I have a confession to make – for the last year and a half I haven’t really done much writing. In fact, barring a couple of reviews for Freq and a few poems and scraps, I’ve barely written at all in months.
I’d love to tell you that I had writer’s block, that the words just wouldn’t come; that I sat, anguished, in front of my computer willing my fingers to type just one sentence, all to no avail.
But, no. I just didn’t really want to write.
It’s a weird confession for a writer. Art is taboo enough as a profession. Is writing even a ‘real’ job? Are artists only artists if they make a living from their art? How do we make beautiful, engaging, art without losing integrity in the age of the global marketplace? Most people are familiar with the trope of the struggling artist, romantically churning away, burning the midnight oil, sweating blood to make something worthy: Poor and mad and desperate. But I’ve not really wanted to do that for some time now.
What does that mean? Am I even a writer if I don’t do any writing?
Of course, I’ve had some hefty life stuff to work with in that period so, for sure, writing wasn’t easy even when I did sit and create something of publishable quality those couple of times. But the rest of the time, for the best part of the the previous ten years or so, I had diligently taken a seat and written at least something each day; committed to the practice. So what happened?
Well… Some people I like died. Some others got sick. Some political upheavals happened, the world turned around, the sun came up and set each day and the trees grew and lost and began to grow some leaves again. These things happen whether or not you look, whether or not you decide to pay attention and certainly whether or not you take it upon yourself to chronicle it in any way. But I realised this is really what I do; I chronicle my experiences of being in the world – albeit sometimes heavily embellished and not at all about me or anybody I know (sweartogod). And I had forgotten this, and I was sad and afraid that all the connections were unhooking themselves one by one, and I did not want to write at all.
So what am I doing now and what changed?
Well I thought a lot about this while I took the first month of this year away from instagram and avoided too much social media action in general (to such an extent that facebook gave up trying to even tell me what my ‘friends’ were posting about any more).
I looked at trees and I went outside and stood with bare feet on the earth and felt the squishy mud(!) and the frost under my toes and listened to birds and watched them survive in the dead of winter. And so I did that too: I survived.
And, when I looked again at the feeds of pictures and stories, I saw the possibility of connection unfold. I saw how artists use technology to connect with their audiences, how teachers share their wisdom with their students, how businesses connect with their customers, how friends and family share meaningful experiences over great distances of time and space, but also how individuals commodify themselves and package themselves in that way too in these spaces. For a time I was a bit afraid of that. Because what is the deal with capitalist structures encroaching into our interpersonal spaces? I am not a commodity, but what do I have to sell? And, of course, I realised that I don’t do that, nor do I need to. My business and my art are one and the same; connection. When I teach, I help young people connect with the academic structures that they cannot access alone, I support students growing into autonomous learners, capable of taking control of their own growth. I join he dots. When I write I try to do this too, to share meaningful and engaging ways of looking at familiar things, to open doors inside the readers to places they have been shut out of. I offer keys and the knowing of how they turn.
I put it this way – when your metaphors are closely aligned to your way of life, their meaning is obvious – what I try to do is find the most meaningful metaphor for any given situation, or maybe a handful even, and apply them in my work, face to face or in writing, to facilitate understanding.
If I am going to continue to use the social media platforms of instagram and facebook, and even this blog, I want them to be a means of doing just that; Offering metaphors that chime, offering stories that connect us to the world we live in and the ones beyond our reach. There are many threads to any cloth; warp, weft, patterns running through like rivers. Meandering stories that whisper with the rush of the weir and the peace of the pool. This is my work, this is what I do.