A Writer All of the Time?

I consider myself to be a writer.

I didn’t arrive at this consideration quickly or easily and certainly not by way of any great success or breakthrough in writing.  I’ve had my moments, I suppose, and I hope to have many more, but they’re not what allows me to (quietly) think of myself as a writer now.

It’s more the state of mind.

I’ve found that I’m happiest when I’m writing and that I’m most content when some good writing has just been done.  I berate myself if a day ever passes without my having written something and my unhappiness increases in direct proportion to every additional hour that passes without getting down to it.  So, yeah, for better or worse, I can think of myself as a writer now.

But that’s not what I want to write about at all.  That’s just sort of validation, citing why I think I am allowed to say what I want to say.

So… what is it that you want to say, Ken? 

It’s not a big deal, really, all I want to say is this:

I have a sort of mistrust of writers who are writers all of the time.

Most writers – the ones I know anyway – are not writers all of the time.  They put enormous time and energy into their writing work and they do it brilliantly but then, in downtime, they are just themselves rather than writers.

I realise I’m not making much sense and possibly causing a bit of annoyance too but it’s a tricky one, this, and I’m just trying to get my head around it.  You might be saying something like, “he’s wrong, the real writer is a writer every minute of every day, constantly questing for the truth and insight of each and every situation that arises.”  Yes, they’re the ones I’m talking about.  They’re the ones that worry me a bit.

Don’t get me wrong.  The sub-conscious level is always working away, it really is.  Some piece of amorphous writing-thought, left alone to ‘stew’ in the back of the mind, can come out so much more sweet-and-tender for the stewing.  I’m not talking about that stuff.  I’m talking about the writers who go around being writers all the time.  I think it’s a confidence thing.  If you have the confidence and the faith in yourself, I think you tend to put on the writer’s mantle when you sit down to write and you are just ‘you’ the rest of the time.

That’s why people are often surprised when they meet writers.  “I thought he’d be all-flowery,” they might say, “I thought he’d offer some marvellous insight into the Human Condition over tea.”  “Instead, all he wanted to do was chat about the Football.”

It’s so natural to not be the writer all of the time.  The similarities in other professions are legion.  Does the Joiner assess every stool he perches on in the Pub, every bookshelf he scans in the Library?  Does the Butcher eye-up every beast in every field he drives past, thinking about how he might carve it up?  No.  Writers become writers when they are writing and they express themselves in a markedly differently way in the writing than they do in the rest of their lives. 

I’m doing it now.  You don’t think I talk like this in real-life for Chrissakes?

There are exceptions to everything and sometimes I’m just plain wrong about stuff.  Maybe you are an excellent writer and maybe you do spend every minute of your day in the same mode as you do when you are writing.  Well done, I don’t mean you.  You’re great, you are. Really, great.

I think I’m talking about quite a lot of aspiring writers.  I think there’s a misconception that the way you carry yourself, the way you deal with others, the way you promote your efforts, will be the things that will catapult you into some mythical limelight.

Save all that energy, I would say.  Save it up and spit it all out onto the page when you are alone with your writing weapon-of-choice.

If I’m totally wrong, that’s okay.  We all have to do things our own way and if your way is the way of the constant writer then I wish you well.  But even if I’m only partially right, then there’s still a very useful practical application to my notion.  Simply put, it is this; you won’t do your best writing by walking around and thinking/talking/making faces about it.  It’s when you are closeted in your writing place, faced with the blank paper, the blank screen, that’s when the valuable writing will pour from you.

I just think it’s worth thinking about.  If you aspire to be a writer and are working hard at it.  Put your writing-juice in the place where it counts, which is directly between you and your computer monitor.  Be all-of-your-writer there.  Then go out and be yourself at the riverbank and in the woods and at the cinema and in the shop.  Because it isn’t being a writer abroad in the world that will make you a good writer.  Not in my opinion.  It’s down here, quietly, on the page, that the big work gets done.

I probably haven’t said this right at all.

I’m not really a writer this morning.

I have to get to Tesco before it gets busy.

This time last week

This time last week
I had written two songs
Drove down to Oxfam
Brought some old things along

Done all the laundry
Polished my shoes
Painted the back door
Left it like new

This week you’re gone
And all I can say
Is the tomatoes you left
Should not taste this way

Three Score and Ten

This week’s short post will doubtless be pretty obvious and hackneyed and such. Given the week it’s been, it would be churlish of me to try to write in any other way. The week has put my head in this particular place and so it here that I must try to write.

Somebody died this week, a friend. It’s not for me to eulogise.  That has been done well-enough in other places. Neither is it for me to name the lovely friend who left us.That is for elsewhere; in my head and in my heart.

What is for me, here, is just to try to consider the thoughts that run through my head when sorrow and loss  raise up and cause me to reflect, once again, on the nature of a life.

One thought in particular has recurred to my this week. The thought of a ‘Life Cut Short’.

The days of our years are threescore years and ten;
and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years,
yet is their strength labour and sorrow;
for it is soon cut off, and we fly away.
(Psalms 90)

I have perhaps entertained the thought, in my head, that there is a set timespan which can be held up as a gauge to any life to see if it passes that test of having been ‘Full’ or ‘Cut Short’. Having thought about it for a while now, I find that I no longer wish to subscribe to this point of view.

We have no control over the time span we have to live.  I don’t want to say the time span that we are ‘given’ because I don’t believe we are 'given' it by anyone or anything. It simply is what it is. It therefore follows that every life cannot be assessed against the criteria of any particular set life span, where exceeding it is a success and falling short of it some kind of life-failure.

I now think that life should not to be valued by how long it is loved but rather by how well it is lived. Perhaps this, then, is the elusive 'Meaning of Life', or at least one theorem of it – that life is all about the fulfilment of a person's potential, no more no less.  We are, after all, physical beings, bound by physical laws.  Even the mysterious chemical brew of our minds are governed by these laws.  Our potential is therefore, inevitably, limited.  To live life as well as possible is to travel as far within our own personal potential as we can.  We can, ultimately, do no more.

To a six hour old baby who dies, this may mean mean no more and no less than simply drawing breath or passing a little fluid or touching and ultimately breaking the hearts of all those who are near. The six hour life, when completed, can be as beautiful and fulfilled as a one hundred year long life which was replete with creativity and joy. Simply because it rose as far within its potential as it could humanly go.

And, if this is true – if it could only be true - what is there to learn from it?

That, too, is pretty easy.

We are, none of us, living close to our potential. Whatever it is that we aspire to be, we are simply not enough of it. We are not 'loving' enough, 'expressive' enough, 'risking' enough, 'angry' enough, 'alive' enough. We owe it to ourselves to push the boundaries of who we are, not so that we can live to the year ninety or one hundred but to attain our best within the limits of our potential.

Regardless of whether you die at 44 or 67 or 2 it’s always going to be a tragedy for those left behind. Those who must miss you and grieve for you and somehow travel on without you.  It’s a real unavoidable  tragedy for them.

But it doesn't have to be a tragedy for you. Not if you’ve lived every day you had, regardless of the circumstance that finally whisked you away, regardless of when it happened.  If there had been a few more of those beatitudes, perhaps one might have said, “Blessed are those who live close to their potential for they will have truly lived.”

It's like I said at the beginning, there are no original thoughts in this week’s post but I guess it’s good that I am at least thinking these old-old thoughts out for myself.

ITV2 (For Poor Adele)

(To the tune of Someone Like You)

‘Hadn’t heard
We were over time
Got a min
And took
Fucking Nine.

I hadn’t heard
About that bloody farce
Til I felt James Corden
Up my friggin’ arse

The bugger turned up out of the blue uninvited
And he put me off, he made me shite it
I’d hoped to say my bit
With my fans be reunited
Ah but now the show is over.

Never mind, I will find ITV2
I can take as long as I want on you
You won’t stop me, I know
Cause the next show’s just Poirot
Sometimes the Brits are good
But mostly they do my head, yeah
Sometimes the Brits are good
But mostly they do my head.

Liking Someone New – Whitney Houston in 1985

It was a Friday morning in December 1985. I remember it well.  Barry waltzed into our office, hung up his scarf and coat and plopped himself down at his desk.  He gripped the edges of his seat and spun around on it contemplatively once or twice.  He had news and he couldn’t keep it in.

“Guess what?” he said, “I like someone new.”

Barry and I shared a corner of a screened-off open plan office on a roundabout in Bracknell.  We worked hard-and-well together but there was always time to dissect the crucial occurrences of any given day.

I didn’t have to ask Barry who this ‘Someone New’ was.  Nobody did.  On that Friday morning, not as long ago as some of you might think, Barry was not alone in having fallen instantly in love, a little bit, with Whitney Houston.

Thursday night was ‘Top of the Pops’ night.  Nobody was avidly glued to it in 1985, nobody was drooling with anticipation of the next act to debut, but nobody was missing it either.  Everybody was keeping an eye on it, to see who or what might suddenly appear.

And I think a lot of people fell a bit on love with Whitney that evening.

The song was, of course, ‘Saving All My Love for You’ and we didn’t see a live performance of it that evening, we saw the video. 

Who couldn’t fall in love a little bit with that girl that evening?  She sang like a dream, she had the most extraordinarily beautiful, open, face and she looked so very happy to be saving all her love for me.  Natural talent and beauty simply exuded from her.

We had never heard of her before that evening and we have never forgotten her since.

Every Sunday morning, the radio alarm comes on at the normal week-day time and usually gets clicked off again within a grumpy New York Minute.  This morning, in the brief moment between coming on and being switched back off again, a snippet of news slipped through.  Whitney Houston is dead.

When I got up and thought of her a bit, I thought of a Friday morning in December 1985 when Barry came in and proclaimed his latest flame.

To touch someone’s life, however briefly, what more can we ask?

Tennis Girl

I’m in love with a tennis girl
It’s been going on a while
I like to watch her at the net
Her backhand really makes me smile.

We like to play together all the time
To my court she has the key
I am in love with my
Tennis Girl.
Love may mean nothing to her
but her love
means something
to me.

I’m looking forward to the next time we meet
We’ll rally back and forth in rhyme
We’ll drink Robinson’s Barley Water
Like the pros do all the time

We’ll have big showdowns in the future, I know
They will be wonderful to see
I am in love with my
Tennis Girl.
Love may mean nothing to her
but her love
means something
to me.

Our games will go on to the twilight of our years
Arthritis never lay us low
The intensity will still stay exactly the same
We may just get a little slow.

There’ll be no tie break in our final set
We’re just as close as we can be.
I am in love with my
Tennis Girl.
Love may mean nothing to her
but her love
means something
to me.

(c) Ken Armstrong 2012

One Particular Memory of Snow

If my computer is anything to go by then England is, this morning, blanketed beneath a silent bed of snow.  Here in Ireland we have no snow at the mo’ – the snow is a no-show. (sorry).

Oddly enough, I think I’d quite like some.  As ever, my novelty with it would only last an hour but that hour might be worth it.  The white, the crispness, the transformed landscape, the sudden re-awareness of the birds in the garden.

Watching everybody tweeting about their snow with excitement/annoyance/joy/pain, I got to thinking about whether I have any particular memories of snow.

I used to go skiing quite a bit, back in the Eighties, so you’d think my snow memories would emanate from there but, no, my most vivid memory was of an evening in my hometown where there was probably no more than an average dusting of the white stuff.

We were sixteen – me and the boys – and we were out drinking.  Well, to say ‘we’ were out drinking was only partially true.  I was the one who didn’t drink.  Never touched a drop until I was twenty.  It’s not that I was particularly pious or anything, perhaps the fact that I worked part time in a bar made me a bit over aware of the vagaries of alcohol… perhaps I was just a boring little bollix – that’s a scenario too.

Anyway, it was Saturday Night and we were all going to ‘Valentino’s’, the night club of choice.  ‘Valentino’s’ was strictly Over 21’s so it wasn’t’ a foregone conclusion that we would get in.  Still everyone always did – except me, of course.  Week after week, just after it first opened its doors, I was turned away from ‘Valentino’s’ while all my mates sidled in.  I guess I was the runt of that particular litter and just that inch too far away from being twenty-one in any imaginable universe.

There was a girl in there too and she liked me and wanted me with a passion that burned like the fire of a thousand suns and all I had to do was get in and claim her for the slow dance and she would be mine and…

… eventually, as business tapered off, I too started to be allowed in and that ‘Fire of a Thousand Suns’ thing did not quite work out as planned.

But that’s another story.

I got in.  It was a big thing for me.  No more trudging home alone to watch ‘The Late Late Show’ on telly with my parents.  No more catching up with all the stories the next day.  I got in.

And, hey, it was great.  Loud music, dancing, girls, lights… great.  We had all the hits of the day: Billy Joel, Meat Loaf, Boomtown Rats… fast sets, slow sets.  Oh, and fights, there were great fights too – mighty barnstorming affairs between grown men and their knock-kneed women.  Great stuff altogether.

What else?

Yes, drink.  There was drink.

My friends had different expectations of ‘Valentino’s’.  Some expected to dance until they dropped, some expected to get a girl, some expected to drink as much as humanly possible and one of these was Martin.  It’s not his real name, his real name is Peter (no, it’s not) but we’ll call him Martin.

Martin was a good guy, quiet and sensible and funny and nice.  But, on Saturday Nights in ‘Valentino’s’, Martin would ‘get his drink on’ in a big way.  While others danced and cavorted, Martin would sit in the corner, at a paper-tableclothed table, with a long line of flat pints of Smithwicks in front of him and he would slowly and unceasingly work his way through them all before the night was through.

“Ken,” you might well say at this point, “this is all very well but where’s the snow?  Where is the snow?”

It’s here, look, outside the night club doors.

It’s two am and ‘Valentino’s’ is over.  Nobody expected snow, it is late February and everything is frozen solid.  It is too cold for snow.  Yet there it is, like a calm surprise, a glistening blanket for the small town grime.

And Martin can usually make his own way home. He is a large boy and he seems to be able to accommodate the vast quantities of beer he consumes, usually.  Tonight, though, he has consumed one too many or perhaps two or three.

We rally round, those of us who have not found a girl, and we resolve to get Martin safely home through the ice and snow.  It’s across town, out of our way, but those were the adventures which defined our teenage years, those occasional sojourns off of the beaten track.

Overcome with Smithwicks, Big Martin soon becomes a largely immovable force.  We cajole him and encourage him and roar at him but his progress is slow, terrible slow.  We arrive at the top of the ‘The Promenade – ‘John F Kennedy Parade’, which is a gently sloping wide paved path along the Garavogue River.  It’s three am now and there’s another hour of ‘Operation Get Martin Home’ to go.  Unless…

“I have an idea,” says Tommy, “let’s get him down on his hunkers and slide him along the promenade.”

It seems like a ludicrous notion but the snow is falling large and sticky and the night is fading fast.

“Martin, Martin, get down on your hunkers and we’ll push you down The Promenade.”

“No, no, no, no, no… no… no.”

“Come on, it’ll be grand.”

So Martin gets down on his hunkers and we slide him along down the slope, keeping firm hands on his shoulders.”

“I feel sick,” says Martin, the unusual motion doubtless contributing.

“Sing a song,” says Tommy, who seems inspired tonight, “sing a song and it will keep your mind off the sickness.”

So Martin starts to sing.  An unlikely choice.  And, as we ease him down The Promenade, the gentle slope becomes less gentle and Martin slips away from us.  We try to hold him but his bulk and his momentum is simply too great and for a time he is gone, away from us, down The Promenade, off into the snowy night

And this, then, is my one particular memory of snow:

Martin, on his hunkers, easing gracefully off down The Promenade, singing Rod Stewart loudly at the top of his voice,

“I am sailing… I am SAILINNNNNG...”