There’s a piece of advice for writers that has always hit home for me, “Is this the most interesting point of this character’s life? If not, why aren’t you writing that?” Unfortunately, real life doesn’t work like that. You don’t get to scan back and forth for your best moment, and just have that. It’s been a little bit of problem for me of late. For about the last year I have been trying, really, actually trying to write. I manage something most days, even if it’s only a sentence or two. Some days I’ve forced myself to focus at the keyboard, and words have flowed out from god-knows-where. Some days I’ve done the same thing, and after two, three, four hours, I’ll still be staring at a blank screen; anything that I’ve written, instantly backspaced away, unworthy. Sometimes the words just don’t come. Like a crowbar is stuck in the machinery of my mind, my brain gives me nothing but black space. Badly written code stuck in endless loops. No output from the inside, and no input from the out. Even touching the keys is ERROR CEASE. Those are not fun days.
Which is why that quote keeps coming back to mind. Well, that and another one: “No one composes in a vacuum.” Something else I’m quite fond of saying – because it’s so very very true. But these two phrases have interacted in my skull. One meets the other which changes the first, back and forth they go. Because while I am trying (and I am actually trying, most days) to write, or talk, or (sometimes, sometimes) sing (to myself), my life outside is pretty empty.
At the time of writing this, I am living in a house, in the middle of the countryside. The house is on a main road, cars and lorries go by at far faster speeds than they should considering the blind-bend that wraps the road round two sides of the house. But even so, those vehicles are just white noise to me, I’ve heard them for years; a constant unconscious reminder that I’m not alone, but in every way that actually matters, I am. The nearest bus-stop is two miles away; across two fields and a country back-road. Even then, the bus only goes to one place, and it’s not somewhere I have a reason or desire to go.
There is a field outside, and aside from the main-road, there are nothing but fields on all sides. It’s a five minute walk from my door to the nearest neighbour, assuming you walk along the main road to get there. The field outside is our field, it belongs to the house I’m staying in. It’s big, and full of weeds which I periodically go out to try and cut down. It’s also horribly, ankle-snappingly muddy and full of potholes. I know this because in the past, I have sprained both of my ankles at separate times in this field, to the extent that they are both weakened now. A minor fear of mine is that I’ll sprain one of them again, because if I do, there’s a real chance I’ll need a cane. For the rest of my life. Being overweight and tall and clumsy makes this much more likely to happen too; I’m not a stable structure, in a physics sense.
There’s only one car here, in the house by the main road and I’m not insured to drive it. It’s also stupid for me to get insured on it, because I wouldn’t really use it. I don’t have the disposable income to spend on something needless like that. I did have a car, recently. Actually I owned two, though I didn’t want to. But one got sold, because I never wanted it in the first place (but that was my fault). And the other one got written off (and that wasn’t). There’s been talk of getting another car but…why? It’s an expense to buy, and another for the upkeep, neither of which I can particularly deal with, reliably. And after all…where do I need to be?
I don’t have a job; both the doctor and the government have declared me unfit for work, for an indeterminate period of time. I’m still applying for jobs, for a number of reasons. For one, it makes me feel useful. That’s not a little thing. For another, I want to work. Work gives structure, and purpose, and would allow me to live independently. Some days I will tweak up my CV, double check my cover letters, and fire off barrage after barrage of applications to potential employers. It’s like a firework display; lots of noise and colour, and it’s a good distraction for a while. But so far, it hasn’t actually helped. On bad days I’ll apply for jobs I don’t want, and know I couldn’t even do without crushing myself. But it makes me feel useful, or at least more useful.
I don’t have any local friends. Most of the people I care about and want to socialize with are in Manchester, or London. In other words: Not Here. For the last couple of months, my personal driving aim has been ‘get a job in Manchester so I can move back’. It’s not that I love Manchester, I don’t. I don’t dislike it either, and I hold much much more love for it than somewhere like Oxford. But it’s where some of my friends live. And it’s not London.
Sometimes I remember that this is exactly what I was doing more than four years ago: trying to get a job, to live a life. Much of the last five years has been filled with a lot of action and drama; court cases, house moves, profession changes, up, down, inside out. But here I am, not even back where I started. I try not to think that too often, it’s a little too bitter to swallow.
My partner lives elsewhere. Me and her aren’t stupid, or at least we try not to be, so it’s not like we didn’t think about the options. But at the moment, this is genuinely the best option. Sometimes the only options you have are fairly crappy, and picking the best one is still the right thing to do. Just not fun. So we live apart for the moment.
So no job. No socializing, really. No activities that aren’t in some way reliant on sitting in front of this monitor. All that being the case…where is my input? Sure I have the internet, which does offer a lot, but only through a screen and speakers. And much of the time, my greatest enjoyment on the net comes from reading articles. About people doing interesting things. And writing them in interesting ways. I can try to do the second, but I’m not sure I have the first. Those two quotes come back to haunt me. If no one composes in a vacuum, what do you do when you are in a vacuum? I have no interesting thing to write about, and I’m not a character – I can’t flick to the best bit.
I don’t think that there’s nothing I can write about, and I’m acutely aware that there are ways to solve some of these problems. But sometimes it feels difficult to find something; whether that’s something to write about, or a reason to write at all. So today, I’m trying to write about that.
Postscript: Even while writing this, I can feel my brain trying to wrestle it around. “But you’ve just written lots! So this article isn’t true”, “aren’t you whiny, why don’t you go and change something instead of writing about nothing happening, “hey, the tone of this is wrong now you’ve thought this, you should spin it into something else now.” “hey, now you’re just listing negative stuff, mr whine.” And so on and so on. I don’t know if everyone’s brain is like this. Sometimes it seems it must be true, and sometimes that it can’t be true. Even now, writing this, my own mind is consciously spiraling in on itself, twisting each sentence in on itself, demanding that it be different. But no. This will be it, today.