I’ve taken a few days off work, taking advantage of the bank holiday, and as always happens when I have a few days to spare with no real plans I find myself with time to think. Not straight away. It takes a few days, a few days of reading, of travelling around, perhaps, a few days of going to the shops or looking out of the window and watching the rain or the clouds passing by. Eventually those things run out of currency, and I’m left with nothing to hinder the thoughts I try so hard to escape from. This time I've decided to listen.
It is good to have time to think. The most creative times, I find, are those times when you have no option but to think, where thinking is something that springs upon you almost as an inevitability. Like in the shower, or on a long walk. These are often the times I find the keenest insight into my life and what I need to do with it. It is, perhaps, not surprising that so many writers are often keen walkers.
When I’m at work, when I’m in my normal routine, I don’t think. That doesn’t mean to say that I don’t think in my job, of course I do – I have to – but what I have to think about is everything other than myself and what I am doing. I can think about my work, I can think about my role and the meaning of my role, I can think, hard, to solve a problem. I think a lot, but that thinking is never reflection. On my way to and from work, I read. My free time at home is limited, and I can easily fill it with administration, with my kids, with housework or gardening or more reading. All this enables me to carry on through my life without thinking about what I’m doing. This engenders a kind of blindness, a lack of awareness and a failure to make real decisions. If I ever challenge myself, I spin out that old trope ‘I’ve made compromises,’ which isn’t quite true because ‘compromise’ implies a conscious choice whereas I think it is truer to say that I’ve simply taken the expedient route. This is nowhere else more apparent than in my reading obsession. If I think about the next book and the next book I want to read, then I don’t have to think about why I’m reading them or what it is that drives this need, this need which enables me to avoid confronting the course my life is taking. Reading, it appears, is a great source of distraction and I’m reminded of one of my less successful university interviews, many years ago, when my interviewer asked me why I read and I answered ‘escapism’. I didn’t get a place at that university, but I knew myself better then it seems.
Not surprisingly, then, my thinking has started with my relationship with reading, which I’ve blogged (briefly) about before. I am reading more than ever. I have a list of books I want to read which is ever growing, to the point that it is unachievable. I could buy a book every day, add them to my stack and get around to reading them, one day. Part of this is driven by my blog, but there’s something underlying it which I’ve been hiding from and which, to my surprise, has been revealed to me when I’ve thought about all the books which have particularly affected me. Those books were telling me something, and giving myself some time to think has made this clear to me.
Those books have been Tracks, A Book of Silence, A Woman in the Polar Night, Full Tilt. More recently, Nan Shepherd’s The Living Mountain – which I will blog about shortly – all of these books have shook me to my core. What is it about these books? All these women have taken a brave (or crazy) step. They have all done something which seems impossible, whether it is cycling across the world or walking across the Australian desert. All of these women have actively sought isolation and in the course of doing so have discovered who they were. This is something which I know absorbs me, as every idea I have for a novel centres around this theme. All of these women have sought an intensity of experience, they have risked their safety and suffered social approbation for what these have chosen to do. Yet their experiences have shaped them, they have enabled them to have a transcendent experience. What is my obsession with transcendence if not a sign to myself that the way I am living is simply not enough?
I am not unhappy with my life, in fact if I was unhappy it would be easier to make a change. What I see, instead, is that I am living an unchallenged life. My work is challenging, but not risky and it is easy to rise to that kind of challenge and pretend it is enough. It is not enough. I need to challenge myself, I need to confront myself and always remember that a fulfilled life is not necessarily an easy life. I let myself off the hook too often. I love reading, but there comes a point where you realise that the story you want to read isn’t out there, but is already inside you waiting to be released. I am ready, I think, to write my story. Actually it doesn’t matter if I’m ready, I simply must. I need to stop living this middle-of-the-road life. I have walked a path which has been opened up for me, instead of forging my own way and I have let my dreams fall along the wayside, victims of expedience and practicality.
My dream as a child was to be a writer, but along the way I have created the excuses which have permitted me not to pursue my dream. I have tinkered here and there but never taken it seriously. No one should give up their dreams so easily. I need to read less (crazy as that sounds), blog a little less and stop myself from filling those free hours with anything other than writing activity. I need to stop buying books, because the story I need to read is right here already. It will be a difficult read, and I won’t be able to read it and move on to the next story in a matter of days; but it will be the best story I will ever read and if I don’t nurture it from me now I’m condemning myself to die an old, regretful woman. I’m determining, right here, that this is not going to be the story of my life.