The Unbearable Lightness of Stephen

Hello, I’m Stephen.

I have known for a long time that I need to write. When life, or doubt, or procrastination or whatever else, gets in the way of writing, I don’t feel myself. I have been a teacher in a high school for the last nine years. I am quite excited now by the prospect of being ‘allowed’ to also call myself a writer.

Far more exciting though, is the prospect of properly ‘allowing’ myself to write.

‘So, what do you write?’

It is a question I hate because it always feels like I am trying to get out of something when I answer ‘I don’t know’, or ‘this and that.’ But I am being truthful. And it does not mean that I am not writing. Maybe the answer to that question only arrives when I have written something and I can look up from the page and the meandering trail of ink with surprise and say ‘Er… I write… THIS!’

A man asks Van Gogh, so ‘What do you paint?’ What would his answer be? ‘Sunflowers? Starry nights? Paintings? Myself? Life?’

Some things I have written: short stories, short plays, a radio play, beginnings and middles of novels, chunks of plays, ideas, sketches, bad poems.

Things I would like to write: more of the same! Except with enough time and headspace to shape them to be as good as I would like them to be. Even the poems.

Some things I have written about: fictionalised accounts of things I have seen, done, said; slightly unreal versions of reality; pieces based on things in the news; characters who intrigue me.

When it comes to what I read, I don’t think there are that many things that I won’t consider reading. I had a preference for science fiction and fantasy as a teenager but that sprouted into sampling anything and everything. The writers that always feel like I am coming home when I read them: Ursula Le Guin, Dostoevsky, Kurt Vonnegut, Raymond Carver.

Having never touched the stuff before, in the last few years I have really started to enjoy reading non-fiction too. ‘Quiet’ by Susan Cain was really inspiring. ‘All that is Solid Melts into Air’ by Marshall Berman was heavy going at first but kept me coming back to it. I also really enjoyed ‘The Beechwood Airship’ by Dan Richards which is on our reading list. Having tried to teach pupils to be ‘creative’ in their writing, I am fascinated by ideas of creativity and craft and how to help both flourish.

I am really enjoying the course so far. The different things it has thrown up every day so far – writers to sample, writing styles to attempt, interesting people to meet, challenges to overcome, discussions to be had – seem just now like a glorious network of trails around a forest to spend some time getting lost in. I am a little wary of my ability to enjoy the wandering off and hanging around somewhere other than I had intended a bit too much. But I figure there is still plenty of time to plot a route and arrive at some worthwhile destinations. Wow – I really have stretched that metaphor to the limit.

To echo what Sarah said: it is going to be a good year.

Today I read: Sonnets

Read sonnets? Not a phrase I have used very often in my life, to my slight shame as an English teacher.

 

From ‘The Eye’ by Don Paterson

 

The empty mind you finally display

ten weeks into the yogic agony

of your silent retreat, you will discover

in the latter stages of a gin hangover.

 

To be found in 40 Sonnets by Don Paterson.

The words rang true. The sense of that moment in a long hangover, whereby you have finally transcended pain, and suffering, and self-loathing, and vowing never again, in order to arrive, sometimes only briefly, at a point whereby you know that you are actually going to get better. And so, you can just –exist. And everything is okay. And because it wasn’t before you feel amazing. And you’re not a bad person.

Except of course, Don Paterson puts it a lot more elegantly, which of course, is the point.

The poem goes on to consider those other, elusive, moments of transcendence, when you can just be. Its conclusion hints, I think, at something darker in the desire for that emptiness.

What I like about Don Paterson (so far) is that he clearly doesn’t take himself too seriously. Unlike, it seems upon reading it back to myself, this post.