The need for quiet contemplation
As writers we need quiet, contemplative time.
When I was being mentored by writer Mrs M. at a very young age, she thought 'thinking time' was an indulgence, a luxury that could be ill afforded because it was all about producing, the writing, the quantity, the content.
I cannot be too hard on Mrs M because she taught me some valuable lessons about writing process, self discipline, marketing, publishing, the tools of the writer's trade, and I remind myself that Mrs M. came from a journalistic background. She wrote for newspapers and she wrote a lot, all the time in fact, and she wrote to deadlines which didn't leave much time for that part about writers that can be hard to understand ... quiet contemplation, the time we spend thinking, imagining, not writing.
My cat Betsy is very good at it. She is very old now, going on 21, and so spends a lot of her time just looking at things, sitting quietly, or lying down, and every evening during the winter, there is nothing she looks forward to more than the lighting of the wood burner. This is her most beloved time for contemplation. Around 4pm she takes her place before the cold wood burner and waits ... waits for the staff to come with the newspaper, the kindling, the basket of dry wood. She almost climbs inside the burner, such is her anticipation. Up flare the flames, swirling goes the smoke, and voila .. fire and heat. Delicious.
It took me a while to realise Mrs M's stalwart 'produce!' attitude wasn't the best for me. I had to find the right balance between production and contemplative time.
I needed freedom to think, to ponder, to mull things over, to look up and look down, to contemplate my life, the world around me ... and all of this would eventually distill down into writing, a concentrated dose of sweetness, or sadness, or joy, or darkness ... whatever it happened to be. It took some time before I could allow myself this meditative peace that is as essential to the creative process as the warmth of the fire is to Betsy-cat's old bones and happiness every evening.
Every now and then I still get anxious about lack of 'output' and so I look to Betsy and her wise behaviour of just 'being', watching, sniffing, and I would add hearing to m,y list but not hers as Miss B is almost entirely deaf now. I, too, enjoy our fire time. We both stretch out in the heat, have our respective beverages (hers a small dish of milk, mine a shot of whisky), and share stories of the day.
Good books by the fire
This wild winter weather has me inside more these days, catching up on my reading.
Prior to the COVID-19 restrictions that locked us out of the libraries, I had ordered in several books that would have arrived in a well-spaced way, enabling me to read them in a leisurely fashion.
But they all arrived at once and it was joyous seeing a pile of fabulous books stacked up on the table again, ready to be opened and enjoyed.
It meant that I had to get reading quick-smart so on these cold mid-winter afternoons, Betsy-cat and I hunker down by the wood burner and get stuck in. Here she is desperate to have a read of Celeste Ng's Little Fires Everywhere but I was not keen to share.
I read a well-known and much respected memoir,
All Over but the Shoutin' by Rick Bragg. Published in 1977, this memoir about growing up poor in rural Alabama showcases Bragg's talent for storytelling which won him a Pulitzer in 1996 for feature writing.
I am now heading into a recent biography of Janis Joplin by Holly George-Warren, simply titled Janis that takes us from her rebellious days in Port Arthur Texas to the fame that ended with an accidental heroin overdose at just 27.
Next off the blocks will be Elizabeth Gilbert's latest City of Girls.
One of the standouts for me though was a memoir by T. Kira Madden, Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls. I loved this book and almost wanted to read it again as soon as I had finished it. Searing, truthful, written as a series of connected vignettes and snapshots, it captivated me as few memoirs have done in a long while. It's a somewhat brutal read and not always pleasant but I thought it was something special. I'l also mention two others I've enjoyed recently: In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado and The Yellow House by Sarah Broom.
As I write this today the squally rain has come again driven by a violently powerful westerly wind that tosses the trees about in a mad dance. It's cold too. Perfect book-reading weather.
I hope you have a good volume to settle in with now, or later today. Can't beat the journey of imagination, intrigue, information, and power that a wonderful well written book can offer.