Friday, 23 August 2013

ESSAY: Intuition

I’m a writer, which is an affliction or a condition, if you like; not a career choice.
So how do I write?

In complete contradiction to my meticulous planner’s nature, I just write.
I sit and the stories pour out. I don’t plan, write story-lines, character out-lines or do research. The stories just sit there waiting for an opportunity to leap out and cavort on my keyboard.
Just so you don’t think I’m some budding Jane Austen, or the new Dickens, let me confess:
I write funny, tongue-in-cheek, whimsical romances.

Only, sometimes things creep in. I’ll give you an example. I’m in the middle of a novel set in Tahiti called MANscapes. One day, half way through Chapter 8 this just pours out exactly as is:

“Are you French, Sylvine? You have such an unusual accent…”

Sylvine laughed, displaying small white teeth, clearly her own.
“That, my dearest Clara is not a question you should ask anyone outside that damn resort, and never here, at The Retreat.” She set down her cup “But, in this case, it is not a secret. I’m not French. I am Japanese, Ainu. I got the name from my first owner, Yves-Marie Devereux.” She giggled girlishly, “Poor man was a fool. A Hokkaido Madam sold me to him for a fortune, telling him I was an Ama. (I was useless to her, fought and spat like a cornered wolverine). So he brought me out here and sold me to John Benedict. To dive, for the pearls you see. Ama girls were famous for that. I, off course had never done any such thing. I could swim, yes, but diving for pearls…I’d learned a smattering of French on the voyage out. There I was, 15 years old, Benedict took me out to sea and told me to dive. He kept saying: perle, huîtres, plongée, plongée…He threw me into the water. I kept trying to climb back into the boat, and he kept pushing me off. I was terrified. He took me home that night and he raped me. The next day he took me back and tied a cord to my ankle. He showed me an oyster. He threw me off again and again. The next day he put a stone in my hands. I finally realized what he wanted me to do: dive, get oysters. So I did. I held that rock and followed it down. I had never held my breath that long, not even as a child playing games with my sisters, it hurt. After a while my throat burned, the air burned my lungs. I saw no oysters (later I realized; even if I had seen one, I couldn’t have pried it off without a knife). I gripped a piece of coral in my hand and turned up. It was so bright. A shimmering silver lid on the world, and that silver was bleeding out of me too, bubbles bursting from my mouth and nostrils. I followed them up, and out. That piece of coral saved me. He realized: if I could bring that up, I could bring up pearls. I dived every day, going deeper, staying longer. Once I found three pearls, and he kept me diving that day, until he had to haul me up on the cord and pump the water out of my lungs.”

“How did you…You were freed?”

“I dived for him for three years. One day I simply refused to board the boat. I was six months pregnant. He beat me on the quay, and a man interfered. He killed that man. The authorities arrested him. He was sent away in chains. I never learned what happened to him after that. All that was his: the boat and this house became mine.”


“Sylvine” just told me this story. So I checked her out.  I researched it: yes, the Ainu are Japan’s original denizens; they are indeed from the north of the Island of Hokkaido. The Ama did/do exist and were famous for diving naked for pearls. In apnea. Which I’ve never done. I cannot swim.

Offenders in the far reaches of French-administrated territories were shipped to France for trial, their belongings disposed of, and often never returned.

Is this story true? I have no idea. It could be. It’s not hard to believe a Frenchman heading for Tahiti could be talked into buying an Ainu girl, thinking she was an Ama. In those days, pearl-fishing in Tahiti was most profitable, difficult and dangerous. Could such a thing have happened? It could. On the savage edges of the world, even today, people are traded and abused, subject to unbelievable conditions.

So where did this story come from?

I realized that my books are peppered with these odd little snippets, “snap-shots” of lives.

I don’t know where they come from, but I love the feeling, I love the taste of my “connection”, of giving voice to these words. There is Sylvine, and Mrs. Bradford, and Serge and Fernando and many more “guest-stars”; stories that might be true, maybe they are.

In the middle of a very funny novel I co-authored about the Court of Louis XV called “Desire’s Detective”, suddenly in a plot twist I’d never planned, Louis XIV was in love with his grand-daughter in law Marie Adelaide of Savoy, and fathered a child by her. A dark splotch on a delightfully light-pink, bubbly story.

I researched. True enough, when Marie Adelaide died the Sun King was devastated, as never before, even though he’d lost his wife and his children, and his grand-children. On her death-bed Madame Maintenon declared Louis XIV had loved only two women in his life: his mother, and Marie Adelaide of Savoy.

Again, research verified my little “snippet” as a historical possibility.

Let’s use the scary word here: intuition.

Research verified my intuition.

I have no explanation for this. Except maybe, if you will forgive my writer’s vanity, I will quote from the prologue of another book, Jacaranda Dreams:

“I found a story. Or rather, it found me. Be careful, dear friends: do not wander the world with incautious ears. Stories and ghosts (are they not the same?) seek always a crack to pour themselves into, a mouth to utter them, sometimes unknowing; a hand to write or paint them and when they are done, leave you empty, bereft, discarded.”

I think we are all story tellers, we all hear music and voices, see magical realms.

The side of us that hears and dances to that strange music we call “intuitive” or “intuition”. We shy from it, flinch, are embarrassed to acknowledge it, least we be labelled as...odd.

I believe this is the side of us that connects us to each other, and to something larger, to an invisible complex world, a mystery.

I have no brilliant conclusion to offer, no explanation, no solution to the conundrum, no mystical “AHA!” only stories to tell, stories within stories.

That’s all.

Manuela Cardiga

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