I am moved by Lady Percy 's expression of love. CLICK HERE - see if you agree.
Otherwise my novels, short stories, verse, family, music, memories, vulgar interests, detestations,
responses, apologies. I hold posts to 300 words* having found less is better than more.
I re-comment on comments and re-re-re-comment on re-re-comments.
* One exception: short stories.

Friday, 10 April 2015

Downhill is bad for you

I'm OK with homo ("man, human being") less so with sapiens (sapient: "able to act with judgment").

It's an arrogant label, applied by man to man without consulting the chimps. So shouldn't we be required to show proof, take a little test? Such as: am I just free-wheeling through the day or behaving like a higher-order being?

OK, OK, my life here in Herefordshire is limited, even moribund. Passing through the check-out at Tesco without being arrested as a vagrant may be proof enough. Could a chimp do that? But Tesco's routine and doesn't require much judgment. Let me offer slightly more rigorous proof:

Has anything new happened today and did I process it as new? Anything: something visible, an experience, a thought. But it has to be new, genuinely new.

At Thai On The Wye last week I ordered Thom Kha Gai (coconut soup with chicken, spiced with galangal, lemon grass and lime leaves). The flavour was unique, no previous taste has ever come close. I said so, and that was vital. Lucky me. Perhaps I re-qualified as homo sapiens.

Yesterday a guy repaired our fence damaged in recent high winds. His method was unexpected. I watched, asked questions, lent him a spanner. The strength of the repaired structure was self-evident and pleased me. Lucky me? Perhaps.

I wrote this post early this morning. Beforehand, this assembly of words didn't exist. But I don't think this qualifies: I aimed to write something new. Newness didn’t arrive and one can’t pre-react to newness. Perhaps I'll come upon a new word in French later on this morning.

My reasoning is ad hoc and inconclusive. Except for one thing: in my tripes I believe free-wheeling is bad for me. Bad for everyone.


  1. But isn't it in free-wheeling that our minds explore possibilities, even making them up? Isn't that also the thing that makes us sapient - creativity? Creativity cannot be forced, any more than can love can be, can it?

    What am I missing, Robbie?

  2. Freewheeling: désinvolte/descendre en route libre/style très personnel

    You do not need me for this. Just letting you know that I was here.

  3. Crow: I can only speak speak personally and then only about writing; however, I am supported by the aphorism "Writing is 5% inspiration and 95% perspiration."

    Day-dreaming (different from free-wheeling which I'll get to in a minute) can produce ideas, but ideas are two a penny. More particularly they may not be any use, now or in the future. One or several of them may be the basis of a novel, but that's equivalent to being presented with a single brick when you have in mind to build a house.

    Out of Arizona was based on two ideas: an American woman with naevus flammus who flies planes for a living. Those ideas were useful for me but not necessarily for anyone else. To arrive at the 125,000th and final word I needed a story; stories don't arrive as an idea, they're too complex. Say a hundred different scenes. In this context I don't particularly like the word creativity - it suggests something other-worldly, faintly magic, available only to sensitive beings.

    Let's go back to that brick house and let's say I've accumulated the necessary skills to build one. I decide to do without a plan but I know I want four bedrooms, an integral garage, the main view to overlook the orchard, a combined kitchen and dining room, etc. These aren't "ideas" as such, they're specifications. I create the foundations and start on the walls; whoops! the founds don't include the floor of the garage. I pull down the walls, extend the founds and start again. The walls rise to about six feet and in my mind's eye I imagine the living room with a bay window. I modify the walls...

    Do you get what I'm saying? The house structure is the book's story and it proceeds in fits and starts. The garage floor and the bay window might be characters added to the story to make it more interesting. From time to time ideas arrive but not as a result of lying beneath trees in the orchard; they are a direct result of trying to build house.

    Can't force love? Where have you been? What else is courtship?

    Free-wheeling is one step up from day-dreaming. You pass through the day, seeing things, hearing things, experiencing things and making the appropriate moves. But not testing them for their ability to be other things. OK, you may have other more pressing matters on your mind. But along comes something new; ignore that and you're not living up to your designation as a sapient being. Making a judgment, applying your conclusion to what you've already got.

    This isn't an argument, Crow. It's simply one way of enhancing what one happens to have been dealt. Other people sing hymns in churches or get drunk.

    Ellena: Coward!

  4. I just think you're not giving yourself enough credit for your own creativity. Yes, writing (and all art) is mainly perspiration. But we need those hours in the bath, or out walking, or whatever, when the mind is more free to fly around, and alight on an idea and explore it a little without actually resorting to something I'd call "work." I say this as someone who probably hasn't done the freewheeling thing enough herself.

  5. Beth: Your comment much appreciated. But with unwonted gentleness (for me, that is) I must disagree.

    PART ONE (Alas, I'm too long for Blogger) Again, I can only write about writing; I would hate to trespass on what I know you can do so well. In fact I remember a post of yours in which you recorded different "endings" for a landscape painting, giving reasons for each. I was fascinated. None of that looked like freewheeling.

    Let me try and condense the origins and first faltering steps of OoA in a way that hints at a process more mundane than creative (with all its mystical tra-la-las).

    National service in the RAF followed by work in industrial journalism left me with an interest in technology. Flying is technology with a lot of other possibilities. Here I was just guessing; I had no fixed view of flying's possibilities just a brave conviction: hey! why not suck it and see? Not exactly a Eureka moment.

    My central character would be a woman. I'd just finished Gorgon Times based originally on the travails of an out-of-work male engineer called Hatch. At the time, rightly or wrongly (one woman who read GT said, in effect, I was right anyway and hadn't solved the problem), I worried that such a story might be monotonous. In the way male authors do I added a woman, unaware of how she would develop. I was if you like playing the odds. I discovered writing about women was fun. But this discovery wasn't electric bulb, it was the product of doing the writing.

    I set the story in south-west France (where I've holidayed), knowing one of my obsessions - about "foreign" language - would give me lots of interstitial elbow room. It was at this point that my woman central character became American since I felt - Oh what a libel on 300m people! - that an American would give me more mileage from such things as misunderstandings and the way the French react to foreigners. Was this then a "creative" moment? It certainly worked and I'm proud of it. But heck I've lived a bit, got around some, I have my enthusiasms. At the time it seemed more like flicking through the folders of my mind, a question asked and a not-exactly-surprising answer arriving within seconds.

    But why should an American woman pilot end up flying planes in France? Kurt Vonnegut says it's OK loving one's central characters providing one throws all kinds of disasters at them "to see what they're made of". Naevus flammus seemed like a peculiarly horrible (but not incapacitating) burden to lay on Jana; it would get her out of the USA and, better still, it would be a ready-made character developer. Did I day-dream, and discover naevus flammus? Not on your life. I consulted a book on human pathology which I compiled myself over the years and stuck it on a shelf close to my pineal gland for future reference.

  6. PART TWO (Apologies. Please read Part One First). I was ready to start. I had Jana and I wanted her to be talking to someone who was relevant to her life. Jana's a woman, so why not a fella? But not at this stage someone French since I needed to set the French scene from "foreign" eyes. Dirk is American and a pilot, as is Jana, so I didn't want duplication. So Dirk is on his way back to the USA and the van is on its way to Bordeaux.

    Parenthetically, although I tried hard to turn Dirk into something of a weak Lothario I failed with one reader. VR believes Jana would have been better off with Dirk.

    From then on logical characters (Jana's landlady, her boss, her friend) were added. Albeit grudgingly; I needed to be able to see them having the legs to last a further twenty pages at least. And on we trundled. Jana meets A, or B or C; so what's next? What's logical but interesting? And how about a hundred pages hence? Ah, someone else. Someone quite different. Yet away with theorising: he or she she must emerge from the story. Chris, I hope, does that and, I hope, also emerges from the landscape.

    Honestly, Beth, it's nothing more than that. Mainly suck it and see (plus having the moxie to discard what doesn't work). But there is to some extent a caveat. I am a 79-year-old apprentice, still uncertificated. Perhaps in another 79 years I'd be equipped to write something luminous (or numinous), something that lays bare the human condition, something so lapidary it can afford to be less than 150 pages. In the interim I'm writing unambitious stories.

  7. Well, this is all fascinating. As you know (I hope) I loved Out of Arizona, and though you describe the work process dispassionately, there is nothing in the final novel that feels or sounds labored or hackneyed, in fact I felt the writing and the story both seemed fresh and alive. OK, it may not be "numinous" but how many novels are? I just finished reading Haruki Murakami's autobiographical book about writing, distractingly titled "What I Think About When I Think About Running." In it, he presents himself much the same way you do -- as someone who works hard at every aspect of his writing because he has to, andbecause he sees it - like running - as a discipline, apractice, that one can't keep up for a lifetime if one doesn't have a method and sheer dedication to doign the work, every single day. I liked how unsentimental and unromantic he was about it all, especially because I admire his writing and story-telling and thought perhaps it was easy for him. It's not, and he doesn't even see himself as gifted. He sees himself as someone who works hard with whatever limited talent he has. I find that, frankly refreshing and honest - as I do what you've written here. And it's also true for the great majority of us. It annoys me when people say, "You're so talented" because I know it's not true. Yes, we have certain gifts, but in the main, you have to work, do the research, think about things, practice your craft, and get up and do it again the next day, and maybe that ends up producing an interesting life in which you continue to write or sing, or make some artwork, over a long period of time, and make some progress along the way. But still, most of it is not romantic or inspired; it's work and craft and practice. Thank, Robbie. I hope if and when I'm 79 I'll still be doing the work too.

  8. Beth: Thanks for that. Murakami sounds like my kind of guy. Certainly a craft rather than something mystical. In fact if the mystical process turned out to be true, if ideas flowed in willy-nilly during and after meditation could we take any credit for the end-product? Wouldn't we simply be some kind of conduit?

    In short writing opens up possibilities for further writing. Also, the more one writes and scrutinises what one writes, the easier its gets to recognise self-serving rubbish.

    As for me, what else would I do?

    Don't worry about 79. You'll make it and you'll profit from the passage of time. You have the virtue of seriousness (I just re-read your fairly recent manifesto) and this is likely to be further refined. Which doesn't mean you aren't fun to have around.