I wanted to write about the way that I spend hours looking at words before I put them together, and even then, unsatisfied, I pick them up again and shuffle the order. I do this so often, and probably to the detriment of anything I write.
I wanted to write about how hard I find it to even begin to write, because of the fear that I can’t do justice to my subject; how, as a perfectionist, I torture myself about how badly I’ve expressed something… how frightened I am that instead of a glittering diamond necklace, I come away with a cheap imitation, or a broken thread.
I wanted to write about the discipline of writing… writing without editing, plain, honest, raw…
It’s what I’m good at, and you honestly won’t hear me use that phrase very often.
As the official leader of The Society of Burnt Out Teachers, I nowadays realise that although my passion for teaching English and English Literature will never waver, the transference of my enthusiasm doesn’t have to be within a classroom. No. In some ways, it’s easier to deliver it within a mentoring relationship. Because, as most good teachers will agree, at a certain age, its RELATIONSHIP which is the single most important factor in the delivery of successful teaching.
Mentoring allows a relationship to flourish (hopefully) and then, once established, it’s an open landscape on which, as a trusted mentor, you can help to build whatever scene and whichever structure, will most benefit and satisfy the mentee.
I’ve mentored a lot of your people, before and during my teaching career. Nothing sparks me like being able to nurture an ambition in someone. I love to help breathe hope into other people’s hearts. Nothing gives me a renewed sense of purpose like showing someone else their purpose.
(I know it’s cheating but sometimes you just have to take a shortcut.)
J is for Jesus. Mostly, if you read the gospels, a very likeable chap. Mystical, yes. Unpredictable, very. Would you have hung out with him? And if you would… for what reason? Because no doubt about it, he was pretty rebellious…and exciting… Would you have enjoyed the drama? Would you have liked it that he caused a stir? Would you have been attracted by the cool magic stuff? Would you have been drawn to his intense love and his wisdom?
C.S Lewis had a lot to say about the matter and I leave his famous quote about Jesus here. It’s a good one to ponder…
“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”
― C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
The challenge has been set at http://writeeditpublishnow.blogspot.com
I’m not sure how it all works, this tagging posts and linking up thing, but I figured that it wouldn’t hurt to give it a try on this, my not-used-very-much-at-all blog. I think I did set this one up as a writing blog. Not that my other ‘usual’ space isn’t, but the other is a bit more specific, more personal.
Asked to quote a passage that I will always associate with a beautifully crafted setting, I have to refer to American writer, John Steinbeck.
The opening paragraphs of Of Mice and Men read like poetry:
A few miles south of Soledad, the Salinas River drops in close to the hillside bank and runs deep and green. The water is warm too, for it has slipped twinkling over the yellow sands in the sunlightbefore reaching the narrow pool. On one side of the river the golden foothill slopes curve up to the strong and rocky Gabilan Mountains, but on the valley side the water is lined with trees- willows fresh and green with every spring, carrying in their lower leaf junctures the debris of the winter’s flooding; and sycamores with mottled, white, recumbent limbs and branches that arch over the pool. On the sandy bank under the trees the leaves lie deep and so crisp that a lizard makes a great skittering if he runs among them. Rabbits come out of the brush to sit on the sand in the evening, and the damp flats are covered with the night tracks of ‘coons, and with the spread pads of dogs from the ranches, and with the split-wedge tracks of deer that come to drink in the dark.
The graceful stillness of this place is almost tangible. It makes me desperate to feel the warmth of the water, the dry heat of the dirt tracks and the cool of the Sycamore shade.
When a writer has described the natural world this tenderly, this delicately, it stirs up a sort of ache in me that I find very difficult to explain or understand. The closest I get is to compare this ache to a feeling of homesickness. The tug of something tinged with desperation and shades of sadness. Something in descriptions of the natural world makes me long to return somewhere I often haven’t been.
There are so many other examples I could give… Hemmingway creates settings to die for, and Khaled Hosseni whose ‘Then The Mountains Echoed’ I’m reading at the moment, is an incredible writer who can conjure up scenes so palpably that I can imagine the sights and smells of Afghanistan as though they are part of a memory.
A poet like Dickinson has the enviable ability to load a verse with meaning so deep and so heavy you wonder how such simple words can bear the weight.. Her gatherings of commonplace words so often made to shine by their careful ordering, carry a grief so weighty you wonder the words don’t crumble beneath the despair.
This simple little verse almost sags in the middle with the enormity of her existential reflection!
I wanted to put it out there because I think it’s something that every one of needs to have asked and explored. Not in a naval gazing way, more in a back-of-the-mind type of way.
Because I think it’s sometimes good to widen my frame of reference. To briefly place my life on the time / space continuum. It’s sometimes good to feel humbled by the stars. To put my pain and suffering in the context of world history.
And sometimes, it’s good to rethink the areas of my life I can control; and the areas that I can’t. Personally I find it useful to remember that life is short, and wanting control over something doesn’t grant me the right to it. More than that, I know that there are things WITHIN my power, that I need to take control of, rather than deny or disown.
THAT is the hard thing. That’s where Dickinson’s innocent thought is a smack in the face!
Many of us have a mental stash of words we consider ‘beautiful’; words which may sound melodic as they roll round our mouths, hiss gently through our teeth or huff breathily in a whisper. And although not always the case, it seems only right, in the order of all things literary, that such words carry beauty in their meaning.
Giving examples of this is risky, because one person’s sense of audible beauty is very different to that of another, but I like the word ‘mellifluous’ for its melody, ‘mercurial’ for the way it curls in my mouth, and ‘simplicity’ for its gentleness. I also like the softness of ‘dissonance’, although this sits a little uncomfortably in the ‘lovely word’ camp because the slightly negative meaning isn’t reflected by the sound.
Although you might be forgiven for wondering, I really don’t mean to write An Idiot’s Guide to Phonology. Rather, I wanted to write about the sibilance in the word ‘Transience’, the loveliness of its meaning…
and the the poetic beauty of April and Cherry Blossom
and the way it makes my heart unfold
and rise to meet the brief and fragile blush of Spring’s confetti.
I wanted to write about the awe that cleans the very base of my lungs as I stand
beneath the Cherry trees and breathe air sweetened by the blooms.
The Japanese have had it right for centuries, taking the Cherry blossom, or ‘Sakura’, as a symbol of impermanence. a metaphor for the transience of life.
I wanted to write about how short life really is. How, in the context of millions of years, our lives are so small, so frail, so quick.
And I think it’s good to reflect on this. Not to dwell on it, or make morbidity our mind’s echo; but to stop every now and then and let our awareness rest on the blossom of the Cherry Tree and the beautiful fullness of its brief show.