Sunday, 12 September 2010

No word processor.

Did you ever play 'should've said'?  Probably not, though you might have seen it, if improvised comedy is your thing.  In Edinburgh and a few other places.  A scene is started between two performers - about anything at all, usually the audience is asked for a prompt.  At interesting moments, or boring moments, or any time at all that they feel like it, the audience can call out 'should've said' and the person who has just said something must say something different.  With good performers, it means you can get all the funnies possible out of a given position or character or whatever.  It's great.

I play it in my head all the time.  I guess everyone does - that argument you had with someone where, when you leave, you think of all the smart and cunning things you should have said.  Or probably shouldn't have said.  Or would never have had the guts to say.  Wish you had had the guts to say.  Going back to insert a paragraph, to edit in a more pleasing turn of phrase.  I'm not really sure where to go with this except that it's an interesting sort of thought.  What's done stays happen, you can't change it, there's no point agonising?  Maybe that's the virtue of it.  Handwritten, or on a typewriter - ink directly onto paper, anyway.  No virtual words, just indelible ones, albeit in an ink that seems to run when it gets time on it.

Sometimes I go back to diary entries and read over them.  I have diaries of one sort or another going back years.  They have varying degrees of secrecy depending on my mood at the time.  When I'm sad, it gets locked away and nobody can read it, but when I'm happy the world knows.  Is that the right way around?  Probably.  But I'm always amazed at how inaccurately I remember things, how memory mangles things.  Sometimes the edit process has come in and I 'remember' saying or hearing things that weren't heard or said.  Somethings that were a big deal when I was 17 I don't even remember at all now; the entries in the diary, that I thought would point me exactly to the right memory, elicit nothing.  I have prided myself on quite a good memory for events, the facts of them.  Something about feeling compelled to take notes all the time.  Even if I don't ACTUALLY write things up, I still sort of feel that I am.  Maybe that's actually the problem? When I write things down I'm automatically composing.  That probably makes sense.  Anyone who reads and has an interest in words is hard pushed not to polish their own, I suspect.

It's interesting to think that everybody is probably writing in just such an inaccurate way as I am.  Newspapers.  Diaries.  Reports.  No matter how factual one tries to be, words are about atmosphere.  They pass a value judgment no matter how colourless they're meant to be.  Totally untrustworthy.  And we can't totally unpick them, either.  No matter how carefully they are taken apart and cleaned and twisted and turned around and examined, all we have to discuss them with are more words.

Too sleepy for the end of this thought.  I have spent a long time thinking about memory, but I am also spending time in this job thinking about history.  A lot of history comes from governments, and here I am writing things that contribute to that history.  My words, my spin, my impressions.  I have more opportunity to use them than I did before, and they count for more.  It might not be fiction writing or poetry, but my typing is more weighted than it was before.  And not by much.  I'm not running the world.  I'm interpreting it and smoothing it and shaping it, which seems pretty powerful from my desk next to the printer on the third floor.

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Ecclesiastes 3.1-8

1To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
 2A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
 3A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
 4A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
 5A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
 6A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
 7A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
 8A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.

I got to read this once in Chapel. Hard to do in a way that makes it mean anything, I found, mostly because varying your tone in way that differentiates one pair of phrases from another rapidly becomes difficult. All of those repetitions don't mean the same in the way you might expect them to, either.  Well. They're all about balance of one sort or another and there's solace in that rather Buddhist idea. That everything has its opposite, that generally the good times and the bad times go together and nobody gets just one or the other.  I'm not sure that a piece of practical criticism is right.  I was tempted.  I suspect there are a dozen sermons you could find on every line, not to mention on the whole passage.  It's a bit hackneyed, really.  But the aphorisms have a place in a secular existence.  Sometimes you need to start from the bottom up.  Sometimes you get to reap the rewards.  Sometimes you have to cry to remember how to be happy.  Sometimes you have to throw stuff away.  Sometimes you need to let your hair down.  Sometimes it's for you.  Sometimes it's for others.  Sometimes things are over.

Sometimes they start fresh and new and full of promise. Optimism.  Hope.  Smiles.

A time to weep, and a time to laugh*

It's September.  Things always happen in September.  The real New Year is now, when the weather is uncertain and the holiday is over.  Lives grow across the winter while the crops have their sleep, and lives rest in the summer while the plants race.  The old academic year of northern Europe is built as much around the fact that children were available to study in the winter time when the land was quiet as it is around the religious calendar.  At school it always felt as though a labour in the dark and the cold would reach its full growth when the sun shone again.  I work best now - a rush of energy from here to Christmas and then Christmas to Easter, and then a final push to put the gloss on the fruit before the laze of the summer.  A rhythm as old as myself and much older. 

So it's good to be starting a new job now.  Great, in fact.  The first-day-of-school feeling is the same as it ever was - nervous excitement combined with a desire to apply oneself.  A summer over and term begun.  This position is a totally new world for me, alien in the extreme.  It's so different from anything else I have done or could be doing.  I have responsibility.  Things I do will make a real difference to society if not individuals.  That feeling goes through the place - it's not a job you do unless you care a bit.  It makes the atmosphere wonderful.

It's not a time to peep, though peeping is all you can do to begin with.  Everything is changing.  [Everything is always changing. Maybe one should never peep?]  I am applying last year's lessons, about openness and optimism and smiling at strangers.  This year's curriculum is about purpose and collaboration and maybe ambition.  Bring it on.

*Ecclesiates 3.4 (King James Version)