Sometimes there is no guarantee that you can make a life’s work out of doing what you love.
Sometimes in spite of good intentions the time you need to keep the momentum going that is needed for being a serious novelist just won’t be there.
Sometimes the money or programme or encouragement to be able to put that time aside won’t materialise.
Or sometimes it will materialise for others and not for you and sometimes their work will be deserving and sometimes it won’t. And that can be as much luck and timing as anything else.
Though sometimes it won’t be just luck and timing. Sometimes it will be social nous, cunning, charisma and plenty of other things that are not related to writing but seem to help push their work up the greasy pole.
Sometimes you will fight for your work in an environment where people fight dirty. And sometimes you will rest and fight another day.
And sometimes you will be given an unexpected gift of time and fill it up with work. And hope that the work you have given at the end of this time is enough, because you are not going to get that gift again. That is where I am right now.
Sometimes a crazy piece of luck might help turn things around. The right person loves your first novel. Or something in your synopsis inflames the imagination of an international person who might help you. Just something, one thing, sometimes, might lift you out of the cycle. Take the endless striving off your shoulders. That is not where I am right now.
Or sometimes, you might walk away replete with the knowledge that at least you have done your utmost.
Part of the South Leinster Way going through Inistioge
Forty Days in the Desert
From Ash Wednesday to today, I chose to abstain from social media to mark Lent. (With a four-day interruption caused by the Arch-Tempter Himself, Mr Amazon) This was because I wanted to live more meaningfully and in the moment. I wanted to force myself to live an undocumented life and be less reactive on places like twitter. It was also an attempt to return to the spiritual framework that had informed much of my childhood. I also threw over Goodreads, as there is an addictive quality to that site as well, as well as taking twitter off my phone.
These past few months there’s been a quiet revolution going on in my head. I read Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic a little while ago (a wonderful, kind, positive book for writers and artists) and one passage resonated with me. She mentioned a botanist saying that many people were saddened at the degradation of the planet at man’s hands, yet had little to no relationship with nature at all. This was brought home to me when I was talking to somebody and despaired about the damage we were doing to our stripped, exhausted Earth and its non-human inhabitants. In response to my despair, that evening they gave me a plant, a small, unremarkable winter cherry picked up in a petrol station on the way home from work. I should take a picture for readers of this blog, but it is too dark at present. I can tell you that the shrub’s berries are fine and orange (and poisonous) while its leaves are a bit subdued, some dying off. I might repot it soon. But it’s still hanging on in there in the window in bright southern light.
For me, that plant is hope. A tiny bit of hope in humanity and in nature.
Today’s clip has been brought to me courtesy of novelist Arlene Hunt‘s twitter feed – her editor Ciara Sidine is also a talented singer and recently re-recorded Curtis Mayfield’s civil rights classic “People Get Ready”. She recorded it for the “Yes to Equality” campaign which is being held in advance of the referendum in Ireland on same-sex marriage on May 22nd. This is not an issue I can sit on the fence about. I don’t think anyone who’s read my book or knows me should be surprised to hear that I will be voting Yes. I hate this whole campaign when I see how much it is distressing gay colleagues and friends. I hate that it even has to be up for discussion. But I love this song – and wholly endorse the beautiful and dignified sentiment behind it. Please listen.
I am supposed to be working on a redraft of a short story and it’s going well. But a few days ago, a certain member of the household brought to my attention the documentary 20 Feet From Stardom, which is about backing vocalists, their talent and harmony, and the power they brought to the rock songs we hear so often. I have become obsessed with this film, and with the songs in it – so I cannot push it from the front of my brain down to the back and am utterly distracted. Just download it and watch. If it doesn’t stay in your heart, you are surely made of stone.
There were so many moving moments – I will never listen to “Gimme Shelter” in the same way again now that I have heard Merry Clayton’s raw and powerful vocal – but one that really stayed in my heart was one of the singer Lisa Fischer multitracked on Samuel Barber’s “Sure on this Shining Night”. Each time a new line occurred, the film “cloned” another Lisa singing into a mike in the studio, until the room was full of Lisas, all singing.
I tracked down the song on Spotify and when I heard the purity of the words and melody, its beauty and pathos, its sublime and ineluctible sadness, I thought: that’s what I’ve always wanted to write. If White Feathers could be a song, and if it could be one like this, I would be very happy indeed.