Writers are unusual beings, living on the borderline. They have their rituals.
I unwrap my laptop from its golden scarf and open it. I lay out my table, with tobacco, ashtray, fresh-made coffee from the fire. I tether my phone to my laptop, like a horse to its manger. I sit down and look out at the distant hills.
My office is the single most important place in my life. It is deceptively simple: a chair, a desk, a window. Here is where I wait for my flight, the departure lounge, gate number 9, a dock, a runway, a stepping stone to the unknown. I remember every office I’ve ever had, and where I wrote each book. Even the particular passages. I can pin-point my place in time and space while I was working outside of it. Objects help me to remember where I’m going: rocks and feathers, photos of my travels. It always helps to have a muse, the dog, Filou, lying on his blanket beside me, snuffling and settling in, falling to sleep. The birds are calling. The trees, the sky, the wind.
I sit within the day, but I’m not really here. A dragonfly floats in my periphery, a spider web shimmers, the leaves move and the light flickers. I hear a buzzing fly, a crow in the distance, a lowing cow, the herdsman yodelling in the valley, a lawnmower. The words are stirring inside me, like so many threads, weaving, unravelling, snaking their patterns inside of me.
I can not push or beg. It must come on its own. I have been doing this all my life. I am already writing when I wake up. and now it’s a habit, putting words together, taking them out, moving them around, following them, letting them go. Everything becomes a story. Every dialogue, even silence. I analyze how things appear. How do you describe this colour that is half in the light and half out, this shadow that is reflected by the grass with the sun at noon, the sound of this person’s laughter who’s spouse has cancer, this particular bird song of a bird that is hidden?
If I am observing my thoughts, then who is writing? Where do the words come from?
My father made up these cards, using tracing transfer paper and scratching the letters on with a pencil. They were in a clear black font, with Latin letters in lower case, the ‘a’ and ‘g’ were fat , no flourishes, straight and concise, just the simple letter. They were like little animals. Whenever I see this typeface I remember the feeling of learning their sound, and then making a word and then a meaning. I remember what it felt like to suddenly have a doorway.
I read with my window open to the summer evening, and the sweet song of a thrush. Once, I stayed up all night and read the entire Reader for school semester. The teacher got angry, but I couldn’t help it. I had crossed a line and couldn’t go back. All libraries were my sanctuary, especially the little pink library house on the country road. Books had a smell, the pages were turned on the corners, there was a stain or a tear, a trace of a previous traveller. There were pictures, drawings and paintings. You could carry them with you wherever you went. And where you stopped you left a marker, so you could pick up the trail again, and follow the little boy who was adopted by a badger, or the blind horse that was healed of its fear. The books were friends and teachers, the kind who had your best interest at heart.
The wind blows and the internet disconnects. The thick nest of trees blocks the waves. Sometimes my mind is like sludge. There is no reference point. Words lose their meaning. Time and space intervene. I need another coffee and the fire has gone out. I move the fan of charred sticks and rebuild. I blow on the embers, ashes rising in my face. The pots and pans are calling me from the cluttered sink. It’s 10:45 and at noon I have to walk down to the lake for my bath… at 2 pm it’s off to work. I reside on the borders of timelessness, but at a certain point, I have to get up and go back to the day. It doesn’t matter where I am on the luminary paths. I have to retrace my steps and come back out. Sometimes I carry the words with me, when I’m walking the dogs, punching numbers into the cash, putting groceries in my cart, driving. Then, the perfect sentences come to surface, and I don’t have a piece of paper. I’ve written on cigarette packages, paper bags, grocery bills, on the skin of my hand. My pen runs out. I’ve used eyeliner. charcoal, bloodroot…
Catching a thought. I have to stalk it without it knowing, leave a trail of crumbs, wait. I can not think about the animal, because it will know. I still my mind, sense out into the air.
Don’t, whatever you do, think about: how all your clothes are dirty, or maybe you should sell your car, or how are you going to save enough money, or where will you send your next manuscript, or there’s another 50, 000 words to edit, or maybe you should be off on another adventure…The battery is running out. Texts and call messages lie waiting. No one comes to my door. I panic about time. I turn down invitations. No one asks, what is it you do 90% of your time?
Silence, stillness. I must not be disturbed.
It’s a mystery. The inner world is by far the richer one. The mystics of the Medieval Age were devoted to their manuscripts. Every hour, every day, every year, another flourish of words perfectly laid across the parchment, another point to end the thought, another layer of gold. It began with the appearance of the darkest ink on skin paper. With the letters came sound. Bird song had letters. Sound made an image in the mind and it floated off across the sky.
Not without sacrifice and ‘the dark night of the soul.’ Your greatest strength is also your weakness. Imagination turns against you. It flattens your words and sucks out the breath that makes them live. It calls you a liar and a loser. It says, burn it. It drives you to despair and darkness. The words disappear. You feel like you’re dying.
Then, they come back, like the birds.