A tentative blog to test the temperature.
Ten years ago I was writing several blogs on various subjects - F1 motor racing, Music, Classic Cars, Great Romances and, most crushingly, a personal journal that included my thoughts on America, memories of England and Africa, opinion, humour, writing and anything else that occurred. It all became too much (I was attempting to update the journal every day) and I collapsed, exhausted and thoroughly disillusioned in the end.|
So this blog is indeed a Toe in the Water, a place to document my thoughts in and on WdC but with a determination not to get sucked into the blog whirlpool ever again. Here's hoping.
A couple of days ago, I told another member of WdC that I didn’t agree with explaining art of any kind. If a piece requires that someone stand next to it, pointing out meaning and hidden subtleties, then it isn’t art. If the piece cannot stand alone, then who will speak up for it when this generation is dead and forgotten? It becomes dumb, without possibility of speaking to us.
Call it karma or whatever you will, today I wrote something that urges me to add a note to explain it, insisting that they will miss its clever nuances. I resisted its blandishments but, moments before submitting it to the appropriate contest, I added just a pointer, a signpost about where to look. My note said this: punctuation or lack of it intended.
But the poem still nags at me for a fuller exposition. The darn thing is tiny (it was written for the 24 Syllables Contest) but its meaning hinges on an important point that is too easily missed. I figure that here, in my blog that no one reads, it is safe to explain in full. Here’s the poem:
You need catharsis
to empty the emotion
from the depths within
the cold voice responds,
The crux is that middle line, “from the depths within.” It is deliberately ambiguous, being able to be read, “to empty the emotions from the depths within,” or “from the depths within the cold voice responds.” Both meanings are intended, so the central line does the work of two, initially assisting what has gone before but then, like an optical illusion, joining forces with what follows to create an entirely new perspective. All that is needed to swap between the two meanings is a full stop (period) after “within.” But then, to preserve the ambiguity, the stop would have to flash on and off like a failing neon sign.
I could, of course just repeat the line to make its dual nature quite clear, but that ignores the limitation of 24 syllables. In the end I am drawn to do exactly what I have done - to remove punctuation apart from an initial capital, a comma and the spoken question at the end.
They won’t get it, I know. But principle dictates that I keep silent on the matter, apart from my hint about punctuation. It’s a pity in a way, since I’m beginning to quite like the little thing.
Word Count: 408
|A Trident of Laws
When I was young and had just half a novel and a collection of pretty awful poems behind me, I decided that no one had anything worth writing about until they were at least forty years old. This did not stop me from trying but it proved pretty true in my case - everything up to that age was basically teenage angst and getting rid of ideas that were as practical as a cardboard swimsuit.
In my early twenties, I had a friend who was studying for his master’s degree in English Literature. He wrote a lot of poetry, even more than I did, and his stuff was beautifully constructed and polished, like a favourite old car lovingly attended to. I was less aware of it then but now, on looking back, I realise that the great weakness of his writing was that he didn’t really have anything to say. His poems were gorgeous constructions of delightful words but they contained nothing. I think my theory on writing and age was a subconscious recognition of this.
At the same time, I had another friend, an artist aged just over forty. He was known as the finest painter in the country where we lived and his technique was indeed phenomenal. He had the ability to paint anything he could imagine. I understood this because I was in the last throes of trying to be the greatest painter in the world. It was partly my inability to reproduce the paintings in my head that stopped me in my ridiculous ambition and enabled me to turn to writing.
There was a problem, however. Although my artist friend produced some brilliantly executed stuff, it was empty and pointless. He once admitted to me that his latest painting was based on an idea from a book his wife was reading. When your ideas are second- or third-hand, it’s time to find out what’s wrong.
Everything became clear to me when the guy showed me some of the paintings from his youth. They were messy, imprecise and careless in style, but showed enormous passion and depth of emotion. They were far, far better than anything he had done in the last ten years and I suspect that he knew it. Certainly, he was aware that he had controlled his creative urges during that period while he schooled himself in technique. He wanted to be able to paint absolutely anything and was prepared to sacrifice the time to gain that ability. The trouble was, by the time he got there, he had forgotten what he wanted to say.
It became clear that the road ahead was like a narrow path between two precipices - what mountain climbers call an arête. On the one side I should forget writing anything worthwhile until I was much older and, on the other, I should not chase after technique but allow it to come naturally through experience. To some extent, at least, I have kept to this intent. For many years I wrote very little creatively, although it has always been impossible to stop myself honing whatever writing I was doing, even business letters and notes to myself. They told me this blog should be informal and not to bother too much about grammar and spelling. Hah, as if that were possible.
I suppose that I could say that I’m old enough now to have a few things to say. A very good internet friend of mine taught me that memory is a wonderfully rich mine of stories that others find interesting (to us, they’re just what happened). And the silly philosophies of youth are long buried in the long march through reality. At the same time, I have not been swayed to acquire technique and I still have no idea what the various names for poetic meter mean. One has to stay at least a little wild or become tamed and boring.
And now, at the age of seventy-two, I find there’s another matter to be attended to. I learned it in the course of writing The Gabbler’s Testament twenty years ago but only recently have I understood it in relation to my other “laws.” There is a chapter in that book that required me to bare my soul in a way that I had never done before (it also required me to write the longest sentence known to mankind but that’s another story). It was pain to write it but resulted in the best chapter in the book.
So I have a trident of laws for writing: leave it until you’re ancient and have something to say (check), don’t go running after perfect technique (check) and your heart, your deepest secrets, are where the best stories are (well, that one’s being checked).
You’ll just have to read me if you want to find out if it all works.
Word Count: 807
|When the Block Drops
I’ve often heard it said that, if inspiration doesn’t come, the writer should press on with determination to break through the dry spell. Yet, I know this for a fact, that, if my heart’s not in it, I produce substandard stuff. Is it really a case of one or the other, keep going regardless or sit and wait for that moment when the way ahead is clear?
Having tried both solutions, I think it’s best to continue to write, even if the product is hardly worth the trouble. Very often, it’s the act of writing that seems to reignite the fire of inspiration. This may be because, in writing, we remember the good times it has given us, those moments when the words poured from us and created magic on the page. Or, perhaps, it’s that, in writing down our thoughts, we notice side alleys that lead to other thoughts and that, sometimes, these spark into life, revealing a new approach and reason to write.
The best moments, however, come when we least expect them, when we’re minding our own business and not “being a writer” at all. That’s when the genius ideas, the flashes of insight, creep up behind and pounce suddenly, leading us into a world where it becomes so easy.
Or maybe it’s just that writing is a complicated process and we’ll seize upon any excuse to get away from it for a while. In which case, writer’s block, my ass.
Word Count: 244
I don’t go for all this muse stuff. Occasionally I get inspiration that leads to the production of some writing but I’ve never detected the influence of some weird and shadowy Greek lady in the business. Although I do admit that my first schoolboy crush was on a Greek lass by the name of Zoe. Totally out of my league, of course, and she never gave me any ideas for writing.
More often, inspiration seems to come from thoughts that bend away from the usual paths, finding routes of their own and winding up in unexpected and unusual conclusions that demand to be written. There’s always a thought process involved and, if I’m quick, I can trace the evolution of the idea back along its track to its origin. So far, I’ve seen no Greek ladies.
After a couple of dry months, last night I had inspiration for a poem. Got up this morning and wrote like my life depended on it - you don’t allow inspiration to hang around waiting or it’ll clear off into the great forgetory of life. It’s quite long, being 66 lines in all and, of course, it’s my favourite of the moment. That could even last until the next inspiration comes along.
Anyway, it’s had no readers as yet so, if you’ve a few minutes to spare, have a read and, if time still hangs heavy on your typing fingers, tell me what you think. Here’s where you’ll find it:
Word Count: 245
|The Last Day
Today is the last day that I can enter a post in this blog that will count towards the Bard’s Hall Contest of Blogging for June. Although I don’t have to - I said “can,” remember? It is also a matter for debate as to whether it will count towards my required ten posts. Strictly speaking, all they have to do is start reading from the post I designated as Number One and keep going until they reach Ten. Which happened quite a few posts back. It remains to be seen (or not, depending on whether they mention how far they got).
You might be wondering whether this plethora of posts beyond the stated minimum is an indication of my enthusiasm for blogging within the bounds of WdC, or if it’s just a case of wanting to show willing to provide more than asked for. To be scrupulously honest, I would have to opt for the latter explanation. After an initial burst of inspiration for posts, things slowed down and it has been a struggle to think of things to post in the last week or so.
Does that mean I won’t be continuing with this blog? I don’t think it does. Most likely I’ll post the occasional entry when one occurs. But I won’t be spending time in thinking up blog posts as though I have to post. I have enough pressure with all the other types of writing I want to do.
And there we have it - what I used to call “a nothing post.” In other words, a post that waffles on about having nothing to say.
Word Count: 269
|Why the Hurry?
I’ll tell you why I write in such a hurry. It’s because, if I don’t finish the thing quickly, if I leave it half done, expecting to return to it another day, I’ll never say what I intended to say today. Most of the time I never get back to it anyway. But, when I do, I miss the point of what I was saying and wander away from my original intention.
Which isn’t to say that the piece isn’t as good as it might have been (although usually that’s true). It won’t say what I really wanted to say and that will forever gnaw at me. A perfect instance of this happened to me over the last few days.
About a week ago, I had an idea bursting in my head and began a poem to get rid of it. Halfway through, I ran into difficulty and decided to leave it for another day. I knew the danger of doing this but the thought was ebbing as I wrote and I had run out of the energy to complete the thing. Knowing that it might never be finished, I put it aside.
But it nagged at me. So much so that, a couple of days ago, I went back to it, determined to finish it. And I did. But, just as I expected, it wasn’t the poem I had intended. The original was going to be scathing and controversial; this one dodged the point and became unremarkable in consequence.
I was so underwhelmed by it that I decided against allowing it into the portfolio. But today I had another read of it and realised that, if it were in the portfolio, it could be a reminder to me not to leave things until later. Strike while the iron’s hot (which is an appropriate saying, considering the subject of the poem).
So the thing now resides as the latest addition to my portfolio. Not only is it a reminder to me but it also keeps the flow of productivity going at a time when inspiration has ceased. And that must be an admission that writing has been a hard slog of late. Mostly, I have kept going but at a reduced rate. And now I have a reminder not to give up on things just because they become difficult.
Word Count: 389
|The Rebel Reflects
When I was young, I was going to be the world’s greatest artist. I went to university, confident in the knowledge that I could draw and paint better than anyone else. On my first day in the Fine Arts department, the whole class of us freshers was introduced to our tutor, a diminutive woman with tousled hair and tatty jeans. She led us into the next room where a great mess of chairs, planks, paint pots, cloths, and unidentifiable junk was heaped in the middle of the room. Around it were easels and each of us was assigned to one of them.
“Draw that,” our tutor said, pointing at the chaos of materials before us.
So we began, every one of us confident that we would have no trouble in drawing anything put in front of us. That tiny woman prowled around the circle of us, stopping at one and then another to point at an angle of a plank or the position of a pot. “That’s wrong,” she’d say. “Consider it in relation to the ladder.”
We’d look again and see that she was right - our drawing was hopelessly out of kilter and all the angles were wrong. And she kept doing it, just pointing out what was wrong and making us erase what we’d done to start again. At the end of the day, we were beginning to realise that we were not artists at all. We couldn’t draw to save our lives.
The next day she explained that we had to learn to see before we could draw. We were interpreting the world without really seeing it as it was. So we continued, attempting to draw the pile of junk and gradually getting closer to reality.
By the end of the first week, we could all draw because we could all see. That plank that had caused us so much trouble was now at the angle it was in reality; the paint pot that moved about at will had been nailed down and stood exactly where it always had been.
I learned several things from the lady in that first week. Most obviously, I knew then that I was not God’s gift to the artistic world and that I had scarcely begun to travel the road that might, one day, lead to the production of reasonably good works. But I also knew that anyone, absolutely everyone, in fact, could be taught to see and therefore to draw. We bold few, who could now draw whatever was presented before us, were nothing special. The fact that none of us had failed to complete the week with flying colours was proof of that. And I knew that we owed our tutor an enormous debt of gratitude for her patience in cajoling us from our hopelessly skewed vision of reality.
For some time, I have been a little surprised at the number of instructive and educational forums in WdC on the subject of writing. No doubt these are all necessary and many of us benefit a great deal from attending such things. Just as I did so long ago as a Fine Arts student.
Yet I would add a caveat. What I did not mention about the Fine Arts Department was the painting side of things. It was shortly after that first week that we were called upon to decide which way we were going to go, painting or sculpture. And I decided, surprising even myself, to opt for sculpture.
The reason was that, by that time, I had the time to inspect the work of the second and third year students and had noticed a disturbing trend. By the time they were in their third year, every student was painting stuff exactly like the work of the painting tutor. And I did not want to end up as a clone, no matter how good the tutor was. The tiny sculpture division received another recruit.
Someone once said that rules are made to be broken. This is always quoted when an excuse for breaking the rules is needed. But it’s true as long as we actually know and can work within the rules. Once we can do that, it’s a good idea to break the rules when the work is made better as a result.
It’s how the rules are made. Writers break the bounds and, in time, the new ground they break becomes tamed and accepted territory with its own rules and regulations. If you want to be a great writer, know those rules and then cross the border into the wild, wild frontier where all that matters is getting the message across better than anyone else.
Winston Churchill was told that he should not end a sentence with a preposition, to which he replied, “This is something up with which I will not put.” And, if I want to start a sentence with the word “and,” I will.
Word Count: 820
What can you do when the entrance to another world really is in the back of a wardrobe? I mean, the parallels are obvious and people are bound to assume you’re being derivative. Do you have to go to the length of inventing a fictitious portal to the other world?
But why should you have to lie? If it’s the truth, it’s the truth. And imagine if you invent something and then someone points out that what you’ve proposed is impossible for some reason you hadn’t thought of. It’s too late then to grin sheepishly, admit that wasn’t what really happened and then expect them to believe the wardrobe story. You can see how that book really has us painted into a corner. From now on we’re only going to discover worlds that aren’t reached through a wardrobe.
Which is going to be what we Brits call a bit of a bugger if we do discover one in that way. Are we just going to let that one go in the hope that we’ll stumble into yet another world tomorrow? That could be a real letdown if we never do. We could spend a lifetime biting our tongues because the only new world we’d discovered happened to be through the back of a wardrobe.
The reason I bring up this subject is because I recently fell into a new world through the back of a wardrobe. And that was just the beginning of my problem. Once I’d entered, it became apparent that I’d landed in a very marshy area where the people lived in tents. And then, oh cursed inconvenience, the inhabitants turn out to be so similar to marshwiggles that everyone will assume that I copied them. It was too much to overcome. I turned around and left the discovered world without even greeting my first marshwiggle.
Clearly, I’m going to have to give up looking in wardrobes.
Word Count: 319
Summer has arrived and, with it, the looming horror of the annual medical check up. This used to be a winter thing and I could have the added delight of struggling through snow and ice to appear at the stated place and appointed time. Eventually, I realised that it would be easier to get it done in the summer and my doctor worked it out accordingly.
This year, however, covid19 has come to my rescue and I will have the inspection by video link only. That should ease the humiliation a little. There is still the matter of the preceding blood test but that has been a minor irritant since I learned that it’s best to keep the eyes tight shut during the procedure. And then there’s the added entertainment of guessing at the size of the bruise that results. At least I know now that it makes no difference whether the needle hurts or not - sometimes the painless ones give the biggest bruises.
It’s all part of the developing freak show that is old age. There was a time when I treated doctors in the same way I do mechanics. They are there to be used when something goes wrong and are otherwise ignored. Somehow, a few years ago, I was persuaded to begin this crazy round of annual humiliations and there seems no way of stopping it now.
There is some satisfaction in that each inspection seems to provide much the same result year after year. The one blip in that happened between medicals so my doctor never had the satisfaction of seeing me on my back, at the mercy of a surgeon replacing a few pipes to keep my old ticker going. In fact, now that the plumbing work has been done, my numbers get better, not worse.
But there’s no escape. Every summer my enjoyment of the warmer weather is spoiled by the knowledge that the dread appointment creeps closer. It’s not that my doctor is anything other than a really decent fellow and a pleasure to talk with. It’s the prodding, disrobing, peering into orifices and other investigations too awful to mention that get me down. And I suppose I have to admit that there is a niggling awareness that, sooner or later, he’s going to find something that will present me with some hard decisions. That, after all, is the ever-present sword of Damocles hanging over the aged.
Still, the relief afterwards makes for a great summer!
Word Count: 413