The world will inevitably beat a path to my door to ask 'why?'
It's a good question, particularly when the returns are becoming less and less rewarding. It does sometimes feel like bellowing into an empty cave. The echo is reassuring although it is but an echo.
I recognize in other writers and performers the need to put things in order; to join the dots and, in making those connections, help themselves to check and reset their compasses. But towards what? Perhaps towards some sense of 'home': home as a source of comfort, or simply as a place of sanctuary; a safe harbour to retreat to, somewhere to rest, reset and review past travels before venturing out again to share their stories with the world.
I guess that like Carver I’m interested in the small dramas of everyday life. I have no answers, just observations and questions. And they aren’t always my observations or questions. I just need to keep my radar tuned. An idea might come from an overheard remark, a misheard lyric, a newspaper article or a domestic moment that unfolds in front of you. The trick is in recognizing what’s worthy of development and to distance yourself enough to be able to take in the scene; to be dispassionately engaged enough to tote and tell. My partner Di once came home from work with a story about a seemingly dysfunctional couple that she’d just seen on a train. They were both mumbling, anoraked and odd. She with a cleft lip, he with long lank hair and thick corrective glasses, hood up. They were fussing over their baby, which was wrapped in a blanket. Di was taken by their tenderness. As she got up to leave she passed the couple and looked down at the baby. It was a plastic doll… Some things you just couldn’t make up; there's a profundity in the mundane. Di related snippets of their muted conversation and I fashioned the tale into the title track of the ‘Alaska’ album.
For me it’s initially a bit like mindless trawling. I’m casting my creative net and seeing what’s out there/in there. The essence of an idea, the ghost of a song often seems to float in its own current just out of view. Instinct is key. You are aware of its presence, you just need to catch it and land it. You don’t always catch what you were expecting. If there is alchemy in the process I think that it’s in recognizing when is a good time to fish and knowing where to cast your net. Into troubled waters invariably… Oh, and also recognizing what you should throw back; sometimes the big ones taste of mud; it’s the tasty tiddlers that are worth keeping.
The currency that keeps us vital is life itself, and our vital perception not just of life as it happens, but of our processing of that experience. Our value is not just what we could be, but what we are, what we have become. The further we grow away from our histories, the more obvious their influence becomes, and consequentially, the more we idealise and cherish that influence. Reviewed and rewritten, our past becomes us.
Someone once wrote "Wear your life loosely, it fits better that way." The past is the authentic fabric from which we are made; we define ourselves by how we cut that cloth. The filtering of memories enables us to come to terms with what we have become, how we have tailored ourselves. The way that we do that determines our ‘style’. As long as I’m faithful to that I know that, regardless of quality, my work at least has integrity.
So, why do I write?
- To help myself ‘move on’.
- To connect with myself and to connect with others.
I don’t have kids, never will.
Where’s my legacy?
What do I leave behind?
Maybe, ultimately, from head to heart, from heart to hand, I write to make a sound.
From heart to hand, I write to make marks on a page, to give myself shape and form, that form declaring ‘I am here’, and like the cave painter, my hand is poised to leave a mark that says ‘I was here’.
And look at me.
Writing like the Master Magician who holds the secrets to every mystery.
I know nothing.
But I'm doing my best.
I keep reaching into the hat not knowing what I'll pull out.
Could be a rabbit or a rooster.
It's the unknowing that keeps me excitedly dipping my hand into the darkness.
Attempting to conjure something from nothing.
I love the idea that my best trick is still ahead of me.
And there's no fool like an old fool.
The American poet Galway Kinnell wrote:
I’ll bottle that and call it home…