I have nothing to say. If that were true – and as much as I feel it to be true I doubt if it is – how do I feel about having nothing to say? Guilt is probably the first thing but then I feel guilt with greater ease than I feel anything else so I shouldn’t be surprised when I find that to be the case. So why do I feel guilty? Quite simply because I feel I ought to be writing. I like to call myself a writer but I only feel comfortable using that appellation when, as I am at this very moment, engaged in the physical act of writing. Having completed a piece of writing however there is a residual effect; I can feel like a writer for, oh, several days afterwards even though I have written nothing in that time and thought about writing nothing.
The last thing I wrote was about a week ago. I wrote a poem that pleased me and piece of flash which did not. The poem pleased me because it arrived out of thin air whereas I deliberately sat down to write the flash piece with submission in mind, not something I generally do, but Carrie said the piece was fine and so I submitted it despite my reservations. The poem made me happy and that was enough. But, as I’ve just said, a week has passed and I’ve not written anything.
That’s not true. I’ve written two book reviews but they don’t count. Even though the mechanics are the same, fingers clattering over a keyboard (this very keyboard), and I still get to try to do clever things with words, I don’t feel the same about reviews. I want to write something new. It’s not that long since I finished my novel. You would have thought that I’d be basking in that success for weeks but the glow I felt when I finished it didn’t last much longer than the poem I wrote last week.
I feel I ought to be writing. But I have nothing to say, nothing that matters to me. At the moment some of my friends are working on poems for a celebration of Ginsberg but I’m not. Had it been a celebration of William Carlos Williams I might have had a crack at it but Ginsberg does nothing for me. I don’t care about Ginsberg and I don’t care about not joining in with my peers. Caring is clearly important when it comes to writing.
I could pick a topic out of thin air and write something about it. Or better still, let’s try an experiment. There’s a book lying on the table next to my desk (The Book of Lies by Mary Horlock) and I’m going to open it on page thirty and pick the fourth noun (today is April 30th): the word is whisky; not something I’m fond of, but let’s give it a go:
THE THINGS WE KNEW
He didn’t hide the bottles
it is true but then neither
did he leave them on display.
He drank to help himself sleep;
that is what he told himself
and us, his conscience and God.
God knew different and so
did we. I don’t know what his
conscience knew or thought it did.
I can’t stand the stuff myself,
whisky I mean, although I’m
not fond of the truth either
if I’m totally honest.
30 April 2011
How do I feel just now? The answer is: better. I’ve written a poem. Okay, it’s not the best poem I’ve ever written but it works. It’ll get a number (#1055) and go in the big red folder.
So I did have something to say. And the truth is there is always something to say. So why is it we let ourselves feel as if we have nothing to say? The answer is because feelings are unreliable. We misread them all the time. Or if not exactly misread, we oversimplify them. I want to write another novel. Correction, I feel I ought to write another novel. I want to write one too. I like the idea of having written another novel. I imagine that I’ll feel more of a writer if I’ve written six novels as opposed to five. (Stupid, I know.) I like writing poems too. I actually like writing poems more than I like writing novels. But I still feel I ought to be writing a novel.
If I’m being honest then I’m disappointed that I wrote a poem and not the opening paragraph of a new novel. I never set out to write a poem. I just wrote the opening few words without much thought and the next thing I knew I was working on a poem. At what stage did I realise it was a poem and not prose? At the end of the first sentence, the only part of the poem not to be tweaked in some small way, I had an idea but by the time I’d written that second sentence I knew for sure, not that I paused for any length of time before drafting the third stanza.
Could this be the opening to a piece of prose? Let’s see:
He didn’t hide the bottles it’s true but then neither did he leave them out on display. He drank to help himself sleep, so he said; that’s what he told himself, us, his conscience and his god. God no doubt knew different and so, in time, did we. I can only imagine what his conscience knew or thought it knew. I can’t stand the stuff myself, whisky I mean, although I’m not fond of the truth either if I’m being totally honest. Lies slip down without any effort. Truths are harder to swallow and come back on you. There are consequences to both of course. It can be every bit as hard to live with a lie as it can a truth – I should know. I prefer lies diluted with just a drop or two of the truth.
Certainly that’s how it started with my father, innocently enough, just a wee nip to push him over the edge. A guy at work was selling the good stuff cheap, no questions asked, and Dad was never one to turn up his nose when it came to a bargain. Before that I’d never seen him touch anything stronger than Martini Rosso (it wasn’t as if he was teetotal or anything) but he never darkened the door of a pub and always handed over an unbroken pay packet. When that cheap source dried up though Dad found he couldn’t go back – he now needed his tipple before bed – so a bottle found its way into the weekly shopping – Tesco’s own brand – and when that wasn’t enough half-bottles started to find their way into the rubbish bin, no questions were asked. Lies grow in most conditions but one of their favourites is silence.
Not a bad start but I’m not sure how much farther I could go with this. For starters it’s too much like biography for my tastes, too reliant on the truth even though I’m not sure of all the facts. I don’t care about the truth. The poem is better. It is anonymous. I know I’m talking about my dad but no one else will. So who’s this next poem about?
She did not offer me any
nor did I expect her to
knowing it was her last.
Quickly I became aware
of my mouth filling with
clichés and platitudes
till I felt sick.
But I forced myself to swallow
and the truth nearly choked me.
28 September 1986
Actually it’s my sister. It’s also about drink but it could just as easily be about crack cocaine or cake. In the piece of prose the reader is reduced to voyeur. I give him all the details. He can do little more than watch. In the poems there is room for him to get involved, to speculate.
I said I felt as if I had nothing to say but those are the only two poems written as an adult that involve drink bar this one:
I drink so much
to drown the taste of myself
and to blur my vision of you.
21 July 1989
which is not about anyone. I’ve certainly never turned to drink in times of trouble. When my first wife left me I went to the corner shop and bought a box of Munchmallows. So why don’t I say more about the evils of drink? I think the real reason is that so much has already been said and I’m not sure I have anything significant to add, anything that would make a difference. No, that’s all rubbish. I don’t write for anyone but me – there’s nothing altruistic about my writing – I don’t write about the demon drink because I don’t care about it. I’m clearly capable of writing more about it – I probably gave that first poem about a minute’s thought before I started typing – but it’s not what I want to write about, not what I feel I ought to be writing about.
How much could I have written about while I was sitting around waiting to write about what I ought to be writing about? Is ‘The Things We Knew’ a masterpiece? No, but that doesn’t mean that it has no right to exist. Masterpieces last. They will be playing Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony in a hundred years, in five hundred years. I’m not sure one could say the same about Howard Blake’s Diversions for Cello and Orchestra. Why? – is it crap? No, far from it. It’s a wonderful piece of music. Have a listen to a few snippets here if you want proof. I bought a copy in John Menzies on Sauchiehall Street. It was in a bargain bin and probably cost me 99p or £1.99 or something ridiculous like that. I personally think it is a masterpiece but what’s my opinion worth. Odds are The Snowman will still be around in a hundred years time (yes, he wrote that too) and as charming as that is I’m not sure it is a masterpiece; it’s just popular because of the film.
I’ve not looked at this post for a few days. I got caught up in a blog about voyeurism as it happens but I also found time to write another poem, this time inspired by a comment I made on one of Lis Hanscombe’s posts. I’m not sure it’s any better than ‘The Things We Knew’ but it came naturally and that’s how I like my poems to come. In that respect I do find the Internet a real source of inspiration: you never know what you’re going to read about next.
A body at rest stays at rest unless acted on by an external force. I wrote that down a few days ago at the end of this post. I’ve just stumbled across it again. I don’t believe in muses or inspiration, not in the way the Romantics did, but I am aware that we are the sum of our experiences and I can only draw of what I’ve been exposed to. And there is a randomness to all of this. If I’d decided to write that poem today and not on the 30th of April then my noun would have been ‘anyone’ and I’m sure I could have done something with that too.
(I just had a go and wrote a few lines about a killer sitting on top of a roof trying to decide who to shoot first since, according to the law, every life is the same. He finally decides to shoot the fourth person wearing a red top answering to the higher law of probability. The idea is okay but I didn’t like the poem and scrapped it. I may come back to it later. Perhaps it might work as a piece of flash.)
Anyway, how do I feel today? Do I feel I ought to be writing? Not so much today. Now I have two blogs on the go and I’m nearly finished reading The Book of Lies which means I’ll have a book review to write. What I really should be doing is editing Milligan and Murphy if I want to get it out by this Autumn. It’s all good.
Writing is like weight training. I did a bit of that in my early twenties. My first wife had left me and so I set up a bench in the living room and trained most nights. Now it would kill me to do a dozen push ups. The thing about weight training is that it is a process, a sequence more like: you eat, digest (very important), exercise, rest (equally important) and repeat. The resting also includes healing. You cannot just exercise day after day. Well you can because I did but you don’t exercise the same muscles two days in a row. You have to give them time to rest. It’s easy to resent the resting bit. It feels like wasting time because you don’t feel like you’re doing anything. But you are. And it is important that you recognise that you are.
Now I really ought to read a few chapters of that book.