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On Falling Silent

Despite appearances to the contrary on this blog, I haven’t actually stopped writing.  I write all the time, in my head.  I write a lot for work.  I write a fair amount for study.  I tweet a little and I write down the odd thought on scraps of paper in various notebooks from time to time.  All that is pretty similar, apart from the tweeting, to the state of play when I started this blog over 10 years ago.  I was a writer, mainly in my head.

One problem with accumulating extended periods of silence on the page, is that when wanting to start up with the writing again, there are too many places from which to start.  Which makes me tend to stop before I’ve started.

The other problem is readers desert you.  And, sure, why wouldn’t they!

I mean, who is going to hang around to read someone who no longer writes?  That makes no sense at all.

Things have changed so much since I started writing this blog.  The world has changed.  I’ve changed.  Other writers have changed too.  Some of them no longer write blogs either.  Others have shifted their online output onto Facebook and Twitter and Insta and GodKnowsWhataChat.  Apart from Twitter, I have mainly kept my own counsel.  Writers are told to build their platform, to maintain an online presence which is probably a good thing, but it’s not just writers who are doing that, is it?  It’s just about everyone, including their dogs (and cats).  I follow rescue goat kids in knitted outfits in Chile for chrissakes.

So, yeah, this platform building is everywhere.  People broadcast to others all over the place at all hours of the day and night, and the rest of us lap it up.  I love the internet still, I promise, but just like the deep underwater ocean, it’s become a very noisy place.  Why add to that, I think?  Why would anyone be interested in what I had to say about anything anyway.  Now, if I’d typed that sentence as a status in Facebook (I wouldn’t, but if I had) what an earth would be the upshot?  People leaping to reassure me, perhaps, that not at all they really have nothing better to do than scroll through my weepings and wailings about life, liking and hearting and shedding tears of online empathy on the way.

And who wants that?

Not me.

But.

I still have things to say and I am going to practice them a little on here and see how it goes, but in a way it would be good to return to the anonymity I started this blog with, when I wrote under a pseudonym and didn’t do platforms or presence or tweeting and Facebook was barely a thing.  There’s nothing stopping me doing that of course, from slipping back under the radar and writing what I really want to.  And maybe I will.

chair

 

Need to clear the decks and type faster? Maybe get a parrot…

  • I need a whole week for solid reading, every week for the next year.
  • I need half the week for planning, most weeks.
  • I need a whole week, every week, for the next year, to write.
  • Plus which half my working week is already bought and paid for.

All of these demands on time will not dovetail into one neat package; the great fear is that there will be a short-circuit in the system before too long. Actually, that’s not my greatest fear (mine is to do with teeth), but I think it can be some ascribed to some of the people who have to put up with me. I understand why they worry about this, but I can’t subscribe to it. Things do get done, despite themselves. I don’t go mad, despite myself. Not everything gets done though: the fish need cleaning out, for instance, the garden is atrocious and the washing is breeding in corners all over the house. So the last thing you need, when you are trying to keep your head above water is to be informed that it’s perfectly doable to produce 2000 – 3000 words by 6 a.m. every morning as does Alexander McCall-Smith. Sorry but that’s just irritating. No disrespect to the writer in question, but, pfffftt.

Give me Flaubert and his five words a day, any day.

The Ten Commandments of Writing

Everybody has them and everyone’s are different.

If you must have them at all, let them be your own. That is what I have learned today.

I always knew life in a Georgian house could not help but be elegant and so it is proving to be. The lower windows let in the light but the high ceilings cast a sufficiency of murk to make a dark corner for yourself, if needed. A door is ajar from the conservatory and a thick shaft of light is littered with leaf shadows that skitter and flicker like the wind galloping round a zoetrope.

Writing on the wall (or the blog)

Yesterday’s post did not feel like my finest hour; I am not keen on admitting to having emotional reactions to washing lines. It made me think, does writing reveal the self, or does it just reveal whatever flotsam and jetsam happens to be floating through the mind, the psyche, at any given moment?

I can obviously only speak for myself. And I think that some ideas, reactions, moods are ephemera; given time they pass on by. You can buy ‘ephemera’ on eBay you know. I put my own on Amazon. If I write about these temporal phenomena, they are released on their way downstream and the process of making them into words allow me to stand on the bank, watching as they disappear. Other things are less easily worked through, becoming trapped in the whirlpools and eddies of my head. Round and round they go as my head becomes the body of water itself. Writing is, I suppose, a way of constructing something to hang onto as I am dragged by the current. A way of being in the whirlpool, without going under.

If there is a true self, then it is a slippery customer. It can be a narrative, a construct: linear, rhizomatic, tragic or comic – depending on your taste. It can be the sum total of your thoughts, or it can sit outside those: you are not your thoughts as various esoteric teachings have it.

That last statement has proved troublesome for me. When I first engaged with that possibility I found it terrifying… I was not my thoughts? But I liked my thoughts. I liked them rather a lot. I put the book down. Life flowed on towards the sea and the notion drifted onto my shores once again.

I am not my thoughts? Well surely that’s a thought in itself? That gives me a semantic problem. Is it what Wittgenstein meant when he said that ‘the limits of my language are the limits of my world.’? On the other hand, it would be nice to separate out some version of self, from the person who tapped out a small-minded post about the neighbour’s washing line. I am not my thoughts, indeed.

How can we know self then if we are to go beyond language, as it seems we must if we are to buy into this logic? What good is turning the thoughts in my head into words through the keyboard, when the words are the limiting things themselves? I can only say this: I think I have had brief glimpses of understanding beyond words and if that is where a version of the self is to be found it may be the real and elusive self that we obfuscate under layers of history, culture and ego. I think that to get to it, it is not thinking that is required, but listening. And not listening with ears either, it is listening with hearts.

I accept this may read crazy to some, those who like logic and reason. I like logic and reason! But my experience is: they can only take you so far. Wittgenstein twigged this in the end, after a life of logic and reason, butting up against the limits of language, saying, ‘Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.’ So, we may as well return to the silence of the heart? Here’s some empirical evidence for those who aren’t convinced you can listen with it e.g. your heart has its own network of neurotransmitters and around 40,000 neurons…allowing it to sense, feel learn and remember. Perhaps, after all, there is some logic to a form of knowing that does not just involve theory of mind.

As for my excuse for continually tapping away on this contraption, perhaps in order to truly know I am not my thoughts I must firstly think them all, and categorise them in writing, before letting them flow out into an ocean of collective consciousness where they will become indistinguishable from all the rest.

Here’s someone else’s thought. I found it on the wall under a railway bridge last week. It reminded me of the Greek philosopher Heraclitus’s quote

“Everything changes and nothing remains still … and … you cannot step twice into the same stream”

Actually, that sea of thought I mentioned before, well, you’ll find it in ancient Greece. Read Greek philosophy and one might never suffer from the thought delusion again. Not only are you not your thoughts, your thoughts are not yours in the first place…

P.S. If you’ve got to the end of this particular log jam of thoughts and words, well done, it can’t have been easy.

Why the blog gets it near assignment deadlines

Because it’s there. It’s its job. It doesn’t answer back.

When given 6000+ words on subjects not of my choice I can only clear my mind by writing an equal quantity of words on matters of my own choice. This is, however, a knackering approach to life when combined with actual work and stuff. Yesterday was odd. I spent two hours in a meeting which gave me a bit of a headache. Some of it was about logistics; logistics give me a headache.

Then I was in work trying to finish a report (assignment), the title of which is too boring to repeat. It turned out it was nearly too boring to write and enforced sitting at the desk made me delirious. Fortunately I was sitting between two good colleagues who were unperturbed by my Tourettes-like muttering, gripping onto the edge of the desk, typing swear words to myself in bold, and generally interrupting them from time to time. One gave me some talking therapy, the other fetched me a cup of tea. I was careful to thank them when I left. I am sure they breathed a sigh of relief, amongst other things.

Then I came home and drank some Christmas spirit very quickly, so it wouldn’t really count, and went to bed at about 6 pm. I woke up later and could not move. I was definitely awake. It felt like someone was holding my left hand. Actually it was just twisted up under my head at an awkward angle, but, as I said, I could NOT MOVE. I had a pain in my chest. I wondered if I was having a heart attack. I remembered that which I usually forget, that I have a heart murmur – perhaps it was now fatal. Then I remembered that which I always remember – that I have scarred lungs. This never pleases me. I still couldn’t move but my mouth worked so I called for water and the asthma pump – the pump doesn’t work but I use it for its placebo effect – my daughter brought them, kindly but with harsh words you would reserve the right to use when your mother has taken to her bed before you do.

Then I wondered if this was the dramatic sudden onset of my annual Christmas chest infection. Anyway, I am still here. The QA/QIP report awaits me – I am hoping that getting all that off my chest means I can get on with it without having another attack of paralysing fatigue and delirium. You see, much of this stuff is all in the mind. Now I can leave it on the blog and I none of the above will happen…

We will see.

A ceiling

The Book is Dead. Long Live the Book!

What we find in books is like the fire in our hearths. We fetch it from our neighbours, we kindle it at home, we communicate it to others, and it becomes the property of all.

Voltaire

I’ve been reading on the Kindle for PC for a while, but have been upgraded to a Kindle, before Kindle upgrades itself again – to include colour graphics – which the Kindle for PC offered anyway.

There’s no doubt it’s a complicated business. I’ve been disappointed there’s no backlight on the Kindle, which of course the Kindle for PC does have but, overall, reading from the Kindle itself is a lot more user-friendly than reading from a screen: less tiring on the eyes.

And actually, it’s the way forward isn’t it? I am not some burn-the-books fanatic, but spreading the word is a lot easier, a lot more cost-effective and a lot more democratic via electronic devices than through print press.

There’s a sadness about that too though. Print creates jobs, but it also uses up resources, so to take the sustainable view, using Kindle and suchlike to read your basic ‘print’ matter must be better in the long run surely? But tell that to those people involved in the publishing, printing, distribution and book retail sectors and see what they say.

People say: oh, I love books. The 3Dness of it, the tactile nature of the experience, the smell, the sense of where I am in it all when I turn the pages. I can lose myself in a book. Equally, I hear the same said of the Kindle. Well I hear people say – I love my Kindle. There doesn’t seem to be quite the range of kinaesthetic experiences available to someone kindling their way through a novel.

On the other hand you can store so much matter on a Kindle. Now I know there are many people who love books enough to keep everything they ever read: I come from a family of bibliophiles who, if they happen to read this (and I kind of hope they don’t), will be gnashing their very teeth at the heresy of this kind of post. Bibliophiles have shelves and shelves of books and that’s lovely, if you’ve got the space. But what if you don’t? And what if you are living with a bibliophobe – someone who finds books untrustworthy at best, and oppressive at worst. Well, a bibliophile will say that the phobe needs correcting in the error of their ways. And I agree that to not enjoy reading is to miss out on one of life’s great pleasures. However, if you want someone to try something out perhaps a handheld gadget is less threatening than a 300 page book, or twenty. It’s a thought. Maybe there’s an aphorism to be had in all of this conflict: that to be well-read these days does not have to mean you have to keep lots of books.

Perhaps, if I try some premembering here, a book will become a luxury item, only warranting a print run for the production of beautiful images and text, or leather-bound collector’s limited editions, or a vanity publishing project, which is where the whole shebang started after all. In fact now, as people can self-publish straight to ebook, we are returning full circle to writers using print to self-publish to reach a wider audience: William Blake, Virginia Woolf, Walt Whitman and Henry David Thoreau to name but a few…

Books are desirable, but they also need to be accessible, sustainable and available when you want them. The Kindle is a great device for all those reasons, but it’s still not a book. Rather than entertain the notion that a Kindle’s subtext is about tossing paperbacks on the bonfire, I prefer to think of it as wholly in the spirit of the Voltaire quote this post started with. The differences between the two media are a cause for celebration, not a reason to start a fight.