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.

Back to the Unknowable

The old man of sci-fi has died! A candle has gone out in the house of literature. And, yes, there are more candles getting lit daily, but there are candles, and then there are candles.

Yes, death is a lonely business, Mr. Bradbury, but I know you shall RIP.

With Bradbury’s passing, I feel a disturbance in the force; I feel like the young man I was who read his work has also departed, his particles scattered to dark matter that I can make no sense of. All I am left with is impressions. Not of my life, but my life as a story within Bradbury’s books or his fiction as a narrative within my known reality. I really can’t tell which is which.

He’s out there now, the way I like to see it, adding his indelible atoms to the cosmos, relaxing in the constellation Libra and sipping his dandelion wine in peace. It’s odd, but there’s a part of me that believes that when writers die, the material world is momentarily unbalanced and it will take a while for the creative equilibrium in life to come back. A single death, but especially one of such creative force, needs numerous lives to fill the gap. I wonder if the birth of creativity also needs an equal number of deaths to allow it the life it needs?

It’s a silly notion I have, but sometimes I think about the idea of meeting writers I love, maybe a few of them even reading a novel I will eventually publish. And although there are a slew of fantastic contemporary writers I’d love to chinwag with, I find that when I think about it, all the writers I would really love to confab with are the dead ones: Dylan Thomas, Angela Carter, Mervyn Peake, Rabelais, Oscar Wilde, Charles Dickens, Hermann Hesse, Henry Miller, Tove Jansson, Ted Hughes, Fritz Leiber, Bruno Schultz, Keith Roberts, Arthur Rimbaud, Rilke, Arthur Machen, Caradog Prichard, John Kennedy Toole, and more.

I’m not even sure why I entertain such thoughts. It’s not like it’s going to happen. But I can’t let go of the possibility that it might even though I know it to be a fucked-up desire. There is something in the total absurdity of this thought that keeps me sane and keeps me writing.

“If you just present the events to the reader, then the complexity of human motive will spin off that. If you try too hard to determine the way the reader sees character and motivation, you will actually restrict the reader’s interpretive opportunities. By limiting the amount of guidance you give, you automatically get the depth and complexity of interpretation you want. Because that’s what we readers do in real life — we interpret people’s actions and thus assign them ‘motive’ and ‘character.’” M John Harrison

Listening to Goliath Sleep

I have decided I’m not one of those writers who has an impeccable resume, made all the right career moves, attended the Iowa Writer’s Workshop, and whose Facebook page is the fountain of eternal youth.

And, frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn!

Here, in fact, is a list of all the things I have not done that is somehow required of a writer and, yet, I oddly still feel like a writer. Or so say I, who is in the majority of one, but it’s my one, and means so much to me.

I didn’t have an angry young man stage in my twenties. I still have it in my forties. But I did have an existential stage when I read Henry Miller, Knut Hamsun, Rainer Marie Rilke, Hermann Hesse, D.H. Lawrence, Lawrence Durrell, Oscar Wilde, and Tove Jansson. Oh, and I guess I still have this stage, too.

I didn’t read as a child. Well, I did, but it wasn’t the centre of my universe. I was more happy kicking a football down side streets; rolling down sand dunes; stealing from shops; offering gifts of Black Magic chocolate to girlfriends; and spending time alone in the woods whittling spears and ingesting fly agaric.

I didn’t read that much in my teens or my twenties. In fact, I only really started reading in my late twenties, shut up under thatch in Ireland before a smoking peat fire. I was actually much better at stabbing dead rats onto the thorns of a hawthorn as a meal for a hawk.

I didn’t start working in the publishing world at age 3.

I never owned a dictionary until I got one as a birthday gift at the age of 33.

I have never read what everybody else is reading and then compared notes over flapjacks and coffee and pretended to know what I am talking about.

I majored in History in college and then dropped out because I had to write too many papers and was miserable because I had done so badly in high school that all the universities I wanted to attend wouldn’t have me and the one that did take me I hated.

And, no, I didn’t know I wanted to be a writer as soon as I was birthed, kicking and flailing and crying and slapped about by the doctor until I whimpered at my mother’s breast.

I have not read all the classics and probably never will. And I still don’t know what it really is about Hemingway that makes him the writer all other writers invoke with gunsmoke and booze and fall on their knees and praise. Or Joyce for that matter, although Joyce did make me laugh.

I don’t have stories I wrote as a kid stashed away. I have bags of plastic soldiers and my LP collection.

All my English teachers disliked me. If I ever got a “C” it was because there was a substitute teacher that day.

I didn’t squirrel myself away in libraries reading and studying. I used libraries as places to get out of the rain and read my newest copy of Judge Dredd.

I will never admit to any of this if I am ever lucky enough to be interviewed and asked about my writing life. I shall lie through my teeth and say I have always read, always wanted to be a writer, have a talent for words, my English teachers doted on me, and I love Hemingway.