The Take Off & Landing Of Almost Everything

After what seems like an age, I have decided to get back to my blog. Whole galaxies of experiences, emotions, and thoughts have passed through me like an existential shuttle weaving a myriad tapestry of the unsexy, the common, the tedious, shot through here and there with something so extraordinary I don’t think I’ll ever find the time to write about it.

I’m thinking big, but staying particular, so as I write this blog, I have my headphones on, listening to Beck’s new album Morning Phase. I’m in love with it. There is something perfect about it, the way any mastery of an art form allows a person to slip free from the mortal coil and enter some place you never thought you ever would.

Today my eldest daughter, Vienna, learnt how to knit. She sat on the couch and the only sound that came from her was the clicking of needles. By the end of the afternoon she had knitted a coaster. I felt a surge of fatherly pride, such a strong feeling I hope will carry me through life’s crush of circumstances and little waves of elation. I loved just watching her, so absorbed, not caring about the coaster’s perfection, just lost in the creating of something. For me, that is the truest sense of art: the sense of being lost to everything but this unending sense of love for what might happen, the unexpected that will bulge over the brim.

Here’s a fantastic quote from the great Ted Hughes: “You spend your life oscillating between fierce relationships that become tunnel traps, and sudden escapes into wide freedom when the whole world seems to be just there for the taking. Nobody’s solved it. You solve it as you get older, when you reach the point where you’ve tasted so much that you can somehow sacrifice certain things more easily, and you have a more tolerant view of things like possessiveness (your own) and a broader acceptance of the pains and the losses.”

Today I dashed around a corner and ran into the writer I’m supposed to be. I came away with two black eyes, broken ribs, and guilt. And that’s the greatest threat to a writer’s life, isn’t it, the guilt. It will do you in. It will stop you writing. And you’ve got to write, whenever you can. That’s the writer’s life in a chestnut, myth, proverb, cliché, epigram, parable; it’s the biological source of every great story. And most of us have to have jobs in the day-to-day trenches of adult experience. Okay, there are some writers who need no day job, but I’m sure they have either inherited money, are supported by a spouse, or are a freelance writer working for a big company. I think it’s almost mission impossible to get to do nothing but write what you really want to write.

Wasn’t it Ted Hughes who said we are all little creatures sitting behind armour, peering through the slits.

The big question for me is always: How do I stop doing everything else and just concentrate on my writing? But because all I want to do is write, I wonder if I will disappear into the blank page. But I always feel so renewed, living boldly with each moment when I’m so deep inside a story, living it as I write it and not knowing what will happen next, just trusting to the inevitable. And even though it’s hard, I try not to play God, because that gives me a complex, and that never helps the writing, ever.

Fuck, actually that is probably good advice to take into my other life: not to try and play God, to start really exercising some control over what I think. That’s my wooden leg, I tend to over-intellectualize everything known thing under the sun, moon, all the planets, including forgotten Pluto, instead of paying attention to what is actually going on in front of me. God knows there are so many more people whose lives are harder, more painful, complex, tedious, and all the other awful crap.

It’s like David Foster Wallace wrote: “The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day.”

Sometimes I try hard to get back on track to a normal life, you know, and then something kicks up the dirt into my eyes and I see clearly that there is no such thing as a normal life. Well, maybe on TV or in adverts or in some deepest despair. But the TRUTH is normalcy is like an addiction: the more you need it the more fucked up you become and the more the addiction takes hold of you the more you become nothing but the drug. Nobody, not artists, not anyone is normal. We just pretend we need to be in order to spend and get and think happiness this way leads.

I want out of my mind. Is it possible? Because I’m beginning to wonder if I’m not really seeing the prison I’m getting myself locked within. Like that cliché says, the Mind is a really terrible master.

Again I’m turning to Wallace, but I want to see the world “with the same force that makes the stars, the mystical oneness of all things deep down.”

This is why I have to get back to the writing. I have abandoned it recently as my life has taken on new upheavals and changes. But writing is the only way for me to come to terms with the world. It’s the only way I have to live a real life so that the writing will turn out to be real for someone else.

The screenwriter/playwright, Martin McDonagh wrote something that caught my eye the other day. He basically said that it helps to be a writer in some way if you’re not quite connected, that you see things from a skewed point of view. I think he’s right. In fact, I think that too many of us have become over-educated at the expense of wisdom and art and life and that the rest of us have become pitifully ignorant and simple doppelgangers of the lowest interests and intellect that’s killing the heart and soul of our humanity.

But what do I know? I’m a Welshman who can’t even land a job doing something he would enjoy. What can I say? I’m tart and ruthlessly independent like Little My and have a will that would rather do whatever the hell I want. Who am I kidding? If I was anything like that, I’d be making my writing work for me or else editing or something, so I must not be doing enough to make it happen. Maybe I’m too lazy or not as driven as other writers seem to be. In fact, as much as I strive to be like Moominpapa (easygoing and enviably hopeful), I’m more like Jansson’s Little My, who drowns the ants in kerosene and when Moomintroll is shocked, she replies: “You knew exactly what I was going to do with them! All you hoped was that I shouldn’t tell you about it. You’re awfully good at deceiving yourself.”

And I am so “awfully good and deceiving” myself. I’ve always thought that because I have a spare bit of talent for writing (especially on toast) that someday I would be a writer. But I’m learning that that is an immature outlook. There is always so much more to writing than just writing, especially in this Age of Distractions. A writer, it seems, is expected to create something for absolutely nothing, and lots of it. We are all waiters now, dashing from reader to reader, imploring them to eat our tasty escargot or frogs’ legs when once we sat at the moveable feast and even designed the menu.

“The analogy between the artist and the child is that both live in a world of their own making.” Anais Nin.

Agent Provocateur

I’ve noticed, due to my highly developed observation skills, and a class in aerobics, that some writers get across what they need to say in less words than me. They are the minimalist. I’m a maximalist.

I wonder why I am so loquacious and others have brevity? Which is not to say that I think I’m less succinct because of it. I just string along more words together because, literally, I like to do it.

“Brevity is the soul of wit,” though. And I can be almost so pithy, you can’t see me.

I think too much, that’s my avuncular brute.  It’s like this indigenous kangaroo with me. Everything goes into my marsupial pouch of the mind before I jump. I don’t know how I got it. But I know I have that judging mind, the watcher always watching. Can it be cultural, I wonder?

I think my British upbringing may have something to do with it. There was always the onus to succeed. When I was growing up a position at university was a battle. And a way to get there was to perform well in your academics, which equates as mind. There wasn’t an outlet, like sports, if you couldn’t cut it. Of course, there probably was, but it was never stressed. You had two choices, or at least I was led to believe you did or I just couldn’t see farther than my cage, and the choices were university or a job in civil service.

But I started to think, wait, what about all these musicians I love? (I had not found books yet.) There is another choice. And so the beast was awakened. The creative mind, as opposed to the thinking, empirical, rational mind of study, stirred. But the creative mind already had the leeches of the other mind attached, and I still haven’t freed myself.

I really like this quote by the poet David Jones: “You simply make substantial things happen to substantial people. The difficulty is to invest the story with some measure of art and originality.”

And narrative is about substantial things, even if it’s a just about a young boy growing up in Wales. And like Jones says, what makes it more true is the art and originality. Without that, you simply have a person in a story, not a character. And books need characters, not people.

I read something recently that David Foster Wallace said about why he wrote. He said he wanted to write about what it feels like to live, not about writing as a relief from what it feels like to live. I totally agree.