Notes From the Wasteland No. 27 ‘Is Writing like Breathing?’

There’s something automatic about writing this paragraph. The way my fingers tap the keys and the words form from the letters I choose, the positions of which never change so over time my hands have learned to guide themselves in perfect sequence with my thoughts. Occasionally, I mis-spell a word, but that’s part of the nature of this process, like coughing, I suppose. But overall, writing this paragraph, this post, that paragraph, that book, novel, line sentence, thesis, overall, writing is like breathing, at least for me. Automatic. Regular. Vital. Essential. Laboured, sometimes. Weary. Heavy. Sometimes I am out of words like I’m out of breath, but still they come, ragged, rasping but still there. In this sense, it makes no sense to ask how do I write? Or why do I write? Because it makes no actual sense to ask how do I breath? Or why do I write? It is simply a biological fact that I write because I breathe and because I breathe I write.There is nothing else. How could there be? Why should there be? Writing is simply a function. A necessity. A fact of existence. Nothing less but everything more.

Is it the same for you? Is writing like breathing? Automatic? Regular? Life?

Notes From the Wasteland No. 16 ‘Can punctuation really save our lives?’

When questions circle and hide their intent through subterfuge and complication, as they often do, like people, lives, events, lifetimes, and consequences, how can we really tell when one question ends and another begins? Punctuation helps, it always does. It tells us when to breathe and such instructions are crucial to our survival. So punctuation is survival, then? It has to be, otherwise these sentences would run together off the bottom fo the screen and keep flowing forth and as they do they’ll draw the very life from us because the simple matter will be that we won’t know when to take a breath and normally when we don’t know about something as mechanical as drawing breath is likely to be just before we draw our last.

Breathe. In. Out. One more. And again.

And as before, we type anew and more words form and paragraphs multiply like raindrops in the puddle that is my laptop screen and sometimes when they do we know that they need taming and shaping, putting into place, and we hope that punctuation can help achieve this aim but when a raindrop hits a puddle it doesn’t sit separate and wait for permission, it simply merges, becoming part of the whole. And we all hope when we write that are words fall like raindrops and fill puddles and overflow their edges and then spread further like a tiny rivulet that swells in turns and starts to race just that little bit faster until more water forms and the tiny becomes the larger and then the larger still and the words that are our raindrops reach enough people to soak them with their wisdom and nourishment. But some raindrops don’t reach puddles to form streams and gurgle like torrents, some raindrops die trapped on greedy leaves. And that is not where you want your words to fall, drying in the sun and evaporating without trace.

I want my words to make an ocean.

Notes From the Wasteland No. 17 ‘How I manage when people let me down’

They always will. They always do. People always let you down. And when they do you won’t be surprised because you’ve been let down before and you will be let down again. And again. And again. Sometimes, it will be an enormous letdown, when someone you love doesn’t love you any more. Or never did. When they reveal that everything you thought was right was actually, totally, spectacularly wrong. So wrong that the word loses all meaning in its enormity, like a planet blocking out the light. And when that happens, and it will, or already has, or will happen again, there is no shelter or shade from the blast of this searing heat, all stripped down bone-bare and beyond.

It might also be the smallest of letdowns, something minor, minuscule even, inconsequential to most, unimportant, in their eyes anymore, but the importance, minor or otherwise, becomes magnified in our minds due to the fact of our disappointment and whilst it might be something as mundane as someone running late, or not calling back when they said they would, or a million other small actualities that result in the facts of our lives being constantly more complicated than we first imagined, it becomes less mundane and much more magnified in our worried minds.

But then the letdowns accumulate. Like trains running late, each letdown has a knock-on effect, altering the timetable of our life and impacting on every rail and at every junction. Not to mention that feeling of not getting to where you want to be, to be delayed, held back, to be caught in someone else’s time, not your own. Someone else’s. Always someone else’s. And the feeling of being on someone else’s time is not a good feeling, always waiting because with waiting comes hoping and with hoping comes disappointment.

Disappointment. The crush of knowing that the thing you thought would happen is also the thing you knew would never happen, but you thought it might anyway; just once, just one time. Disappointment is a weighty reason not to look to other people, a reason that endlessly justifies the decision you made the last time someone let you down – this, this is the time that I will not let someone, anyone, let me down again. Not ever. Not now. Not again. But again is a hard word to avoid and so the next time we make such a declaration, for the same reason, with the same words, their meaning loses some sheen through being said over and over. But not again. These five letters loom large, a monument to the automatic repetition that is my default position.

Again.

Notes From the Wasteland No. 9 ‘What means the most to you?’

What means the most to you?

People. Obviously, and endlessly. Absence is absolute. It is for me. Connection is everything. The only thing. Real. Profound. Deep-felt and long-lasting. If ever severed or broken, then all else that follows is broken too. Even though we wish it wasn’t.

But wishes are the winning lottery tickets you never bought. The face we saw but never kissed. The hand we never held. The life we never lead because we have to lead another. That other life. The one we might not have wished for after all. But where does this leave us anyway?

Perhaps wishing is only wasting the chance to wonder?

Notes From the Wasteland No. 7 ‘How do we know where we’re supposed to be?’

How do we know where we’re supposed to be?

A question probably more easily answered in the negative.

We probably know where we’re not supposed to be and that’s normally where we want to be.

That’s where I want to be right now – where I’m not supposed to be.

But how do we really know where we’re supposed to be?

I have all the basic weights that pin me to a particular point on the planet; child, house, spouse, career, but some of these weights weigh heavier than others, and by doing so belie the simple facts of geography.

I have defied geography several times in my life, moving, shifting, relocating; each act of defiance larger than the last, from home, to town to, ultimately, country. And with every act I have felt that I was growing, changing, developing, responding, engaging, rearranging, changing (once more), and, growing (again).

But what happens if we stop defying geography?

Does this prevent us from further growing, changing, developing, responding, engaging, rearranging, changing (once more), and, growing (again).

I don’t think that it does. I hope that it doesn’t. I really hope that it doesn’t but as I write these words I’m really not sure.

That’s the why of these words, I guess.

Notes from the Wasteland No. 5 ‘I am a Doctor of Philosophy.’

I am a Doctor of Philosophy.

With letters before and after my name. And if you look carefully in the dustier parts of the internet you’ll find my doctorate published by an international university press.

It was a massive effort to complete. I lost (almost) everything in the process. My relationship. Friends. Possessions. Addresses.

My mental health suffered. There were times when I couldn’t imagine carrying on with it. It was all too much all of the time. Unrelenting in its need to be attended to. Like some curious tumour that demanded everything I had and much more.

Much more.

One more idea. Just one more. Another word. Another sentence.

One more.

More words. Another chapter. And another.

And. And. And.

More. Just more.

But I endured. Battled. Wrestled. Fought. Endured.

And completed. Because completing is everything. There is nothing else. The whole thing is just too much to not succeed. There is nothing else other than completion. I saw too many other people around me stretch out their lives by extending their registration. Going from full-time to part-time. Three years to five, seven, eleven, forever. Just adding more time to their lives. More. Endless. And then discover that there is no end. No completion. Planets have stopped rotating on their axes for less.

The process was like digging a hole as deep as you can possibly dig, toiling each day to shift tiny amounts of soil, pushing them to one side, tamping them down, making sure that too much soil doesn’t fall back into the hole. But the digging was everything. Everything.

Picture the hole I dug over three years. It was roughly ninety-six thousands words deep, not counting footnotes. But the hole’s dimensions can be measured in many ways. Not just word count.

Hours, obviously. The time it took to type each word, each sentence, each and every paragraph. To edit and rearrange, delete and rewrite.

I wrote in a tiny cubby hole overlooking a vast reading room in the university library. Perched high above the room like a furrowed gargoyle. Watching people come and go as I remained. Returning each day to dig a bit deeper. To change a word. Delete a sentence. Correct a spelling, for the millionth time.

I am proud of the effort. It took everything I had but I’m proud of myself. More importantly, the effort rewarded me with a career where my doctorate has been valuable.

But I can’t stop thinking about the hole I dug.

You can’t dig a hole that deep and not wonder how else you might measure its depth.

That’s what I’m doing right now.

Notes From the Wasteland No. 4 ‘There’s something stirring.’

There’s something stirring.

It is the usual something. That same something that it always is.

Something about where I am and where I want to be.

A distance, if you like.

At certain times of the year I am too tired, too happy, too crushed, or simply just too unaware to consider the actual distance of this distance.

At other times, like this time, I am all too keenly aware of this same distance. And when I am, like now, this same thing always happens. This distance compounds, extends, multiplies, unfurls, reveals, makes plain and clear just how far I am from where I want to be.

So, where do I want to be?

And the answers are complex and further compounding.

Not here. Not there.

With them. But not with them.

Not that. Not there (again).

Never here.

Somewhere. Elsewhere. Anywhere.

Not here. Not now. But there.

Just there.

Nowhere else.

But I’m here.

Once more.

Again.

Notes From the Wasteland No. 3 ‘Hey 2021, I’m ready for you.’

Hey 2021, I’m ready for you.

It’s that time of year when I think about family and friends, failings and futures, fallings-out and forgiveness.

All the things that forever whirl and eddy in my mind and find focus at particular times in particular ways.

Those particles of hurt and the hate and love and lust and loss and longing that rotate around the atom that is my heart. Like rocks drifting in space, separate yet caught, bound by the same gravity that causes my breath, like the tides, to always go in and out.

At this time of year I always feel the keen smart of new hope replace the dull ache of past failings. I don’t doubt that I will be crushed again as I have been crushed before; laid low and marvelling at just how many tears it is possible for one man to cry in the same lifetime. But I know that this marvelling will pass because it has before and I hope that it will again the next time.

And so the action of typing these words is the same action as living my life; plotting and planning, checking, editing, erasing, hoping to finish the next sentence and then add the next and the next.

And as the paragraphs grow so I still know that the page of my life is still temporary, still shaping, evolving, ripe for more editing; my ambitious heart beating in time to the cursor that waits for my next words.

Happy new year.