“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil, but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. 1 Corinthians 13:4”
Last night I had a short dream that has stayed with me. I dreamed I was in a building with other people, and a snake appeared, sending the people around me into a frantic panic. The snake, predictably, vanished under furniture and people continued to mill around panicking. Now I’ve never had the slightest fear or dread about snakes; I’ve handled wild snakes before, when we lived in Darkest Norfolk and I encountered grass snakes quite frequently. In the dream, after a short time, the snake emerged and I picked it up, holding it firmly but gently behind the head. It was a greyish colour verging on blue and have zigzags along its back. It was extremely beautiful and it didn’t struggle in my hands. I realise now it was actually an adder, Britain’s only indigenous venomous snake, one I have seen just once as a glimpse last year a few days before my dog died. I had no fear, even though I recognised in the dream that the snake might bite me. I carried the reptile outside and found a suitable spot and released it. It vanished with such speed.
Now at times in my life when change and transformation have been particularly active, I have often dreamed about snakes. I often used to see them in a hypnogogic state, curled up at the foot of my bed, or lying in my hands. I saw real living snakes a great deal when I worked in a small capacity as a healer when we lived in Norfolk. When we moved away, despite still working in that capacity in a more limited way, I never saw a single snake in the wild. In fact, from leaving Norfolk in 2003, I didn’t see a snake again until last summer.
I missed them. To me the snake is lovely creature; I once was privileged to watch grass snakes mating in the sun. But to dream about a snake again in such a capacity, makes me wonder now what this may bring. The snake is a symbol of so many things in so many cultures. Here is a brief summary from This Site of what snake may mean:
- Manipulates lightning
- Exploration of the mysteries of life
- Primitive or elemental energy
- Protection from religious persecution
- Goddess energy
- Psychic energy
- Creative power
- Connection to or forms the magic cord by which the shaman travels to the soul world
- Messenger of the Rainbow Serpent
To me, this dream suggests that something misplaced is going to be restored to its rightful, natural environment. I’m not yet sure what that may be, but it does seem to herald powerful changes. I don’t imagine I will become a snake charmer, but perhaps my changing path will involve some element of snake power.
Slip Slidin’ Away ~ a reflection on a long ago dream and a melancholy song
I’m not sure when I first heard this Paul Simon song, but it entered my unconscious and stayed there. I was probably about fourteen when the dream occurred. I’d already run away from school and was pretty troubled. The overall anxiety that I experienced daily had become such that the doctor had prescribed tranquillizers, which turned me into a zombie till I stopped taking them.
The dream had a luminous quality that is a recognised sign of a Great Dream, and the fact that I recall it so vividly thirty or so years later is another sign. In the dream, I could hear the song Slip Slidin’ Away being sung in the background though I never saw the singer. I just accepted the song. I was walking along holding the hand of a much bigger person; imagine being about three and walking with an adult and that’ll give you the scale. I couldn’t see the face of the person who held my hand, but we walked at a steady pace. Once in a while, I would let go of the hand and tell them I could manage by myself now and they would step a little aside. Then, of course, I discovered that it was as thought I were on a moving pavement, going against the direction and I’d try to run forwards, and after frantically trying to make progress, exhausted I’d fall to the ground and be swept away.
But at a certain point, I would be lifted up and set back on my feet, and my hand would be held, and progress would be made. We’d walk along quite normally; I had no sensation of the movement beneath me trying to slip slide me away.
I woke crying. I still find tears welling up remembering it. I still don’t understand that dream, even now.
I do believe though that for me, that figure was God. While I hold His hand, I move forward; it’s me that lets go, not Him. In the dream I remember wondering why I kept letting go. I still wonder why I do it. At a different level, the dream might mean that we are inter-dependant, that in cooperating with others we move forward and alone we can be swept away.
I don’t know, but the dream still remains. And the destination is no nearer.
On Why Resistance is Not Futile but is actually Essential
Those of you familiar with Douglas Adam’s The Hitch-hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy will recognise the cry of “Resistance is futile!” from the Vogon guard. I read these books at a very impressionable age so forgive the reference to books that are fast becoming classics of the late twentieth century.
I learned a couple of very interesting things this week while cycling to work but I’m only going to focus on one today and save the other for another post. My place of work has changed location, meaning instead of a 20 minute stroll to work, I now have to cycle 25 minutes to get there. I haven’t cycled in years, having come off and left the surface of my knees and hands somewhere in Leicestershire about five years ago, so I came to it with reluctance again. It’s not the cycling that is my problem (well, OK, my undercarriage gets sore but that’s all) but the traffic. About half of my route to work is on much safer cycle paths and first thing in the morning, it’s bright and fresh and pleasant to ride. But there’s a significant slope(can’t call it a hill; it’s fairly flat here) all the way, so going to work, I end up free-wheeling a lot.
I hate it. I hate free-wheeling. At first I thought it was the speed and then I checked my cycle computer and realised that on the flat, pedalling hard, I was going at about the same speed as I was when free-wheeling down hill. Think again, Viv. Is it being out of control? No, because even though I am going quite fast, I have good brakes and can handle the bike well enough.
It was something far more subtle than either of these things that makes me hate free-wheeling.
It’s the lack of resistance.
Now going home in the evening I have to battle bad-tempered drivers, tired legs and a hill(sort of) much of the way. When I hit the cycle path for the last mile and a bit, I am glad to get onto the flat again where I can pedal normally, but I feel quite different to how I do when I reach the end of a hill without pedalling. I feel I have achieved something under my own steam, by my own efforts alone. It’s how I feel about having written X number of posts and not how I feel about X number of hits on the blog: it’s something I have achieved.
Now, taking this thought a little further, I began to think about how uneasy not making an effort on my own behalf makes me and how I dislike inertia of any form and it took me back just over a year to an experience I shared with some of my students at the local maritime college. Now what we did was a watered-down(sorry, no pun intended) version of the training done by rig workers, rescue workers, lifeboat crew and others. Until this time I never quite understood why people wearing life jackets and in calm waters, drown. Die of exposure or injuries maybe, not drown. I soon discovered why. Two of the exercises involved having to climb out of the water onto a floating something(a life raft or a rope ladder) and the upper body strength needed to heave oneself, wet clothes and all, from zero to several feet above the waterline is phenomenal. In a real incident I’d have died. I simply could not do it. I was aided in getting into the life raft but without that help…..a watery grave awaited. You see, I was floating in 4 metres of water, as was the raft. There was nothing to push against. Same for the rope ladder; nothing to steady yourself against and use for pushing off from.
It was, simply put, a mind blowing experience for me and has haunted me ever since.
All these things together have made me question quite why I have such a hard time just going with the flow and why I always take the hard way in anything. At first I was fearful that this was a grave character flaw and that I was doomed to constant effort and no rewards. I’ve thought about it deeply and wonder if in fact it is a gift instead.
Few human achievements have been easy ones. Those that look easy are almost always backed by years of unseen effort (David Almond “It only took me twenty years to become an overnight success.”) Going back to pre-history, some have reasoned that one of the reasons they Neanderthals vanished was they had stagnated. Their tools never changed in thousands of years; they stayed exactly the same. If it worked OK, they saw no need to find another way. This mindset may have meant that their capacity to adapt to change was lessened. Throughout history, most worthwhile achievements have been against the tide, against the flow, fought for inch by inch by pioneers who often died to make those small steps.
More than thirty years ago I had a dream where I was walking with a much taller person whose face I could not see, and I held their hand as I walked. When I let go of that hand, the pavement I was walking on became impossible to walk on; it seemed to move backwards or my feet could not grip and I fell. Friction is what gives traction. Too smooth a path is impossible to walk on; try walking on ice some time.
I’ve also been haunted by Kate Bush’s song Rubber Band Girl. The lyrics I think of are: See those trees, bend in the wind? I think they’ve got a lot more sense than me. See, I try to resist. I thought and thought about this, endlessly lately, whether I agreed with it. But later lyrics change this: If I could learn to give(twang) like a rubber-band I’d be back on my feet! Elastic holds kinetic energy that can be used to propel you; the song even mentions a catapult. Trees that bend do not break, but they bend back to their place and are not swept away. It’s another form of resistance, a harnessing of power from the opposing forces.
This is what hardship and difficulty can do for some: it can be a source of power. Much of the martial arts teach about using the energy of your enemy, and not your own, to defeat them. For me, I need to fight, to use that energy and momentum to achieve things. That’s why for me, the path of least resistance is not my path at all. I need the grit in the machine to power me, the hill to climb under my own steam. And it’s why inertia is death.
Some years ago, I was sent a design for a perpetual motion machine. I am to this day baffled about why and who sent it (the name on the design was Oliver Plunkett and I have no clue how he got my postal address or even who he was) Even to me, the non-physicist, the machine was moonshine. It’s an impossible dream, the concept essentially of something for nothing. Everything that is worth something costs in terms of effort somewhere along the line; there really is no such thing as a free lunch.
That’s why I don’t look for the easy way. I don’t want an easy life. I want a meaningful one.
Some years ago while attending an event in Leicester diocese, I saw Jesus walking in the crowds. The man was the actor who plays Jesus in the mystery plays (for more about him see the Being Jesus link) and had a really ineffable quality about him that got me thinking: what if Jesus really did walk among us and we simply didn’t know. If we made the assumption that he is indeed among us, would this change how we lived our lives?
I try to do just this.
Jesus walks among us
I know he’s only an actor
Playing his appointed role,
But can I be the only one
Who felt my heart lift to see
Those sandaled feet among us,
The archaic robes shabby in sunlight
And the dark curls of beard
Twitch with a smile as he passed?
Am I the only one to ask
A terrified “What if?” and wonder
If it might truly be Him
Walking among the crowds,
Still alone and set apart
Even when thousands press round?
Of course, I know full well
He’s only an actor doing
What his role demands of him,
But still my heart sings
As my mind asks, “What if?”
For the month of April, fellow author, Thea Atkinson is streaking through 30 blogs and flashing us a piece of fiction. I generously offered her a space today so she could expose a piece. Her book “Anomaly” was the first e-book I bought for my Kindle and I hope to review it here soon. My blog will be back to normal tomorrow. In the meantime, enjoy and follow the links at the end to see who she flashed yesterday and who she will flash tomorrow. Feel free to leave a comment to let me know if you enjoyed the streak, and you are welcome to tweet it or share it on Facebook. You can also follow the chain through twitter with the hashtag #blogstreak
I asked her to write something with a Shakespearean theme of some sort as today is both Shakespeare’s birthday and his death day and this is what she came up with. Enjoy!
Ophelia Deject and Wretched
By Thea Atkinson
I’m only mad North Northwest; it’s just that I haven’t felt the wind change direction for a while.
Been alone out here six years now. Gert stayed with me for a while, kept me company, but that didn’t work out so well. Got myself a sweet little spot close to the docks, a jumble of gargantuan granite stones that touch each other in all the right places, forming a cozy Ophelia-sized hollow to keep me out of the elements and my stuff dry.
I keep my Motel Granite good and secret, even from Gert and the other gals under the bridge. I feel bad about that, but really, it can’t be helped. Last time I let someone in, she stole everything but the wind-chapped roses on my cheeks: everything I owned in this sour world, my picture of Hamish-long-gone. Even my one hand-crocheted slipper got purloined, so you never can trust a soul out here. You know what’s best for you, you settle on a wide step at the Post Office like I am now, and make with the rolling eyes. Herds of people enter and exit, so it’s as good a place as any to ply my trade.
Sometimes pity sits in someone’s palm in the form of a quarter; more often than not it wants more of a show before it deigns to make an appearance. I’m alright with that. Theater was my favorite subject in college — it was my major, after all. Shakespeare, my specialty.
I add a glassy stare to the rolling eyes bit, pretend to pass out flowers to would-be clientele.
“Rosemary for remembrance,” I say to a bulldog wearing a business suit. With his tight-assed walk, I can tell he needs something to help him remember he has a human soul.
“Just a quarter, sir.” I tug at his gabardine trouser leg and he flicks a Yoric-eyed glance over my modest skirt and trash-bin jacket. He finally throws a quarter into my jug.
“Thank you, kind sir,” I sneak a dejected look into my jar: only three coins and two bills — one of them a Monopoly denomination.
These last few years have been tough, believe me. After I fed Gert from my own stash of dumpster doughnuts and let her wear my slipper over the one foot of hers with a black toe from frostbite, she still stole from me. I thought I’d lose my mind to rage. Didn’t though. Found some reserve deep within and scouted out a new place. My little granite motel has walls of stone, a floor of earth, and a minute skylight that shows me the twinkling of apartment lights if I lay the right way. I can’t let anyone in any more, no matter how lonely I am.
Thinking about my granite motel and its potential for impregnable warmth, I feel sorry for the gals under the bridge. Doesn’t matter how sheltered that spot is, Jack Frost has a way of slipping his poison into that fluid amber they drink down there to keep him at bay. Soon they slip into another state. Soon after that they’re rotting in that state and the only one who sheds a tear over them is the coroner, and his eyes only seep from the stink of their unwashed bodies.
“What a noble mind is here overthrown,” I shout at everyone. They’ve got a nerve pretending but for the grace of God they’d not be sitting here. A right fine nerve. “But for the grace of God,” I whisper to the next woman as she hurries past, and she drops a bill in as if to assuage her guilt.
Ah, the grace of God. Would that we all show a little kindness down here so we may reap the same when we’ve gone. A gal never knows when she’ll be dependent on the kindness of strangers.
I take a look at the bustling crowds, the taxis weaving in and out, jockeying for quicker routes to their destinations, and for some reason I think of Gert. I know she doesn’t have a sweet little spot like the granite motel, or a lucrative place of business. She has no trade to ply. All she has is a black toe covered by a hand-crocheted slipper, and a picture of my man loved and gone.
I imagine she’s making her way to the bridge right now, hoping to find a sheltered crevice to keep her out of the elements for the night. I worry she might decide to swoon under Jack Frost’s embrace.
Methinks the wind may be changing.
April 22 Leah Petersen
April 23 Vivienne Tuffnell
April 24–Tania Tirraoro http://notasadvertised.blogspot.com/
What makes Good Friday, good?
Good Friday? What on earth makes such a day good?
Celebrating the hideous death of a good man, and the craven flight of his supposedly loyal followers?
Or the fact that we at the other side of the story know the ending?
Imagine how that day must have been for those involved. The disciples scattered, all their dreams and hopes in tatters, fearing for their own lives. Only a few, like Jesus’ mother, and John(according to some) daring to stay and watch, weeping as someone they loved died a slow and excruciating death; the rest hiding and quivering at every footfall that came near their door.
The veil in the temple was torn as Jesus died, torn in two against the weave of the cloth, and the sky became dark, if you believe the Gospels. It must have seemed that the world was ending, or was close to the end, to the friends and family who had seen the rise and the promise of Jesus’ ministry. Their own deaths would follow soon, hunted down by the authorities and exterminated as subversive vermin.
I’ve often thought about what Jesus himself felt, whether he knew the ending of the story, or whether, like his friends, he had no idea how things would pan out. I’m never sure how much accretion the Gospels contain, of things attributed after the event. But whatever the case, to go through death, and the cruel death by Roman-style crucifixion……the agony is beyond imagining. Few people will ever experience such pain, such anguish.
My own experience of pain and of internal anguish are tiny in comparison and yet, they give me a slight insight into the experience, which is the most anyone can hope for. My struggles with despair, depression and anxiety, are nothing and yet, they bring me the gifts of compassion and empathy. When I suffer my Good Fridays, as I do periodically, I never know for sure that there will be, this time, an Easter morning, that I will rise again. Experience and knowledge tell me there will be and yet, I doubt it. Each crisis is like the first, the only crisis, as I live through it. I try to record my passage through times like these in poetry and in prose in the hopes that I can remind myself of the promise of resurrection, and that others too might find hope in it.
(me to Jesus/Jesus to me)
Nail me to that cross again
Why don’t you?
You’ve done it before
And you’ll do it again.
Here, I’ll even hold
My hands out for you,
Pass the hammer,
Hold the nail steady.
Bang! It’s done,
All over, bar the shouting.
Long day, arms outstretched,
Breath ragged, pain white hot.
Sky darkens, night begins.
Death, a relief, a release,
The cool of the tomb
A simple comfort, unexpected
After the heat of the day.
Comfort too in acceptance
Of the inevitable, peace even.
Sleep now: the worst is over.
Maundy Thursday ~ calm before the storm and a sense of foreboding
Some years ago now, I wrote a poem that still haunts my own memory, if that doesn’t sound too self-obsessed. I was walking home late at night after attending a Maundy Thursday vigil and as I walked through our quiet village, I smelled lamb cooking at the Indian takeaway and it set a train of thought running that resulted in me coming in and scribbling down the following prose poem.
It’s a still night, the warm air filled
With the hot greasy scent of a thousand meals.
Glad I didn’t have to cook tonight;
I know lamb is traditional but it seems so unfair:
That little life cut short just for us.
I shouldn’t be here; they said no.
He didn’t, of course; he never does.
But I’m here anyway.
Maybe he knows; they don’t.
Look at them, sleeping like babies!
He wasn’t himself tonight, seemed sad.
Someone said he’s paranoid,
Expecting betrayal at any moment.
“Won’t be me”, that’s what Peter said.
He can’t help boasting but it’s sad.
He’s like a big hairy dog pretending to be brave-
One sniff of a wolf and he’d be off!
Anyway, I’m worried.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned,
It’s this: men can’t be trusted.
I shouldn’t be here: but someone should,
And since they’ve all dozed off
There’s only me, wide-awake in the bushes.
Nothing I can do but wait;
This mood of his will pass,
It always does.
But he does look so sad
And I wish-
But that’s not to be.
I’m so tired too.
I don’t know why I’m here;
I don’t understand half of what he says
But while he says it, it sounds so right.
Pity not everyone agrees.
If I close my eyes, just rest them, mind,
Just for a moment or two.
It’s been such a long day.
I won’t sleep, not like the others.
Not sleeping, just resting my eyes,
I’d been thinking about the other ‘actors’ in that drama so many centuries ago, wondering how they’d seen it all, living it moment by moment without knowing the eventual outcome. I identified with those shadowy figures that we hear mentioned and who played a pivotal role in the Easter story and yet whose own voices have never been heard. As I smelled the hot curry smell, I thought about the women who cooked and cared for Jesus and the disciples and started wondering what they had truly been thinking, that night before the Passover, so many centuries ago. We don’t know who they all were, Mary Magdalene is often suggested as one of the inner circle; she has always struck me as girl with resources and I began to wonder whether she would have sneaked after the disciples who were invited to pray with Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane.
So into that darkened garden I crept, my hands still slightly greasy with lamb fat and olive oil from the shared meal and my eyes heavy with tiredness. I knew things were changing, sensing the storm coming like a weather sense, and yet, hoping and hoping that nothing bad was going to happen.
While I wrote the poem some years ago, at the time, I could also sense changes coming, unable to pinpoint them. It took longer for the storm to hit, and my life to be altered beyond anything I imagined, but like Mary in that garden, I knew something was coming.
Now, six or seven years later, I approach Maundy Thursday with the renewed sense of something coming. It’s still far off, I think, but I can feel it, like a summer storm you can feel even when the sun is brilliant and there’s not a cloud to be seen except that dim dark line at the far horizon. I’m not sure whether this is good or bad coming, but change in any way is unsettling and shakes you up.
I’m trying to remember my Gethsemane Girl, hiding in the bushes and not knowing the end of the story, and trying to tell her, Be strong, it changes everything beyond what you ever imagined possible.
Stepping back in time ~ The painted church at Poitiers.
The air in the square outside the church is filled with the scents of fish from the market stalls now dismantled and gone in the heat of the afternoon, and of soap from the soap-maker’s stall, still with his wares laid out. I buy Alep soap and pure Arabic kohl, and pass the time of day discussing the properties of bay oil and the power of ancient remedies like kohl to restore sight and clear the vision. The stall holder is swarthy, from the far south of France or maybe from the territories of the Moors; he is delighted to discuss his wares and seems free of the habitual disdain many French people have for the English. This far south, this coolness seems to have slowly warmed into something friendlier. Perhaps while he can tell I’m not French, he’s probably not certain I am English. I walk away, drawn by the music that plays now in the area in front of the main frontage of the church.
I stand mesmerised as the drone of small-pipes mingles with the guitar and drums beats, and a shiver passes down me. It’s thirty degrees and the sun on my bare arms is reminding me that I’m going to burn soon if I don’t seek shelter. Yet the sound of the music is unearthly and makes me want to dance. Me, dance? Yes, to swirl and twist and stamp in this bright public square, trailing long sleeves along the ground as I spin like a slow Dervish, and feel the swish of silken skirts as they brush the dusty stones.
Looking down, I see my navy blue combat trousers and my arms in white cotton to the elbow and wonder for a second where my gown has vanished to. The neat satin slippers are not there, and my feet are encased in sturdy walking shoes.
Dizzy and a little disorientated I seek shade and make my way into the beautiful Romanesque porch and see that the heavy wooden door to the church stands open and with the music still pulsing in the hot air, I step inside.
A scent of old libraries fills my nose. Parchment and pigment and a hint of mildew, this is how I imagine the Great Library at Alexandria to smell. A faint trace of incense tops the whole aroma off and I take a moment to breath it in, a fragrance of lost centuries and secrets vanished now into the abyss of time.
I gasp, as I glance around now my eyes have become accustomed to the dimmer light. Pillars and walls and ceiling are all painted in intricate patterns of colour and form that defy capture. They’re faded a little now, but for a spilt second I can see them still moist from the paintbrushes of the townspeople and the colour is vivid and startling. Blues like polished lapis-lazuli, crimsons and scarlets like blood and poppies, ochre and white, and greens like slices of malachite and jade. Then the vision fades and like a great old lady whose face holds the memory of the beauty of her youth, the church seems to simply smile at me, and tells me that true beauty is eternal. While paint and rosy cheeks may fade, the loveliness beneath them cannot be touched by time; for those who can still see them, both the realities stand sentinel over this moment in my life.
Talking slow steps that seem to mimic the tread of the processions of the faithful from the last centuries, I walk round, taking pictures to try and capture the feeling and the power. And yet, when I see the photos later, much like the paintwork, the power is faded. You had to be there, to feel and see it.
The music swirls on, little dulled by the heavy walls of the church and as I step back out into the sunshine, I am filled with the desire to capture and retain some of the music. I ask one of the crew if there is a CD I can buy and am brought over to meet the musicians as the finish their set. I tell them their music has touched my soul and that they are like the ancient troubadours who lived in this town in the fifteenth century. They light up with real delight and give me a web address to find their music, and I wander away, thwarted in some way of my desire to bottle this feeling, this moment so that I may uncork it and relive the memory.
Rejoining my group, I sit in the baking sun and drink lemonade and listen now to hip-hop and watch the dancers in the square and the contrast to the grace of the dancers in my vision could not be more obvious nor the centuries gone by more distant from me now. The harsh modern lyrics and the skilled but disturbingly graceless movements remind me that every era has its iconic markers. Perhaps the future will look at this era with the same visionary nostalgia that I felt for the music and the art of the time when this church and town stood as important places.
Too soon, it’s time to leave and I shepherd my charges back to the coach and we drive away, back to our very modern hotel. As I go into my impersonal room, I have a sense of something being very close to me, and I turn to see what is there.
A breeze touches my face and is gone and the moment passes and I go inside to wash and change for dinner. Yet the distant memory of music and of lights and of dance and devotion haunt me all evening, and onwards into the future.
I don’t always do a good job of celebrating. It doesn’t come naturally to me, in many ways. You’re talking to someone who is always braced for impact, expecting the worst and not anticipating the best. I mark my birthday as much to please others as myself, but as the years go by I find some pleasure in having survived another year. I also mark my blog-i-versary, though unlike many, I don’t throw a party at reaching certain numbers of hits. How many visitors I get here is not really anything to crow about; however large or small that number, it is no credit or otherwise to me. It’s not something I have myself achieved.
But today, I do wish to mark something that I feel deserves a big pat on the back.
This is my 500th post here at Zen and the Art of Tightrope-walking. That’s 500 posts in just over 2 years, made up of multifarious topics. Short stories, poems, photos, anecdotes, travel writing, articles on dozens of subjects often related to mental health, creativity, philosophy and spirituality and many other issues.
Many blogs never make it past their first year, or fizzle out after a few posts. I have no idea why; this is variable in cause. It may even depend why a person started a blog in the first place. Writers are encouraged now to use social media to build a platform; I had no idea of this when I started. I still don’t; the only platform I’d like to build is one in a nice big tree and then build my tree-house so all my friends can come and play. I guess that’s what this blog has become. I have made a lot of friends along the way, met a few psychos (you know who you are) and have found a side to myself that I’d been concealing.
That’s the side that is just beginning to stand up and challenge the status quo around the creative arts. You see, I am watching the way the world is changing and am astonished that there is so little vision. The digital revolution means that anyone can now publish a book, and make it available online. So what happens but people focus on doing things exactly the same as they have always been done by traditional publishers? Why is no one asking “What is a book? Why does it have to be the same form?” I hear the same stuff about editing and rewriting and polishing. I don’t mean I don’t want writers to work at their stuff, but are we focusing so much on presenting work that conforms to an accepted FORM because no one has woken to the thought that actually, we may be able to discard many of the forms because they came about to fit paper.
We take it for granted that a book conforms to certain preconceived ideas of what a book is, when many of those ideas have come about because of the physical constraints of a paper book. Length, too is something that has reduced because of shorter attentions spans and a desire for a less leisurely pace. Reading some Dickens’ lately I became aware of quite how different the pace of his novels was. The conventions of fiction are just that: conventions. They persist because the readers demand them: happy endings, resolutions of difficulties by the final pages, main characters that the reader relates to.
What if we could sweep away all the conventions and experiment a bit? Write stories where it ends without resolution, like real life? Or where the reader can suggest endings or choose them? What about turning things on their head and having a villain who becomes a hero, or a heroine who turns into a villainess?
I can hear people shaking their heads and saying, yes, but that’s not what readers want. No, it’s what publishers tell you that people don’t want. Do you know people who’d read something that challenged them, or pushed them out of their comfort zone? I do. There’s not vast numbers of them; it’s hardly a mass market, but then I gave up on the idea of being a best seller a long while ago. That’s about as probable as winning the Lottery.
Why do we insist on aspiring to BIG numbers all the time? Why are Indie authors always being told they’ll never sell many books? Is selling books the WHOLE reason why writers write? Is perhaps the pressure to tailor your writing to a market or a genre or even to the ideas of an editor or agent a thing that might be curtailing your personal exploration of YOUR voice, YOUR stories, YOUR art? Where would they go without that pressure? (I am aware that there are plenty of people who write for a living and whose freedom is curtailed by the need to sell and pay the bills; I am not one of them. Once I would have liked to have been; not sure of that any more at all)
Art, whether it is visual or literary or musical or whatever, is a living thing that thrives on experimentation and exploration. The digital age is offering all of us the most mind-blowing scope for experiment and exploring. You could do anything. ANYTHING. The possibilities are beyond anything we have so far encountered.
All you need is imagination and a bit of daring to take that step forward and just try.
When I began this blog, I really had no idea really what a blog was, but as a part of a pact with myself I set out to say YES to more things I’d once have said no to, and 500 posts later, I find myself here, on the edge of a new world where anything might happen.
Would you like to come along for the ride and help make things happen, for you and for me and for everyone who has ever aspired to be a creator? Or would you prefer to stick with what you already know, what others tell you works and stay within your comfort zone?
The combination of internet, digital publishing and the explosion of social media is a combination as revolution every bit as dynamic and frightening as the advent of the printing press, the postal service and the arrival of cinema all rolled into one. The medium of The Book could change utterly, evolve into a new animal.
I simply don’t know where all this may lead. But don’t let the men in grey limit the possibilities by chaining it all down to profit and loss and catering to the masses and to the mediocre and the humdrum.
Let’s be daring and take flight. My wings are itching to explore new skies and new horizons.