There’s always stuff percolating and bubbling away in my head — like everyone, I’d imagine — it’s just that sometimes my thoughts go a little giddy on me, they move into overdrive, and the bubbles go leaping and hopping all over the place, like in those TV Aero adverts.
They burble and they churn … each one clamouring for my attention.
Every bubbling thought seems charged with meaning and significance and they coalesce around an urge to sit down at my computer desk.
And translate them into words.
I am drawn to one bubble, why I don’t initially know, but I am compelled to pop it, to see what comes out …
Sometimes it just deflates … ffffsssssstttt … harmlessly vapid as a fresh-air luvvies’ kiss, other times it’s like a party cracker, shooting up above my head and the most vividly amusing tosh comes floating down like festive confetti.
But sometimes, sometimes it’s an explosion and the mushroom clouds go up and out come waves and waves of … an uncontainable gush of … stuff.
Stuff petrifying and compelling. Coruscating, menacing and destructive. Stuff bewildering and unsettling. Revealing and concealing. Funny stuff, unbearably sad stuff. Clearer memories of incidents and accidents, hints and allegations, and you can call me Al …
And I sit there, typing away … unchained from my ageing body, all infirmity of mind and other limitations scorned, idea and ink merging into words.
I call these wonky little mind trips my creative writing process.
As mysterious as it is mesmerising.
Hoping for that hallelujah moment when something marvellous is fetched up from the depths, the mot juste pops into my head, and the whole thing … sings.
I see the Whole of the Moon.
Stop, stop, right there …
That’s just another fiction you are pedalling there, diverting off into yet another metaphor, another flashy image … juggling idioms, similes, ironies, antithesis, alliterations, personifications and paradoxes to distract.
Flash! Bang! Wallop!
A charade and a show
A fiction, yes, but the dishonest kind, the one that slip slides away from what is really on your mind.
A hobby rather than vocation.
Yes, a hobby, an amusement, a pastime.
See, as a father of two late-teenage children, and a partner in a relationship that is a quarter-century old and new, there is much to vex my mind and try my jittery convictions.
All day. Every day.
Sure even the bastard who leaves their dog poo bag swinging in the brambles out the back of our house angers me beyond reason …
But something my daughter says, something my son does, or my wife infers … and I am a belly roll of uncontrollable mirth, or a maelstrom of seething resentment, which a minute will reverse as I look out the window over a clear morning sky, and rolling acres of green and generous new spring pulsations …
Trembling fields I will presently walk to steady my nerve and calm my world. And my words …
How easily I could write and write about how those things that shake me and provoke me, sometimes embarrass and exhilarate me.
But it’s not just my story …
A proper, proper writer would cannibalise and colonise their lived experience, and what of it? All grist to the satanic writing mill … mystical monk of the written word goes in there, despite the trepidation, and stirs up the wretched mire and pokes about in the wounded flesh.
And writes it all down.
No dilettantes, these real writers, they are living it while I am thinking about it, the hobbyist alluding and eluding …
No haunted Sebastian Barry me, like in that TV documentary we watched the other night, Family Stories, those gouged circles under the all-seeing eyes, those knitted brows, sifting through his traumatic past, and not so easy present, every sentence and trauma held up to his troubled but unflinching gaze …
But what of it?
Is piercing and reflective always more worthy than frivolity or mischievous reinvention?
Is honesty always that honest?
Does even the most candid, forthright and high-minded writer never substitute a mellifluous word for the truer word?
Or in striving and straining for perfection of expression, run the risk of pretence and needless ostentation?
Sure, you might say, no self-respecting author would let a sentence out half-dressed, when a minute’s revision will have it out the door in all its Sunday finery …
But, you know, deep, resonant and enlightening are all very fine but sometimes a sneaky Big Mac and big dirty glass of Coca Cola just hits the spot even for the Michelin master chef.
Depends on your mood or your craving.
But wasn’t Sebastian Barry compelling in a way that a Big Mac or Coca Cola will never be…
But is it actually so wrong, I ask myself, to amuse, to marvel at, to revel in and kick around these diversions and allusions?
Like a child with a football in the timeless yard.
Is it any less valid to play around the infinite garden of word and thought, marvel at the colours, textures and scents you might find there, and pick up and wonder at those beautiful windfall treasures?
Yes, yes, but how do you write about those most intimate matters without betrayal?
Maybe if I had the time, the luxury and the talent, I might turn and twist, transform and transmute, distort person, place and thing until they are beyond immediate recognition.
Only not so for those who know how to read between the lines, or know my artifice from my affectations.
In reality, I suppose I know damn well which bubbles I should pierce, and what unprocessed material might emerge, that I might pick through the blood and guts and fabric off what is to be me, and hold myself up to the likely unforgiving light of real examination …
In so doing, quickly passing over the good in close family and friends to hurry to the foibles — their’s and mine.
Yes, and still end up confused and unexonerated.
It’s funny, when I’m in this bubbling world of metaphor and conjecture … everything is drawn into the web of my fiction … I see something out the window, or in the kitchen, and it joins the chorus …
Just now I stopped to read a Sunday Times interview with singer Hozier, and he was talking about a break-up song on the new EP he has released.
And then he was on a roll, talking some more about the album he will be releasing later in the year, and the impact of Covid and the pandemic , and the epic poetry he is reading, Dante’s inferno … and how the album is “sort of positioned” as a descent into the nine circles of hell … but it’s not a concept album, he interjects into his own flow … “it’s also discussing the end of a relationship and that moment where you’re not ready to let go to it,” he resumes.
And then he trails off: “And it’s also a nice way of me giving you the runaround on the relationship question …”
He’s dodging the question, kind off. And yet it’s just as revealing as if he had spoken everything that was in his mind, without refraction or respect for others.
It hints at decency, respect, depth …
Maybe it’s the bits we leave out that are the most revealing, or truthful … gripped by a piece of writing, I find myself captivated just as much by what is being inferred by omission — like the silence between notes in music that ultimately makes the piece soar.
I think of actors and the research and preparation they put into a role, and having to ‘forget’ all that when they actually say their lines and perform.
But that preciously intuited, built up and discarded backstory is, to my mind, always present in a proper performance, bubbling and percolating beneath, giving it sheen, empathy and resonance.
Like texture in a painting, that dimensionality, the layers beneath the layers, without which there is no surface, merely facade.
See, all this, I had no idea I was going to write it. Make what you will of the actual content, but what really intrigues me, is the elemental recognised mystery of it all.
I’ve always been fascinated by metaphor and allusive language in general … when Freud first talked about dream logic, as I understand it, he showed a new way of exploring the unconscious part of the self.
Just one aspect was the notion that, in our unconscious mind, we actually ‘think’ in metaphor and image, which the waking self can later interpret, or have interpreted, by means of the associations these images draw from us.
It’s like a code which Freud, describing dreams as the “royal road to the unconscious’, believed he could crack to find out what his patients were really thinking, what their true motivations were.
The thing is, the mind keeps zinging from one idea, or metaphor, to another, and never alights permanently on the one image that would explain everything about us. To us.
And maybe this piece of writing is perhaps an ultimately doomed enterprise: trying to explain the inexplicable.
But for me, it does at least explain to me why we love poetry, deft lyrics and imagery: it’s how our minds work … always comparing and associating.
Just how do the hell did I just come up with this stuff?
And what fun!
It makes my life seem open-ended, somehow, still unfolding, and most importantly, unpredictable.
I often have ideas come to me when I am lying in bed, half-asleep, half-awake, maybe both, or something else entirely, who knows?
You know the feeling, you are thinking about something banal, and either you nod off, or your imagination kicks in, but you are suddenly thinking something fantastical, something utterly, utterly unrelated to what had just gone before … so other.
You might forget it was quick as you thought it, and it might tail off into something else entirely, equally zany, but it all seems to come from … somewhere else.
From outside of yourself. That can’t be possible, you think, but, there’s that what if?
That feeling excites me. Perplexes me and deludes me too, perhaps, but it enthrals me.
My editing head tries to make tangible sense of what my mind throws at me. And great.
But also being a bit of a poseur, editing head loves to move around the words, change them … for clarity, yes, but also for melody, tone … musicality.
It must flow. Each phrase, image and idea links what has been to what is to come.
It will at least do to swell a progress, start a scene or two, as TS Eliot put it.
Much more often what I fetch up is superficial, even ends up being hopelessly contrived no matter how hard I work it, but every now and again, I am genuinely astonished at what comes out of this other person who is still me.
And then perhaps the greatest discovery of them all: the more you write, the more you write …
For mind is an unchained melody, and writing, for me, the ultimate instrument of its expression.
Enda, I’m sure you never have to wait long for that “moment when something marvellous is fetched up from the depths.” A perfect example of the musicality you always achieve.
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How very kind of you Jean … Food, Music and Writing … all about nourishment!
Maybe if I had the time, the luxury and the talent – I’d say time and luxury are your only challenge
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A lovely thing to say … thank you, Mary