Tag Archives: darkness

A Sharp Lesson

One of the things about myself which I may have kept under wraps – until now – is the fact that I make brilliant potato wedges. Or, if you prefer, oven chips (this makes them sound a little more appealing, perhaps.) Naturally, the process of making these carbohydrate delights involves me, a large knife and a big scrubbed spud – and rather a fine dollop of audacity.

Last evening, quite late, Husband and I were antsin’ for our dinner. I’d decided I was doing my oven chips as a treat, and so I got stuck in.

Now, *this* guy - he's got style and technique... Image: amazon.com

Now, *this* guy – he’s got style and technique…
Image: amazon.com

Normally, when I make these chips, my husband’s not home; they’re made in advance of his return in the evening as a surprise, for instance. So, I’m not sure he’d ever seen my – frankly – rather reckless way with a blade until yesterday. I was in a hurry, I was hungry, and that added a sprinkling of further foolishness to the situation.

I was chopping, at an angle, through the quartered potato, half paying attention to what I was doing and half to the rest of the dinner, when Husband walks into the kitchen.

‘Oh, mind your fingers!’ he said – being the kind, sensible, intelligent fellow that he is.

Instantly – instantly – the blade went awry, and my left ring finger came a cropper.

Now, the injury’s not bad. I’m fine. Dinner proceeded in the usual way, and it went down well. I’m typing here this morning without any discomfort or inconvenience. But it is amazing that out of the hundreds of times I’ve cut a potato in just the same (stupid) way with just the same knife, and just the same level of distraction, I have never once cut myself. As soon as someone else made me realise how dangerous what I’m doing actually is, suddenly the task became something else.

My husband did just the right thing, of course. If I’d seen him acting like a darn fool with a big knife, I’d have said exactly the same to him. But isn’t it rather strange that we, as humans, sometimes tend to ignore the dangers of something if there’s nobody around to tell us how dangerous it is, and to ask us to please take care?

Sometimes, perhaps, we should know better, instinctively.

Aaargh! I mean, *what*? Image: dailymail.co.uk

Aaargh! I mean, *what*?
Image: dailymail.co.uk

Sometimes the dangers aren’t so obvious. And sometimes we think we can take something on because we have a larger idea of our capability than is, perhaps, the case.

I’ve been working very hard for the past few months on ‘Emmeline’, and now that it’s done I feel a little drained. I started the edits on Friday (because reasons), and I intend to continue with that work today, but over the weekend I fell into a dark slump, a pit of despond, a cavern of desolation – whatever you’d like to call it. I tried my best to drag myself up out of it, particularly because there was a wonderfully happy family event to attend on Saturday, but every single second of the past few days has been a struggle. It has blindsided me completely; I finished my working day on Friday in excellent form, and woke up on Saturday feeling like someone had turned out all the lights inside me.

Perhaps I have overdone it. Perhaps I overestimated my own capability. Or, perhaps, the two events – my finishing the book and falling into a pothole – are unconnected. Whatever the reason, I wish I’d been aware enough of how I was feeling to tell myself to take care and to get more rest and to keep myself well – but if I’d done all that, I wouldn’t have made my own deadlines, or fitted in with the schedule I’ve worked out for myself. My life lately has been about relentless forward movement – always something else to be aimed for, always something else to do, always a new project on the horizon.

That’s all fine, of course, if you remember this: you have limitations. You’re playing with something dangerous, whether that be a sharp knife or your own relentless drive. You’re risking something important, whether that be your fingers or your mental health.

I am lucky to have loved ones to remind me to take care, but I need to remember to remind myself to take it easy, too. Perhaps next time it won’t take a bleeding finger – or a dark cloth thrown over my mind – to make me realise how important it is to go steady, be gentle and always pay attention to the potential danger in every innocuous-seeming situation.

And, of course, the real moral of this story is: now I need a new oven-chip technique, too.

Goshdurnit! Image: cowgirlgoods.typepad.com

Goshdurnit!
Image: cowgirlgoods.typepad.com

The Creeping Dark

Don’t look now, but – it’s October.

Booo! Image: nationalharbor.com

Booo!
Image: nationalharbor.com

In a matter of weeks, we’ll be dressing up as ghouls and nasties in order to frighten away the real ghouls and nasties, and everywhere you look you’ll see happy, sugar-crazed children drifting about in giggling packs. We’re already in training for waking up, and coming back home, in darkness, and wardrobes are being raided for their stashes of waterproof coats and woolly scarves and funny bobbly hats knitted by someone’s granny. The world is yawning and stretching and plumping up its pillows, preparing for its long sleep.

As for me? Well. This is my time of year.

I love the changing seasons, and the blustery weather, and the cool air. I’m not crazy about the dark mornings, to be truthful, but they’re a small price to pay for all the other joys that the closing of the year brings. I love the feeling of turning, of transformation, that fills the air at this time of year. It reminds me that things are constantly in flux and that there’s a rhythm to everything; there’s a time for everything, and for everyone. It makes me feel like no matter how chaotic or frightening things might seem, that there is a natural progression in place. It makes me feel small – but I mean that in a good way. It makes me feel like I’m a very small part of a larger whole, one which will carry on with or without me, and that something a lot smarter than I am has everything under control.

Today, I’m feeling a little less frazzled about my work. Yesterday, I battled through and gamely worked away at my editing for as long as I possibly could; I found myself hitting a wall about six hours in, though, and instead of smashing my way through it and pushing on, I decided I was going to allow myself some downtime. I went for a short walk, and I did some baking (which, for some reason, was a disaster, but at least it was fun), and I read several chapters of one of the many books I have on the go. As a result, I am tired today but not completely exhausted, and I am looking forward to picking up where I left off yesterday. I think I’ll have to imagine my mental life as having its own rhythm, too, even on a micro, day-to-day level; mornings are like springtime, and when evening comes it’s fine to slow down and allow the darkness to start creeping in. The year needs its blanket of restful night, so why would I be any different?

Whatever season it is in Ireland, you can be sure you'll need your umbrella... Image: seasonsofireland.com

Whatever season it is in Ireland, you can be sure you’ll need your umbrella…
Image: seasonsofireland.com

Having said this, I don’t always feel so positively inclined toward darkness and its inexorable creeping. Like most people I am, sometimes, afraid of the dark, and I don’t like being left alone in it. As a child in my parents’ house I used to get a fizzing thrill of terror when the hall light was turned out as we made our way up to bed. As I raced up the stairs, I couldn’t quite shake the feeling that something terrible was on my heels, making a scaly, taloned grab for my fleeing feet, preparing to suck me down into some horrible subterranean lair unless I reached a particular step by a particular time. Perhaps I was afraid not of the dark itself but of what the dark was concealing; it was fear of what was in the darkness, what the darkness meant. Fear of the dark is a fear of not being able to see, or of not understanding what you’re seeing, or of dealing with the unknown. It’s a fear that comes straight out of the core of my brain and being, and it’s one that haunted my early ancestors too, I’m sure.

Nestled beside this ancient fear is an appreciation of the darkness, though, and the peace and rest it can bring. Sometimes I like to think of the autumn as a blanket being pulled over the world, a comforting eiderdown settling us all into the slower months. Maybe it’s helpful to think of darkness as an opportunity – a chance to take a breath and check the relentless forwardness we are driven toward when the days are long. Modern life, of course, doesn’t always allow us to live in harmony with the rhythm of the seasons, but it helps me, a little, to remind myself that these rhythms exist, and that they have a use and a purpose.

Maybe the only unknowable thing in the darkness is ourselves, and our own minds; perhaps that is the monster we’re scared of, the one we fear will suck us down into the deeps if we let it catch us. It might be time to embrace the darkness, then, and search through it for the fearful thing we’ve spent so long running away from. We might be surprised by what we find. It might turn out that what we fear, and what we’ve shrouded in darkness, is the one thing we’ve been looking for all along.

And hey. Maybe it’ll just be a monster. I reckon it’s worth taking the chance, though.

Image: dailymail.co.uk

Image: dailymail.co.uk

 

Looking into the Abyss

As some of you will doubtless be aware, I am a person who is currently working on a novel. I am almost 58,000 words into that novel. Earlier this year, I wrote another novel (it came in at about 62,000 words, fact fans), and late last year, I wrote a third – the behemoth that was the first ‘Tider’ – which weighed in at over 150,000 words. I have written nearly 300 blog posts, many of which come in at around 1,000 words apiece.

That’s a lot of words, for one person, over the course of one calendar year. I’m not saying they’re good words, but still. I wrote them all. That counts for something. Right?

Image: wordmedia.co

Image: wordmedia.co

There are times when I sit and think about my writing, and where I want to go with it. I know I love it, and I don’t want to stop, but one thing that bothers me very badly is: what will I do if I reach a point where I really, truly don’t have anything left to write about?

Everyone knows this quote: ‘And when you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss also gazes into you.’ This piece of wisdom from Friedrich Nietzsche has always interested me. It makes me think about how easy it is to allow yourself to get stuck into a particular way of thinking, and how hard it can be to turn your mind around when it over-focuses on something. Certain thoughts have that ‘abyss’ quality – you create a sort of ‘feedback loop’ inside yourself. You feed the abyss, and it feeds you.

If your abyss holds candyfloss and rivers full of rainbows, perhaps this isn’t such a bad thing. However, if you’re like most people, your abyss will tend to be full of nothing except darkness, and a howling wind will be licking its way around the sharp, pointed rocks that line it all the way down, like teeth around a gullet.

A writer’s greatest fear is lack of inspiration, I think. I tend to get a little worried when I read interviews with other writers where they talk about their ‘boxes’ full of ideas, or I see they’ve written hundreds of books already, or they mention that they have too many ideas to ever make use of during their lifetime. I get ideas, too, but not like that. Mine don’t come to me in a torrent, leaving me grabbing frantically at them in an attempt to salvage as many as possible before they get washed away. It’s more gentle than that – they come, dropping slow, into my brain every once in a while, in a completely unpredictable way. I have a list of ideas saved on my computer, but I don’t have hundreds of them, by any means. I have some, and I hope to have more eventually. I guess I’m not one of these people who is overrun with inspiration, so blessed by the Muses that they can’t get out of bed in the morning because their brain is too full; every time a flicker of an idea suggests itself to me, it’s a cause for celebration. I work hard to keep my eyes and ears peeled for ideas, and I work hard to craft them into sentences and – sometimes – into stories or even novels. It’s not an easy thing.

My abyss laughs up at me, in all its emptiness. It says ‘I have nothing. There’s nothing in here! Go on, have a good look. Shine a light into all my nooks and crannies. You won’t find anything, trust me.’ The abyss I can’t stop myself from looking into is the death of my inspiration. It’s the abyss of fear that, one day, the ideas will stop coming, and that if this does happen, I won’t have any idea what to do next.

Image: onthebridgeway.wordpress.com

Image: onthebridgeway.wordpress.com

I hope to finish my current book in the next couple of weeks. I already have my next project lined up, and when I finish that, I intend to redraft the book I’m currently working on with a view to getting it ready to submit. I have a book doing the rounds at the moment, and who knows but I’ll pick up some agent interest from that. I’m keeping busy, and so far this has stopped the abyss from chewing me up and spitting me out. I’m not sure if I can keep doing this forever, though. Once all my current projects have been completed, I am very afraid that there will be a hole in the road, or a wall of nothingness across my path. I dread the feeling of ‘not knowing’ – not knowing whether any of what I’m doing has a point, or whether any of it is worthwhile, or whether there is a way to bridge the gap.

I have to keep remembering a few truths about life. The first truth is: ideas are everywhere, and the only way to miss them is to stop looking. The second is: nobody really knows what they’re doing. Some people are better at pretending they do than others, but in reality we’re all just doing our best to get along. The third: there is no such thing as an inescapable abyss. The fourth: help is always there when you need it.

The fifth: the world is packed full of wonder.

Happy Friday. Keep your eyes on the road ahead, and don’t let anything knock you off your stride.

Image: pdpics.com

Image: pdpics.com