Monday, 18 October 2010

Welcome distractions and some musings on time and memory

Hello again. In narrative terms we have now reached Wednesday 15 September but I am writing this some time later. There has been a gap of nearly five days since the last posting, because (in actual life, as distinct from “blog life”) I have not been feeling too great. 

Before I drive you too far into the realm of Hypnos, or maybe as far as the domain of Morpheus, with such circular nerdiness, I had better hastily explain where we are going with this. In short, I have lately been pondering some aspects of time and memory and the relationships between what we refer to as “real time” and what we could call “creative time” or, to be more specific, “blog time”.

Give or take the reservations of cosmic physicists, our basic perception is of time trundling along at a pretty consistent rate, although we can generally look back over any day and say whether it has gone fast or slow, or maybe different portions of it at different rates. There are also gaps in real time that are not evident or mirrored in writing—unless of course you happened to have noticed that there was a gap of about 12 hours between the writing of this sentence and the previous one (I kid you not). The day on which I write this has in fact turned out to be an extremely good one, but it will be some time before I get to writing about it. Infuriating, isn’t it?

Yet we sense a unity across all these gaps and breaks and the interruptions and discontinuities that arise from our contrasting activities and interests in any given day. The uniting threads are our memory and consciousness and with those our sense of personal identity. The matter of personal identity was, by the way, regarded by my university philosophy tutor as a not especially interesting subject of philosophical enquiry. Not sure if he has changed his mind on that one, but you can find out by reading his highly regarded book Think. Here is a picture of him.

Simon Blackburn
Professor of Philosophy at The University of  Cambridge, previously Fellow of Pembroke College Oxford
A very fine and generous tutor indeed

Alongside the issue of time, I have also been thinking about the nature of energy and creativity and the whole process of trying to capture experience in writing. A friend some weeks ago (on a date yet to be blogged about) lent me a wonderful little book, If You Want to Write by Barbara Ueland, in which the late author offers powerful encouragement to everyone to write without fear about what is in their hearts and minds, William Blake being for her a particularly powerful example of this principle. There is more nuance to this, as you can imagine, as she makes clear in setting out how she activates her mind for the process of writing: almost by doing nothing and letting things present themselves to the conscious mind, her favourite means to stir up this process being a long meditative daily walk.

That such a process is typical of the creative enterprise was borne out by a conversation with another friend a couple of days ago—in real time, that is, therefore simply ages away in blog time at current rates of production. She had only the day before heard Brian Keenan speaking about how he wrote his book An Evil Cradling. HIs mind apparently blank and numb some time after his release from hostage captivity in Lebanon, he simply started to write whatever came to mind on various sheet of paper that he spread around the space he had available. In time he began to see connections between the content of different sheets and so a structure emerged and with it a greater fluency to his writing, leading in the end to a finished work that is regarded as a classic.

So, writing emerges not always instantly from the raw data of the day-to-day. The moments of daily experience are like seeds that present themselves to consciousness and then fall into the rich mulch of the unconscious, where with patient nurturing, or maybe just leaving alone, they can be coaxed back into the light of day and shared with others.

This is all rather a long way round of saying that by 15 September I was feeling more “normal” in my thinking, more at peace, more grounded: able to reflect in a more sustained way and not so overwhelmed by raw emotion. I took this picture of some more consoling domestic angles, this time in our kitchen.

What IS it about straight lines and their pleasant meetings?

I have said very little so far about my work as a church administrator, which I have continued to carry out, with some gaps and limitations, while I have been conserving my energy and defending my limited immune system by being based at home since diagnosis. One matter I have had to deal with throughout this time has been the effort of one of the two churches I work for to recover the painted memorial bust of an early seventeenth-century physician of some distinction, lost to the church nearly seventy years ago in the fog and confusion of the London Blitz. An interesting task, as you can imagine, and continuing. So I am not just a cancer patient, but have a parallel life, indeed parallel lives. Indeed we are all like this, but it is not always easy to stop and reflect on it.

So, a time of grounding and reflection. Tomorrow (blog time) we will go dancing…

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