Me time (85% cocoa).

I ought to have been in an orchestra, really. I ought to have played a more sociable instrument (i.e. not the piano, the sulky loner of the music world) and gone to rehearsals with seventy other musicians and hung out together (I see us all wonderfully stylish in polo neck jumpers) and made sweet music en masse. There’s a lovely sense of solidarity in that.

Instead, I chose writing. And writing, as everyone knows, is the sulky loner of the art world. I’m a sulky loner myself, so it’s no surprise, really, that we found each other. And yet there are times – this is one – when I question the wisdom of two sulky loners conspiring like this. Isn’t writing a thing best done by those with more resilience? Is it good for us loners to really embrace our aloneness? The danger is one that’s befallen me recently: life on your own becomes so flipping normal – status quo – that the world recedes, with the flesh and blood people who live there, till what you’ve got left is a notebook, a Scrivener file, and long stretches of silence. It’s frighteningly easy to get yourself so swept away in a book that the whole of your life becomes ‘me time’. The question I’m asking, then, is this: Is so much ‘me time’ good for the soul? And would miserable writers be miserable whether they wrote or not? Would Virginia Woolf have drowned herself if she’d played second bassoon in the London Symphony Orchestra? Would Hemingway have been happier tooting a horn than exposing the innermost core of his soul? And dear old, mad old Sylvia Plath – perhaps self-examination on a daily basis wasn’t the healthiest way to proceed. Might her tale have ended differently if she’d spent that February night with a gaggle of polo-necked viola players instead of surrounded by rancour-filled manuscripts and an empty flat?

Well, sigh. You’d be right if you thought I was bitter. If blog posts were chocolate bars, this one – I have to admit – would be 85 % cocoa. I’m currently stuck on that hamster wheel of The Road Not Taken, and anyone (musicians, actors, dancers) who gets their arty kicks in a gang of likeminded folks – and not staring, alone, at the screen of a laptop – is garnering my envy at this present moment. God, but it must be so nice – so bloody, bloody nice – to have someone else physically, actually, there when you’re knee deep in doing your thing – and I don’t mean disturbing you (breaking the train of your thoughts with the offer of tea when you’ve just bloody sewn up that sentence at last but you haven’t quite managed to scribble it down); I mean, doing it with you. Collaborating. You actors, musicians, and dancers – how lucky you are.

Footnote

To be fair I should probably mention the fact that I did once play in an orchestra, long, long ago. I was ten at the time. I wanted to play the cello. There weren’t any cellos at school; there was only an oboe.

My playing was so bloody awful I ended up having to mime in school concerts. The whole thing was torture from start to finish. Perhaps I do prefer writing, after all.

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Philosophical wool: how to knit your own life.

‘Philosophical wool’, as a lovely friend told me last night, was a rather wonderful alchemical term, many moons ago, for zinc oxide (which forms into woolish white clumps when burnt… or something like that). And, as I was knitting (a sort of a scarf) when she told me, I might have been slightly over-inclined to believe in the power of the poppy-red wool slowly growing itself on my needles as a metaphor for life, the universe, and everything – but, then again, anyone who knows me (or this blog) will know already how over-inclined I am to see metaphor in everything.

I’m a terrible knitter. If knitting were writing, my work would be riddled with grocer’s apostrophes, comma splices, adverbs, linking verbs, and two of my least favourite words: ‘replied’ and ‘realised’. I have an idea of a scarf in my mind (anything non-scarf-like is so far from my reach I’d need NASA to get there). The scarf in my mind’s eye is fragile and wispy, with sequins and maybe a tassel or ten, and the person who’s wearing it (me) is a Photoshopped version (a Facebook profile, say, as opposed to a picture I’m tagged in). Reality, though, shows me something quite different: a long, wonky oblong in cheap greasy wool with missed stitches and holes in. No Photoshop in the kitchen mirror either, where light pours particularly harshly at certain cruel times of the day. But to vaguely (by which I mean incorrectly) quote Hilary Mantel in Giving up the Ghost (courtesy of another lovely friend): you’ve only got one body. You have to live in it. 

You’ve only got one ‘scarf’ as well (by which – well, of course – I mean life): it’s the one you’ve been knitting, without even knowing you were, for as long as you’ve been on this earth, and it may be that yours is the wispy perfection I see in my own mind’s eye when I dream, but the life that I’ve got on my own clunky needles is closer by far to the long, wonky oblong that’s currently curled in my knitting basket, and sadly that’s where the analogy ends because lives, unlike scarves, can’t ever be unpicked. If the rows that you’ve knitted so far have got holes in, those holes will remain, and the best you can hope for, I think, is to knit better rows in the future. And as for my novel? You might well ask. There’s been nary a word for six weeks. But my scarf isn’t done yet. There’s oodles of wool in my basket still waiting for knitting, and maybe those future rows will have words in.