So. I’ve had to change tack, a little bit. Last month I spoke about failing to forgive myself – part of that failure to forgive myself? That’s been a resistance to looking at the facts of where I’m at.
My mental health journey’s been a long one. But with summer sunshine, I’ve been noticing that colours are just… more vivid. Not brighter, but the contrast between a brick wall and green leaves just seems sharper to me. Bright in a way I don’t think I’ve perceived these things since I was a little kid. There’s some loose and early research implying that people recovering from depression literally see more colours? Nothing looked at in depth or detail, but anecdotally? This is a real thing.
One of the first things I had to do in getting my mental health back in gear was to recognise that I had suffered a form of injury. I was resistant to this for a long time – and I just couldn’t find a way to forgive myself for being impaired. It appears that I’m following a similar journey with putting my writing life back on track.
For what feels like years now, my ability to sit down and read something for more than twenty minutes or half an hour at a time has been deeply impaired. Whether it’s because some anxiety crept into my head and distracted me, or something else I’m not fully aware of, it was just impossible for me to sink down and read a book for any length of time regularly. And if I can’t sit down to read for two hours at a time, how on earth do I expect to sit down and write for two hours at a time?
So I’ve been working on that. Sitting down and reading with a stopwatch or an alarm set to go off after an hour, things like that. Results are uneven but promising – I read a 330~ish page novel in a single session of three hours and forty minutes, cover to cover after ‘training’ myself for a week. Haven’t managed quite so long again, but most days I’m reading for an hour or more lately, and that’s real progress.
Another problem I’ve been having with my writing, when I manage any, is difficulty working out how to phrase what I want to put on the page. So I’ve been doing writing exercises vaguely in the vein of something Benjamin Franklin is infamous for having done.
Not particularly skilled in rhetoric as a teenager, what he did was he grabbed newspaper articles he admired and rewrote them sentence by sentence. Rewrote them from memory. Rearranged them. Dozens of variations on a single theme – iteration. Fundamentally he was taking writing he liked, and learning not by copying it out, but by finding new ways to make something equivalently good. It’s the difference between tracing a picture, and using a painting as a visual reference and seeing if you can wind up painting something similar, I guess?
So what I’ve been doing – and some of what I plan to do – is iterating on various aspects of the writing process. Do I have an outline I like? I’ll take a scene out and try and invent five new scenes that would fit into that section of the outline just as well, despite having different content. Take a piece of dialogue, replace one of the characters with someone else, and rewrite the conversation to match. Grab a single line from some of my old writing, and rewrite it in five different ways. I’ve been finding it the right kind of challenging – the pressures of working on a full project aren’t there to crush me, but I’m still exercising the skills I need for working on full projects.
You’ll see a couple of examples of what’s come out of these exercises below, but before I sign off and get into the second half of my year?
Thank you for your support, as always. It means a lot to me.
(And, for now, we’re still on pause!)
· ( The way they looked at him made him feel like a thing and not a person. ) Like a fucking art installation best understood by taking photos of it instead of looking at it.
o As though he were a specimen caught between glass plates, rendered unrecognizable as a person by being crushed to a flat smear.
o Within their sight he was an object, rather than a person, their gaze passing over his eyes without recognising the soul behind them.
o He had ceased to be a fellow person, and had become an ephemeral novelty to photograph rather than recognise.
o He saw nothing in their eyes when he looked back at them to indicate they even recognised him as a person.
o Heads turned to watch him curiously, but no one cared about him. They cared about having seen him, that was all.
· ( In the wake of the crash, he contemplates his impending death.) He had carried a thread of the living history with him all his life. He did not know if anyone else would carry his thread onward, but he had carried it as far as he could.
o The burden and gift of life had come with him thirty-one years. To bring it to this place had taken all his strength – he could only hope another would find his remains, and carry that burden and gift onward.
o A legacy ended here – but not his own. The legacy of all those he had learned from, all those who had come before. Someone might find him, and his legacy, bear them onward… or not. But he was proud to have brought forward what he could.
o Each end was a new beginning. A simple principle, but would it hold true if no one found what he left behind? Even so, his ending was proof that he had lived. A proof he knew for himself meant he lived well.
o The blood in his veins may be spilling even now, but that blood linked him to his forefathers, their forefathers, and beyond them, back to the dawn of his people – to the dawn of life. He could make that link stretch no further, but he had brought it to the furthest point it had ever reached.
o He had lived as his clan and ancestors thought well. He studied the lives of his ancestors and assembled a creed he could live by and think well of. He never had the chance to share his creed with another. He would die, soon.
· (In the wake of killing Manfred.) I’d like to blame the pulse pistol itself – Ash called this disassociation – as though it had leapt up and shot the man instead of me.
o Guns don’t kill people, people do. I knew that, but I felt like a passenger, pulled after the gun and shocked into clenching my hands by the sound of the shot. I hadn’t done anything. I was just a witness.
o I couldn’t blame myself for what happened – the only intent I’d had was to hold the gun up, protect myself – but even if I knew different, the emotional fact was that Manfred had just used me to commit suicide.
o Firepower rang in my ears and echoed off the walls, and much as I’d killed someone, I had cold sweat dewing my back and a tremble in my legs that said I was the victim here.
o Manfred’s body was my version of a five year old’s spilled cup of milk on the living room carpet – something I earnestly believed wasn’t my fault, right until I felt the ghost of Ash’s eyes watching me like a disappointed mother in the sky.
o I’ve never killed anyone. I still haven’t. Circumstances, you know? Intent? Intent matters. I’ve never intended to kill anyone.