. It’s wondering who has picked it up and where it might now be. It was the number 38 bus. I was on my way to teach a London Lit Lab course with my teaching partner Zoe. I took my folder from my bag to read all the teaching material I had printed out: that wonderful extract from Anna Karenina; Tim O’Brien and all the items belonging to his Vietnam platoon. I’d marked up my lesson plan. My PhD essay was in there, too. My name on it. They were all snug in their translucent folder, with a zip. I slipped it beside me when I spoke on the phone to my mum, a part of my brain thinking: I’ll leave it there; the other saying: no you won’t; Yes I will. When I almost missed my stop, I jumped to my feet, grabbed my bags and left my folder, with all my teaching material and my writing book, my personal thoughts and feelings.
Now my words are floating around some unknown place, being read by a stranger, perhaps even to a friend of theirs or their mother! They might be scrunching up their nose at me. Hell, they might even be laughing. Call yourself a writer? When I told a friend what had happened, he said: But you’re used to sharing. Your work is personal. Strangers read it all the time. But those words have been edited and censored. There’s been a process of separation, standing back from the text and reflecting on yourself and whether your intention has flowered into beautiful believable prose or fallen flat on its face. These words are given up, willingly. Whereas what’s raw is in process, to be kept close, to be nurtured, before being set free; these are the words that are now out there, unintentionally.
I am reassured, though, that words are not interesting to everyone. That no one really cares about the person who felt the need to express herself in that given moment. The picture she paints between academia, self-expression and what makes it out into the world, from her pen, or her mouth in the classroom. Most people are thoughtful. Most people are kind. Perhaps one of these people handed it to the female driver, and she went to the trouble of taking it to the bus depot, and someone else took it all the way to the lost property office where it bumped around with other bags in boxes shoved up against the wall. That someone checked that box after reading my email and saw the translucent folder and the embossed cover and wondered if the words inside came from the same intent. They didn’t read those words, because they recognised that they were private. Instead they typed an email back that said: FOUND.