On Writing (part 3)

Write for the cool clear days of winter.

Every day a crisp clear reminder of this year that has been. Brilliant blue skies and bold colours, washed down from the heavens with the brisk pull of rain. Illuminating morning beams thrown light across the back yard, every blade of grass a reservoir for a floating water droplet that kaleidoscopes across a microcosm of hidden worlds beyond the human gaze.

We stamp our feet for warmth, tuck frozen fingers in to armpits, blow clouds of warmth out in to the cool. I turn my car heater to its highest setting, spend the first few moments in aching agony as it starts blasting colder air across the car and then slowly streams into warmth. I pump the space heater at my feet while I write in the shed, cocooned in scarf and beanie, slowly leaking warmth and words on to the page. Every activity is accompanied by a cup of boiling water, carried around the house, carried across the backyard, carried in to the shed, clasped in one cold hand while I write with the other, then hands clasped together to pass the warmth between them. Every conversation punctuated by the same refrain it’s a bit cold, the same knowing response just another couple months, the same shared experience of a cold that isn’t much on the mercury scale but seems to hit much harder than many other places on this planet. I’ve wintered in Canada, Scotland, Iceland, and each of these places holds a much stronger grasp to the miserable title of winter, but somehow Melbourne’s winter still hits me the worst.

Write for the days when leaving bed is pain, aching feet on frozen tiles and a warm patch underneath the blankets that calls to me all day. I feel it there as I walk and wander and whisper through these days. I know it in the background of each activity, the understanding that I could be somewhere else instead, hibernating my way through the winter chills. Yet somehow I push off the longing, just long enough to achieve something mild this winter, even as the winter bites with her sharpened teeth. In fighting off the bed call, I build in myself some strength. Where some borrow from an inner drive and build muscle fighting against iron, instead I burrow up out of the bedsheets and throw myself to the wider world. It’s a much more palatable task to be sure, but in the heat of the moment it takes a similar sense of resolve, combined with the knowledge that I will feel better once it’s over.

I write much more in winter, for I find a strong delight in inner motion. Where autumn days are spent running, marvelling at the changing of leaves and the perceptible deepening of the seasons, and spring days are spent gardening, two hands buried in dirt and watching in delight as things I accidentally planted spring to life before my eyes, winter is spent examining the soul: pulling apart the inner workings of this being and investigating how they tick together. Summer days are spent sweating, waiting for the return of woollen jumpers and hearty meals and inviting friends inside the house.

I puzzle over the perfect temperature, and here I fixate on the idea of winter, for I find it much easier to throw on another layer, or crank the heater to return to happiness. I sleep well in winter: cozy cushioned layers and occasionally icy limbs that snake their way to freedom. I struggle through the summer, for once you start sweating, the sweat is here to stay, and no number of fans will allow you back to equilibrium. There is an uneasy ‘between state’ where your outside cools but your insides keep boiling away. Exercise is harder. Relaxing is harder. Living is harder. Everything is tied unhappily to the concept of sweat to cool your forehead down, but wipe away the sweat to stop it running in to your eyes. I’d love to say that eighteen years in the Middle East conditioned my body for the warmer temperatures, but somehow those years have disappeared, sucked into the vacuous vapour of the past.

Write for the long warm days of summer.

I build a bank of written words before the summer, enough that I can space them out over the season. Like any animal that builds a surplus of fat before the leaner months and disappears to hibernate it off during the big sleep, I stockpile words and phrases. Thoughts I’ve thought worthy of use, but not strong enough to present in written form in the years before. I take these words and throw them in the storm cellar of the mind, contain them like a basement full of root vegetables and hope that they will be enough to get me through the leaner times. When the inspiration fades I start to worry through this list, pull out the phrases that sound good or feel good or might possible function as a jumping off point for some creative exercise. Some of the phrases are obtuse, obscure enough that I can’t remember where or when I crafted them. Some are tied directly to things I’ve already created, but I hope that with enough desperation they might reappear as some new creative work. I spit them out in flurries, scribble them on post-it notes to plaster on the walls, pass them out to friends to see what might possibly stick. Enemy/End of me. This is a neat little way to tie two lines together? Write a song about the connection between 2017 terrorist novel Home Fire and classic Greek play Antigone. This seems to fit firmly in to the too hard basket. You got your eyes from your mother’s side. This one feels like it has legs, but first I need to dig in to what it could possibly mean. Or maybe just throw it in to a song with a neat little rhyming couplet and worry about the deep hidden meaning later.  There’ll be time to ponder hidden meanings when I’m a world famous author. I can figure it out on the interview right?

In the creation of this creative bunker I throw together a list of odds and ends that wouldn’t fit in to other parts of my work. As I start to pull out various phrases, the scattered remnants get odder and odder. Rasta la vista. Is this an idea at all? It vaguely references Schwarzenegger, but what could it possibly mean? Do farmers get junk mail? Again, not overly fertile fodder for a creative work, but the longer these summers get, the harder it is to create at all, and a terrible jumping off point is moderately better than no jumping off point at all. I take what I can get and start a misplaced Reggae Terminator tribute project. We won’t get any accolades, but at least people will look at the gig poster twice and have a little giggle. I fuel the setlist with a bunch of lyrics from the dregs of this bucket of creativity and rehearse the project half-heartedly. The songs aren’t good at all, but some of the grooves feel ok, and at least we’ll get people moving on the dance floor even if we don’t win any awards. We might wind up in the category of late night festival bands where punters are sloshed enough to not notice that we’re kind of just phoning it in, one four on the floor bass drum groove at a time. There’s money in making people move, and there’s literal aisles of record stores dedicated to acts that probably shouldn’t be putting out music, even though they have a great schtick and people seem to love them. Suffice it to say that creativity is subjective and in the subjectivity of art someone can probably find a way to make even the most banal of ideas in to a thing that people chant at shows.

I return to my creative bunker. Hegemony/hedge fund money. See, this is is really good, but what exactly is it? Where can it possibly exist in a creative work, beyond being merely a statement of something that one might use a jumping off point for a creative work? There hits a point where we circle the point neatly enough that we can see the point, we can feel the point, we know the point is there, but we’ve spent so much time circling it, coming in to land, that we’ve forgotten what its like to not keep circling. I put myself in as the pilot of this creative exercise and as much as I want to pull the breaks and bring us in to closure, I know that there’s some sort of ease, of complacency, of achievement even, in just going around and around ad nauseum. I imagine Hemingway would have steered this ship in months ago, sliced and diced his way to the point without an excess word. It would have been his next hit novel, tied neatly in after The Old Man and The Sea, and it would be revered for its wit, its creativity, its brevity. It would have won numerous awards, been placed on the best-sellers list and analysed for centuries afterwards in high schools across the world. Instead these ideas exist in a bunker filled with fluff and a vague sense of certainty that they need to be used somewhere to get me to the next season of surplus.

I hope that the summer ends soon and I can return to running or writing or gardening instead of sweating out these ideas.

FWF Episode 13. I tackle a blues song from 1960 with my friend Thomas Byrne. I am neither a blues singer or guitarist, but here we go.

Leave a Reply