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Posts Tagged ‘imagination’

Lavender and the Rose Cover

Another in the occasional series, looking at the themes expressed in my various works of fiction. 

Moving on, getting on, forgetting the past, embracing change, living in the present moment – and all that. It’s good stuff, stuff I tried to get at in the Road from Langholm Avenue. And to be sure, all these things are attainable, the material world navigated safely as needs be without falling over in despair at the pointlessness of existence. At least for a time.

But as we get older, something else happens, some call it an existential crisis, others simply the menopause. But as I see it, youth, inexperience, and just plain ignorance has us accepting without question the allure of an essentially material life, rendering us blind to the fallacy that it is entirely sufficient for our needs – the pursuit of money, lifestyle, the bigger house, the bigger car, the exotic travel destinations. It isn’t.

If we’re lucky we wake up and realise material things don’t satisfy us for very long, that we can live an extravagant lifestyle, a life all the adverts would have us aspire to, and still be as miserable as sin, still craving the next big thing. But you can’t go on for ever like that. Clearly something is missing. We need a bigger story if our lives are to mean anything.

Some find that bigger story ready made in the various world religions – usually a story about a supreme being and an afterlife to help make sense of the suffering we endure in this one. We can then explain our lives as a trial imposed upon us, the reward for which will be riches in the next life. Or we can explain it as a preparation for a higher level of existence, again in some non-material hereafter. And all that’s fine for the faithful, because religions do provide comfort in times of need, but what if you’re not faithful? What if all of that sounds ridiculous to you? What if the logical inconsistencies of such a set-up cause you to take out that barge pole and prod all religions and their scary religiosity safely out of sight. Life simply is what it is, and then you die. Right?

Well, maybe.

But what if you sit down one day in an existential funk, and something happens? Let’s say the doors to perception are flung wide open – just for a moment – and you’re given an utterly convincing glimpse of a universe that’s somehow greatly expanded compared with the narrow way you normally perceive it? How so? Hard to describe except lets say, for example, time drops out of the equation and you’re given the impression of an infinite continuum in which there is no difference between you and whatever you perceive, that your mind is independent of both the physical body and the physical world, that indeed your mind is a subset of a greater mind that is both you and not you at the same time.

How would you deal with that?

Well, you’d probably think you were ill, or just coming out of a semi swoon or a waking dream where we all know the most outrageous nonsense can be made to feel true. So we come back to our senses and carry on as normal. Except we find our perspective on life is subtly altered. We are drawn to ideas that might explain our experience. We explore it first through psychology, because it was a kind of mind-thing we experienced. So down the rabbit hole we go,…

And there sitting at the mad hatter’s table we discover Carl Jung, sipping tea and reading a book called the Yijing, which he lends to us, saying that if we are not pleased by it, we don’t need to use it, and we’d worry about that except he also tells us famous quantum physicists have used it too, though they don’t like to admit it. Then this Oriental connection takes us to ancient China and another book called the Tao Te Ching, then to religions that aren’t like other religions, to Daoism and Buddhism which are kind of hard to get your head around. But while everything you learn explains some small part of what you experienced, nothing explains the whole of it.

So you put some rules to it yourself, create a quasi-logical structure for this strange new universe you alone have apparently discovered. Before you know it, you’ve invented your own religion and it all falls apart again, victim to the inconsistencies you’ve imposed upon it yourself. It seems the moment you put words to things you limit their potential to within the bounds of your own perception, and what you perceive actually isn’t that much when compared with what’s really out there, or to be more precise in there, because it’s an inner experience that leads us to this taste of the infinite where there’s no such thing as or in or out anyway.

The Lavender and the Rose comes out of this shift in perception, but without structure it would make no sense to anyone else – just two hundred thousand words of mindless drivel that would bore anyone to tears, so we accept the vagueness and the mystery, and we weave a story around it instead, a love story, several love stories, blur the boundaries, throw in some visions, some Jungian psychology, basically a lot of muse-stuff and conquering of the ego, that sort of thing. Add in a bit of Victorian costume drama, play about with characters having more than one identity, play the story out at different points in history, play it out in alternative universes where even the present moments can pan out differently, and then try to make it all hang together as an interesting story – about what can happen when you start living magically, and with others who are similarly inclined. Then explore ways the mystery can be coaxed to your aid, and discover how, if you get it wrong it will shun you for a decade. Learn how to navigate its endless ambiguities, how to see the world as no one else sees it, and still get by without getting yourself sectioned.

Such is the irresistible allure of something other.

And as with all my stuff, if you are not pleased by it, at least it hasn’t cost you anything!

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drawing

Moonlit hills with Landrover

I still have my sketchbooks from school (1972-77). I was a more prolific drawer then than I am now, more driven, more inspired I think, whether I was actually any good or not is another question and it isn’t relevant anyway. All that matters is I was drawing, creating, doing, all the time. And mostly I was doing it without thought or care for an audience. Once you start doing it with a view to pleasing someone else, you’re screwed because then the lens of imagination through which you view the world dissolves. It’s like the tide going out, and then instead of the light dancing on the waves, all you see is a dreary plane of mud.

Life as a young teen is a hotbed of emotion, of unrequited love, of poetry, of romantic adventure, and every day a mystery to be solved. I did not write much then, suspected writing was for experts, had yet to discover it was also for poseurs and fools, that it led more often to obscurity, alcholoism and destitution than to fame and riches. I drew instead. A drawing can be a doodle in the margin of an exercise book, or it can cover a sheet of A0. It’s still a drawing, and it can still mean something to the drawer.

If I drew for anyone at all it was for a mysterious and entirely imaginary “other” who was always watching, but in a benign way, like I imagined my teachers were watching, assessing, marking. Sometimes I projected the watcher out onto all sorts of people, made protective sages of them when in fact they were nobody, just adults caught up in their own small lives, and oblivious of mine. It took a while to work that one out.

I see themes emerging in those drawings that would shape my later imagination and are still with me – the archetypal women, presence in a landscape, and a hunger for the hidden meaning of past lives as evidenced by their time-weathered remains in the present day – the ruins, the megalithic markers and other fey geomancies.

I’m being selective here. Flipping through my sketchbooks I see there were also fast cars and guns, but they belonged to adolescence, and have been left there where they belong. All of this was idiosyncratic yet of inestimable value, and if only I could understand it and present it to the mysterious “watcher” then all things would be resolved and the world would be a much better place.

I could not see then what I see now, that it was a personal quest, that all lives are founded on myth, some borrowed, some told, some self invented. Myths grant meaning to life, and I was inventing my own, rejecting the native mythologies of Albion and Christianity, things I suspect are common enough among teens who tend towards loneliness and misanthropy.

The picture above is one I drew in 1974 or thereabouts – I’d be thirteen. I remember it meaning something to me then, as it does still, though it’s physical manifestation is now fading and smudged. This is its first wider airing, but I use it only to illustrate a point. It changes nothing, means nothing to anyone other than me, speaks only to my own myth, looks a bit childish actually – indeed I recall my art teacher commented that it was “a corny and rather bland response” to a homework assignment. Oh, Miss T, you were such a stern mistress.

I see reverence for landscape, for exploration, for field skills. We are also looking at moonlight here, a big moon rising, rendering in paleness and deep shadow an endlessly pristine landscape – something slightly pagan about it too in the way the figure pays homage as he contemplates the endless feminine swell of the land. All of these are themes, symbols that still animate me four and a half decades later.

Miss T told me to stop drawing from imagination, or my work would stagnate. Nor was she ever impressed by cleverness with line – look, Miss, it’s a Landrover!. She preferred more the spontaneous Rosrchashis splash and daub of the avant guard – and who was I to argue with an art graduate from the University of Manchester? I did as I was told, and my work stagnated anyway. There was never anything inspirational, I found, in drawing wood shavings from observation, nor in splashing and daubing murky poster paint on sugar paper. The key insight of youth is that while many adults profess wisdom, sometimes they’re just bull-shitting. The trick is to tell the difference, and I’m still working on that.

But what I do know for sure is what we bring out of ourselves in the act of creation is like wiping the mist from a mirror, revealing aspects of ourselves hitherto hidden from awareness. But more than that is it is also a means of rendering unconscious elements of the psyche conscious. We live our art primarily for ourselves. Our vision may be corny in the eyes others more erudite, should we be inclined to exhibit, but some of us are slower to grasp the existential axioms, if such there be. It does not mean we are barred from the artistic life, which means of course, all the clever critics tossing spitballs at our work, can cheerfully go take a running jump.

Some say art should shock, that it should shake the foundations of the world, that is should prove a visceral reaction, and I can relate to that. But I am not working for the revolutionaries, and if I seek an audience at all it is comprised of others like me, inhabiting that same zone of liminality, a place of infinite strangeness and shadow. Look, I’m saying. I’ve felt this, seen this. You may have seen it too.

I don’t understand it either, but it’s probably okay.

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miceThe more literary kind of story has a habit of fluffing its conclusion, of building you up through a series of struggles, pointing to one final decisive conflict, but just as one is hopeful of a whizz-bang ending, it veers off the mark and cuts to the credits without having resolved anything at all. Critics do effusive somersaults over the subtlety of this sort of thing and provide a multitude of their own subjective interpretations based on impenetrable literary theory as espoused by someone you’ve never heard of. As for the rest of us, we can only trust the whole thing was not a deceit, that the author simply didn’t know how to finish things other than by saying it was all a dream, so he trails off instead, fades away like a ghost.

In similar vein I swear I did not dream of mice last week. I saw them, heard them, chased them, tried in vain to trap them. But I’ve not seen one since, nor been disturbed by one in the night. My house is now bristling with traps, baited with all manner of treats – currently pieces of KitKat stuck in tasty splodges of peanut butter. Yum!

Nothing. No bites. No dead mice.

I’ve been round the outside of the house looking for any means of mousy ingress – tiny holes in the corners of walls and where the drains poke out. I have applied cement here, there and everywhere, just to be sure. I know they’ve definitely been around and where they’ve lingered longest because there’s an eye watering smell of ammonia coming from behind the cupboards in the conservatory. For weeks we thought it was a pair of my son’s trainers, and grumbled for them to be stored elsewhere. But the more savvy visitors tell us this pungent signature scent is actually mouse-wee. The cupboards are fitted and it will take a week to dismantle them, remove them, check for ingress, clean up, put back. Understandably I’m resisting the trial, hoping instead the mice have gone and the smell will fade if we keep the windows open.

No firm conclusion, you see? We trail off into the literary never-land. No bang, no snap of the trap and a clear indication of the saga’s end. It goes on until memory fades, hopefully along with the smell, and some other slice of life takes centre stage. So for now the mice have become ghosts to manifest at every creak or sigh in the night, but without actually materialising in tangible reality at all. Only their smell remains.

I hope.

Goodnight all.

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warrior girlMy dream takes on the sound of the sea and the feeling of a warm night. At some point Rebecca and I have spooned up, and even through my closed eyes, I know her by her heat and by her scent. And keeping my eyes closed I carry with me the impression of dawn breaking, and of waking with her beside me still.

My spirits lift.

It’s enough, and I don’t care where we are now, nor what point in time we have emerged back into an ordinary waking reality, so long as we are together. But the sea is still washing on the shore, a reminder of last night’s dream, also harbinger of the fact I have not truly woken, that I am likely still dreaming. Then someone is touching my arm and I open my eyes to see Emma crouched in the sand, looking tenderly down.

“You’ve been avoiding me,” she says.

I turn to Rebecca but she’s no longer there. She’s waking, somewhere, and I find myself once more alone in the dreaming, with Emma. I’m afraid, because Emma is usually the herald of much strangeness, and I can bear it no more. I want simplicity. Pray God, I want the coherence of a single line in time. I must escape her.

I must!

I cannot force myself awake, and dare not ask it of the dream to take me back in time again, though ironically this seems the easier thing to do if the last occasion is anything to go by. Instead, I do the next best thing, the safer thing; I close my eyes and ask it of the dreaming for a change of scene. But even as I feel the giddiness of the transition, I am aware of Emma’s hand upon my arm; it is therefore no surprise when I open them to find she’s still there.

“You must be wide awake to loosen my grip,” she says. “And you are not for waking yet. You’re so tired of the world and all that’s in it; it’ll be a while longer, I’m afraid. If ever. But what is this, my love? Anyone would think you did not trust me any more.”

I do not like it, the suggestion I may never wake up. I wish she would go easy on me, but that is not her purpose.

We are back in the mythic levels, as we were before, the pair of us seated in Sunday best, upon a cold flat rock by night, facing the lake. I did not ask for this location, and why the dreaming thinks it is important I do not know, other than the fact it is but one step removed from Rebecca and her prayers for deliverance. Is that where she’s gone now? Is she not waking to a fresh dawn somewhere, but still sleeping, like me? And is she still dreaming of delivering the world, through her ministry?

I need the protection of my girls.

They are already disembarking from the skiff; bronze breastplates glinting beneath cloaks of Phoenician purple. They draw swords and fan out cautiously, prepared to do my bidding, but looking all the while hesitant, unsure, as if afraid I would command them injure a vital part of my self. Then Emma’s own entourage emerges from the shadows, all leather Basques and straps, and fishnets and whips, like a comical teen fantasy.

My girls draw swords, Emma’s unfurl their whips.

Emma laughs. “Gracious, what a curious stand-off. How shall we resolve it, I wonder?”

She yields, lets go of my arm. Her girls withdraw into the shadows. My own sheathe their swords and step back to the shore. I see the glitter of relief in their eyes.

“There,” she says. “That’s better. Now we can talk.”

“Please,… no more talk, Emma. Can’t you see how overwhelmed my senses are with all of this?”

“Then let me show you something,” she says. “It shall make all things clear at last. And afterwards, I’ll let you wake up. I promise.”

Thus the scene is set for the denouement of my story. We’re a hundred and fifty thousand words in, so it’s been a long time coming. What will Emma show me that’ll make everything clear and lead me into the final chapters? I can’t say, and for the simple reason that, although I am the author of this story, I don’t know, because she has not told me.

What she has told me is that a damaged life is not a ruined one, that it is upon the whetstone of adversity the human spirit is most keenly sharpened. Yet, naturally, if given the opportunity to invent our own realities, we would edit out all forms of adversity, all forms of pain. We would invent for ourselves a paradise of pleasure. But pleasure is a thing we do in resting. Adversity, suffering, is the thing we do for a living. We cannot help ourselves. Lives are broken on its harsh anvil, while others are made more meaningful, and rise more beautifully from the ashes of suffering, redeemed, enlightened,…

And eternity is a long time to be spent merely resting in pleasure.

Is any of this true?

What’s true is the world is a place of immense suffering, and at times it’s impossible to see the good in it. Our ignorance sows an ever more bitter harvest, one spotlighted with brutal efficiency by our global news media, which shall surely one day put a camera on the very tip of a bullet. A hundred years ago, we were less aware of the suffering in the greater world, unlike now, when there is no end to the live commentary by which we might probe its ills, from the very comfort of our living rooms. And our analysis reveals what? That the innocents run from the juggernaut path, that it careens blindly, scorching vast swathes of the earth, returning them to barbarism. Our capacity for the creation of suffering immense, yet seemingly the work of mere moments of madness. Conversely our ability to subvert the suffering of the world is pitifully weak, itself fraught with conflicting opinions. And it is the work of generations.

But if we could realise the dream, what kind of earth would it be? Easy, one might say. There would be no living in fear of our neighbour; there would be plenty to eat, and everyone would possess a secure roof under which to make love and nurture children. Returned to such an Eden, we might then vent our energies and our intellect in the creation of what? Great works of art to uplift the spirit? Contemplation of God’s will? In such a world no man need fear being anything other than his true self, and he would certainly not fear his neighbour might rob him of his goods, or his life.

From such a secure foundation, a man might then exercise his ingenuity, coupled with his spiritual instincts, and all so he could explore the million and one ways he might do good, and express his loving nature in the world.

But Eden has fallen.

In schizophrenia, the sufferer experiences a breaking through of unconscious energies from deep within the collective mind. They manifest as voices, as a dire urges, as a debilitating cacophony of destructive thought that burst with uncontrollable fervour upon the defences of the personality. They overwhelm us. Literally, they swallow us in madness. And these energies are amoral, grotesque, irrational, the very antithesis of order and calm. We see this too in the world, this breaking through of hitherto unimagined disorder. We see it night after night on our TV screens – a veritable daemonic orgy of death, destruction, and the ever more imaginative ways one human being can do harm to another.

One might have thought ten thousand years of civilisation would have yielded some defence, a key, a wise philosophy by which we might all live in harmony, and in doing so turn back the tide. But if such a philosophy exists, we have rendered it in so many layers of myth by now we can do no more than argue over its interpretation. Meanwhile the earth burns; and the pace of this awful breaking through of banshees from the dark depths accelerates.

As with schizophrenia, there is no cure for what ails man’s dominion over the earth. It might be controlled somewhat, moderated in its worst excesses by targeted therapies, but the overall prognosis is rarely positive. It is something we have to live with, something we must manage as best we can.

Is it this, the thing Emma would show me?

Would she take me on a tour of Bedlam to show me only the hopelessness of it, the absence of any cure to mankind’s most pernicious malaise? One might be tempted to say yes, except there are some humans who dare to look the daemons in the eye as they tear screaming though the gates of hell, and to ask them their names. If these are the denizens of the nether world, their residence in that abode seems only to have rendered them all the more destructive to a higher purpose. And the more we dream of Utopia, the more we seem only to feed their appetite for chaos and destruction.

But is Emma not herself a daemon?

She has all the qualifications, existing solely in imagination, her form rising from the archetypal foundations of the psychical sub-stratum of experience. Semi-autonomous, she draws me into her world, reveals to me forms that are infinitely malleable to my will. Meanwhile her brethren invade my own realm to torch the forms I cherish, to torment the living even as they flee from the shadows. And she reveals to me how readily I would escape the world, escape the madness, when my place is still firmly rooted in it.

“It is as Lao Tzu taught us,” she says, “that a man stands most strongly when he has one foot in the outer, and one foot in the inner world.”

If we shut ourselves off from the inner world, it’s excesses will lay waste to the physical, to the world of forms. Its energies exist, whether we believe in them or not, and their natural tendency is to flow into the world, through us, regardless of our will. If they do so, untempered by our communion, the result will be a world always falling to chaos, no matter how carefully or rationally we have built it. If we turn our backs on the physical, sink back into the inner world from whence we came, seek escape in our dreams, we will lose our selves, and our purpose, and all meaning, in its infinite possibilities.

I have betrayed my kind. I have betrayed my self.

“Time to wake up,” she says. “You’ll be late for work.”

And then, as she said to me at the very opening of my story:

“The most vital issue of the age is whether the future progress of humanity is to be governed by the modern economic and materialistic mind of the West or by a nobler pragmatism guided, uplifted and enlightened by spiritual culture and knowledge.”

Sri Aurobindo 1872-1950

So, after all of that, am I any nearer my conclusion?

Don’t count on it.

Thanks for listening.

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man writing - gustave caillebot - 1885They say a writer should always write for the market, in other words write whatever’s selling. Who are “they”? Well, a lot of them are people who write self help books for writers on how to get published. “Study the market”, they say, then sit down and write stories to suit it. And if you’re a naive young writer, trying to narrow the odds of getting published, this appears to make sense. But in reality what’s popular at the moment may not be popular by the time you’ve worked out what it is, and written something similar. If you’re not careful you’ll spend your life chasing your tail, pursuing the mythical golden genre, which is, sadly, a genre you’ll never catch up with.

So, what about now? What’s currently trending? Well, I might have said tales of teen vampires and spankbuster stories. But I suspect I’m wrong because I was never any good at studying the market and, judging by the glut of said spankbuster novels I saw  in the charity shop this weekend, I suspect that genre may already be on the wane. Certainly by the time I wrote one they’d be as passée as sideburns and flared trousers. But, actually, I don’t want to write one, because in writing specifically what I feel someone else wants to read I would not be fulfilling the contract with myself as a writer, and I’d probably dry up after the first chapter. What writing is for me, is finding the button which, once clicked, the writing writes itself while I sit back and am entertained, intrigued, informed and healed by the words that appear under my fingers. This is not writing for the market, or with a view  to publishing. It’s writing for myself, and it’s the most satisfying kind of writing there is.

It is not the writer, but the unconscious imagination that delivers this miracle, and what it delivers may not always be popular, commercially lucrative, nor even intelligible to another human being. I write what I write, but if no one else is interested in it, that’s not sufficient reason for me to stop writing. We write best when we write what pours most naturally out of us, otherwise it’s like telling someone what we think they want to hear; it maintains the status quo, but it never moves things on. So, throw away that self help book; do not write for the market; write what you want to write; be a warrior-writer, an explorer of the unknown. This way the more fortunate of you will be the ones who hit upon the next big thing, discovering the new killer-genre that a generation of self-help hopefuls will try to copy.

And the publishers will suddenly love you.

Of course the majority of you who set off down this path, will never find a publisher, your genres will always be too obscure, and eventually your tales will wind up in the commercial wasteland of the online world where they will wander in perpetuity like lost souls. But again, that’s not sufficient reason to stop writing, especially since now you will find readers, unlike in the pre online days when you would not.

The imagination is an infinite resource, but not one to be mined as if for gold, more for that which wants to see the light of day. This is where the stories are born and where they grow. The writer sets them down, for himself first, then for others. But the imagination does not work in neat genre folders. It is what it is, and what comes out of it is as unique as the teller of the story.

In the psychology of Jung, there is a natural creative tension between the conscious mind and the unconscious. We do not know what lies in the unconscious, but throughout our lives its contents, which are hinted at in dreams and snatches of imagination, press for acceptance, to be assimilated into conscious awareness. Reluctance to deal with the unconscious results in mental illness and a seriously unbalanced life. On the other hand, directly courting its contents through the written word can give us the appearance of being mentally ill, when actually what we’re achieving is a better balance.

Some writers then, and I count myself among them, write primarily for themselves, as a means of self understanding and self healing. This might sound self indulgent, but there is a common bond between human beings, since we rise from the same collective psychical substrate, so what I have felt and suffered, there’s a good chance you have felt and suffered too. The writer therefore lights the path, so others might gain insight and comfort from the fact they are not the first to pass this way.

But now we’re getting deeper into the psychology of the written word, and it becomes apparent there are two kinds of story. There is the story that takes us out of ourselves, puts us in the skin of another person and presents an entertaining, though undemanding alternative experience of life. And then there’s the story that puts us in a skin which, though at first unfamiliar, we realise is essentially our own, and it casts us in a situation which, though it at first seems strange, even outrageous, we realise mirrors our own lives. These are the stories that make us look more closely at ourselves and how we live.

Most of they money’s in the first kind of story, and a writer might spend his whole life chasing it, spurred on by the desire to be known as a writer, to wear the tweed jacket and bow tie of the mythical bardic breed. There are many good writers who make the realm of genre fiction their own, and make a living at it, but many more who aspire to it and fail, to lie instead embittered and broken on the trail.

The second kind of story is a stony road – I suppose you might call it the literary path – the novel as an artform. I’m not saying there’s no money in literary novels, but it’s probably best to consider it from the outset void of remuneration unless you’re already in cahoots with a publisher and his marketing machine. Future generations may laud your genius, but for now its best to view yourself as just another self conscious, self indulgent loser. And that’s fine because those pursuing this path are less interested in the epithet of “writer”, less interested in a lucrative publishing deal, and more  in discovering what it means to be a human being.

Their stories may be strange and unsettling, or even unreadable, unless a literary critic tells us first they’re worth the eye popping agony of ploughing through them. But that they provided sufficient energy for their own creation, through the channel of a writer’s imagination, is justification enough for their existence and they will surely find readers in their own good time. In the mean time they may languish for decades on free to download websites, long after their author has passed away, but it doesn’t matter; the deed is done. It’s simply what writers do, and we should be grateful now for the catch all medium of the Internet for their preservation.

If you want to write, don’t write for the market – just write!

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slater bridgeA traveller in a strange land sits down to rest by the bank of a river. He’s unsure of the geography and has no map to guide his way. All he knows is he wants to cross the river to find out what’s on the other side, preferably before nightfall. He’s heard lots of stories about the land across the river, most of which he suspects are probably made up because they’re so contradictory, and everyone he speaks to on the subject has a different opinion, to say nothing of a variety of dogmatic beliefs, so he’d like to go there for himself and see what’s what. Strangely the far bank is shrouded in mist, so he can only make out the vague forms of rocks and trees. Listening carefully over the sound of the river, he can hear the calls of unknown creatures and, at times, more softly, something that sounds like voices and the laughter of a people at ease with themselves.

He’s anxious to make way, to cross over, but the traveller is a cautious man; for navigation, experience has taught him to trust only the evidence of his own eyes, that the natives hereabouts, although they speak his language, are notoriously unreliable when giving directions – sometimes helpful, sometimes deliberately misleading, and sometimes so self-deluded they might think they’re being helpful, when in fact they’re not.

All the traveller want to know is if there’s a bridge by which he can cross the river, if he can reach it before nightfall, and if he should go upstream or downstream to get there? What could be simpler?

A native comes along and the traveller asks him the question, to which the native confidently replies: go upstream, there’s a bridge just five minutes away and you can safely cross long before nightfall. But the native might be lying and the traveller is very tired – he doesn’t want to waste his energy with a wild goose chase, so he waits until another native comes along, then asks the same question. Go downstream, says the native; there’s a good bridge not five minutes away and you can easily cross, long before nightfall.

The traveller is confused. It would be more reliable to toss a coin or consult an oracle, than ask the natives. It’s not that the natives have ever been hostile to him, indeed they generally appear warm and friendly, but he suspects this is because travellers such as he always carry gold coins, and with a bit of guile, the more naïve travellers can easily be parted from them.

The third native who comes along says the same thing as the first, and the traveller wonders if he should go with the majority view and head upstream, until the fourth native agrees with the second. Then another native comes along and laughs, says there is no bridge in either direction, that all talk of bridges is the result of delusional thinking, and that anyway there can be nothing interesting worth visiting on the other side of the river, and why would the traveller want to bother himself with all that nonsense anyway? Instead he gives directions to a nearby village where he says a beautiful young woman, who he describes as his sister, will be very glad to entertain the traveller for a small fee. The traveller politely declines this offer and continues to wait on the riverbank for a solution to his dilemma.

But nightfall is approaching and, without shelter, the traveller is afraid of wolves, robbers and vampires, all of which the natives have assured him come out and prey upon the benighted. He knows the natives are not to be trusted in anything, but his own imagination will not allow him to ignore the possibility of something unpleasant befalling him after dark. Perhaps it would be wiser then to seek out that village after all and avail himself of its comforts, at least until morning.

But if he can find a bridge and cross over the river, he reasons, he might find a more comfortable resting place and a traveller’s inn that would have the good taste not to tempt him with dubious comforts, but instead offer a more honourable fayre. And from the contented murmur he can still hear coming from the other side, he suspects there are no wolves there, nor robbers, nor vampires, and that a man may sleep out in the open, under the stars without fear of being molested.

Another native happens along and the traveller wonders if this man can be persuaded to tell the truth in exchange for a gold coin. But there is nothing to stop the man from taking the traveller’s coin and still point him in the wrong direction (it wouldn’t be the first time). Similarly the natives are totally unreliable as hired guides, insisting on payment in advance, then like as not leading travellers into a trackless wilderness before spiriting themselves away just as night falls. Wisely, he lets the native go on his way.

Instead, the traveller cuts a branch from a tree, sharpens one end of it and drives it into the earth, to form a stout marker. Then, in bold letters, he carves into it the message:

Here I was, before I went wrong.

He tosses a coin for direction, and heads upstream.

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diaryQuestion: should a writer keep his dialogues with his soul secret, even from those he loves?

Hmm. Cue long rambling answer:

There are people who think imaginatively, people who inhabit an inner world as much as the outer. They are strongly introverted, prone to depression, and neuroses. They’re driven to write, to paint, to sculpt, to play musical instruments, and they lack truly intimate familiars, even among those they would count as loved ones.

Although amply possessed of artistic leanings, these people are not all recognised – even by themselves – as artists, and therefore do not qualify for the Bohemian enclave where their mysterious whims can be indulged in privacy, safe from the prying eyes of incredulous “normal” people. They are in fact fated to live among “normal” people, spend their lives pretending to be “normal” people, doing “normal” things, like holding down regular jobs, getting married and having children.

And I’m one of them.

If you also recognise yourself here, then read on.

Otherwise don’t.

The introverted personality makes up just ten percent of the population, and we all know the difficulties faced by any minority group. We are misunderstood by the extroverted majority of our fellow humans who believe we are quiet in company because we are cowards and lack the necessary confidence in our ideas. We are easily defeated in debate for sure but but to have experienced the inner world is also to have experienced something the “normal” person is unable comprehend, so we tend not to waste our breath expounding upon it, other than through our art. Our most important ideas are related to this inner world and therefore unassailable to criticism from those ignorant of it. The inner world also dictates our priorities, a phenomenon that makes the business of asserting oneself in public tiresome and foolish to us. So we don’t do it.

Of course the introverted thinker is prone to feelings of alienation. We are like castaways in a land where no one speaks our language. It also means our occasional unguarded utterances are easily misconstrued, so we develop a more  circumspect approach to conversation than our more more blathermouthed brethren. We are also masters of disguise.

In the normal life my persona is that of a middle aged guy making way, making a living doing normal things, things that have nothing to do with my artistic pretensions. I drive a boring old Vauxhall Astra, wear a shirt and tie to work, collect pocket watches, old books, and I eschew foreign travel, preferring to holiday in the UK. In short, I sound like a boring old fart (forgive me) – to whit I am gifted books that bear the title: “grumpy old git’s guide to life” or variants thereof.

But no one is what they seem.

I also have this computer, you see? I spend a lot of time with it, often late into the night, when my family are asleep (like I’m doing now). Among all the master copies of the stories I have written, and the blog drafts, there’s a special file and it’s encrypted. Creepy, isn’t it?

I mention this in order to test your reaction.

I wager a “normal” person will smirk and assume my secret file hides the pornographic gleanings of the internet’s seedier side  – possibly of a darkly perverted nature – because “normal” people are wont to assume the worst in others, especially of the introverted loners of this world, who are always the first casualties when unsavoury aspersions are cast, and girls go missing. If you’re thinking the same, I forgive you, but there is no pornography on my computer. The file contains only text – millions of words of text. It is the sea upon which my stories float.

It contains my personal journal, along with various other writings – free writing, active imagination, my dream journal too – dark, sometimes, yes,  and strange, but hardly pornographic.These are the accounts of the inner life I lead. They are the dialogues with my soul. Incomprehensible to others, but entirely innocent. So why lock them up?

Well, in the real world a man might be happily married, but that won’t stop him from experiencing dreams in which he’s having sex with unknown women, or of being romantically pursued by other women – and enjoying it – or that he’s in love with other unknown women. To the unimaginative man, otherwise loyal to his mate, such dream material will be a source of concern – even torment. To the religious zealot it will be morally shameful and worthy of self flagellation. To the unimaginative mate presiding in judgement over them, they might assume they are dreams of wish fulfillment and grounds for divorce.

But this talk of extramarital sin is dull. What else might I have dreamed? That I am a murderer? a sodomite? or worse: a woman! Well, mostly my dreams are less controversial, just your usual surreal strangeness. But those of us who live the imaginative life are obliged to enter into deeper dialog with the denizens of this strangeness. Failure to do so results in troublesome neuroses as these psychical energies bubble up in ways both unexpected and shockingly various.

Conversations with such strange archetypes allow us to make the necessary accommodations with unconscious energies, and we are rewarded for our trouble with pertinent insights into whatever ails us, also a greater sense of wholeness when we begin to see the interconnected nature of the inner and the outer life.

Meanwhile, to the unimaginative thinker, our writings will appear as the ravings of a lunatic, or as literal confessions to unspeakably vile cravings, because the unimaginative person tends to keep to a very narrow definition of “normality”, and fails to grasp the subtle differences between the literal and the non-literal world.

A romantic might write of pining for a lost love, for a warm hand to guide them through the fog of their lives. I’ve done this, and find there is no other cure as effective for a bad case of the black dog, but would a future reader of my private notes be able to tell the difference between a psychical muse and a mortal lover? I am not concerned with posterity here, but the day to day smooth running of the ordinary life I cherish and would not sacrifice on the rocks of misunderstanding for anything.

So to answer my own question, the private notes of the imaginative thinker can be shown to no one, least of all those we love. I think of this in terms of protecting others from the full force of the imaginative world, because not everyone’s equipped to deal with it.

When a writer puts pen to paper and publishes a story, whatever the content, there is always the assurance that it is “only a story” and we might therefore be forgiven much that would otherwise appear dubious. But the imaginative person also knows the story floats upon a sea of other words – an ocean of free writing if you like – a mish mash of  outpourings from the unconscious. And the free-est writing is pursued when we’re not worried about it being fished out of the waste bin by a curious lover or progeny, then picked apart with a lexicon that is ill equipped for the task of accurate translation.

I know – we introverted artist types are difficult to live with. Indeed it’s cruel we’re inflicted on the lives of normal people at all. We are uncommunicative and secretive, but we exist, and we must deal with stuff that would scare the pants off others. We do this the best way we can. And sometimes that means in secret.

If you live among normal people, yet keep a private diary, or you like free-writing, you mustn’t be afraid of pushing it into areas you would ordinarily avoid lest your blather be discovered and instantly misconstrued, because then you’re not being true to your inner life. Your life is being distorted by seeing yourself through the lens of someone else’s eyes. Let your free-writing, your personal journalling  take you along the roads less travelled, to the core of your self, through the dense forest of your innermost thoughts. Be not ashamed then to discover your most surprising beliefs, nor to indulge in your most self indulgent fancies – it can be profoundly rewarding. But, encrypt it or be damned.

Because normal people are weird.

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