Are you comfortably numb?

Sunday, August 20, 2006

I want to be Nick Hornby

There are times in life (and these happen to be depressingly frequent) when I am consumed by hopeless inadequacy and inexpressible inspiration, all at once. I can be captivated by something in such a way that, for one beautiful moment of clarity, I am sure the sole reason I was born was to spend as much blood and sweat and tears and toil and heartache as is necessary striving to create just a shadow of it. Yet I am simultaneously enveloped by a thick, dark cloud of unrelenting inferiority. For me, there is nothing that evokes this cocktail of emotion more than reading a good piece of writing.

I don’t think it’s the same with songs. There are so many different genres of music, so many instruments, so many effects you can add in, and so many people available for collaboration, that to me each song written takes on an unavoidably unique persona, and the listener is able to soak up this persona without feeling vastly inadequate for not being able to produce an identical sound. Someone can listen to Santana and not feel inferior at all because they want to sound like Devendra Banhart instead. Of course, they could feel inferior listening to Devendra Banhart, but then they can just go away and listen to something else different and remind themselves that music can take any form its creator wants it to, and still be considered good. And if all else fails, they can just stick on some Jose Gonzalez, and figure out that one only needs to be capable of poor imitation to hit the big time.

With writing, not so. All wordsmiths are just that. The tools available are but one – language. This is a blunt axe without the skill of craftsmanship. A piece of writing can invoke an almost spiritual pleasure in me, the kind of pleasure which is magical and soulful and sometimes painful, and is swiftly followed by the piercing knowledge that I myself, although receptor of this gift, cannot bestow it upon anyone else. Good writing goes straight to my heart and a carefully crafted sentence can move me to as deep an emotion as anything else in life. Words have an intangible and mysterious power over me. How frustrating, then, that I cannot master the very things that rule me. Words are an intricate yet unyielding cage that I have constructed around myself. I am caught up in an abusive love affair… “do do do doo, da da da da…” Maybe Sting had a point.

I’m sure even the best authors had similar moments. Even the Steinbecks and Fitzgeralds of literary history, the masterful tamers of language that I now read with awe and misery combined must have had their share of rejection and disappointment and perhaps even despair. And unlike most people’s perception, writing is not the easy transferral of a whim from brain or heart to paper or the fluid progression of an idea from thought to fingers. It is the combination of raw talent and ruthless, self-destructive reworking. It is the willingness to weed out the obstinate weaknesses in your work and to spend as long as is necessary replacing them with something vaguely worth reading. It is possessing the mental and emotional power to be one’s strictest critic and editor.

It is one thing to write an article about politics, or the state of society, or how to feed your pet rabbit properly. It is another to write about someone’s life, or to catalogue your own, or to record an historical event. But it is perhaps the most sought-after, and thus elusive, skill to be able to write the human experience, to use these strange curly shapes and straight lines to make the intangible tangible. Those deepest feelings that you sometimes cannot even understand yourself, those observations that the reader did not even know they could relate to until they found them penned by a fellow human being – these are what I want to be able to write. If you don’t know what I mean, I’m talking about what your heart looks like when you hear the first notes of the soundtrack of a film that makes you cry, or when you say goodbye to someone who makes you feel like life is life, or when you realise that a betrayal has occurred, or when you look at someone you love and know that something, somewhere is imperceptibly but terribly changed. I want to be able to write the look in someone’s eyes, two people’s fingers brushing together, a child seeing his mother cry and pretend not to. I want to write the stuff of life that ‘you can’t put into words’, the feelings that ‘you can’t express’. There are people who can indeed express these things and you read them and you want to weep and laugh at the same time, because someone else has understood, and understood in such a way that they have made the impossible and nonsensical translation of the conceptual to the concrete. I want to write about the feelings that are the lines and wrinkles on life’s face; writing about the features is all very well, but it’s not where the pain and the joy and the uncertainty lie. It is doubtful that I will ever be able to. This is just evidence of my fallibility. But I’ll keep trying because as long as I’m still reading, I’ll still be writing.

P.S. I am really embarrassed about posting this. But I just want some CONSTRUCTIVE feedback. Thanks.

Friday, August 18, 2006


Well, it has been a while isn't it. I should clean some of the dust off this place. But no fear, I am back.

I'm not really in the right frame of mind to write a thoughtful post at the moment so I'll just do one of my snippet posts, and hope that I don't get told off about the headings of each part.

Withnail and I
I've always known of this as a cult film in the back of my head, but always thought it was some boring black and white thing about philosophy. However, I saw it for £2.99 the other day and thought I'd better buy it at that price, as I don't like having to admit that I am ignorant when it comes to such 'classic' productions. I've watched it now and I have to say it's one of the most hilarious films I've seen. As it says on the DVD cover, beautifully acted and wonderfully scripted. Richard E. Grant is great. Watch it.

Terrorist attacks on planes
Yet again I was overcome with a mingled sense of anger, sadness and helplessness as the latest wave of attacks was prevented. Although on one level I can understand what drives these people, on another I find it hard to comprehend how our natural sense of right and wrong can be eroded to the extent that cold-blooded murder is lauded. But yet again I have been repulsed by the fact that most press and public opinion has been focused on the fact that the terrorists were born and bred in - gasp - BRITAIN. It's just another excuse for not-so-closet racism.

Brain wasting away
Having been working in telesales for a while now and reading very few improving or disproving books, I can almost feel my brain tangibly rotting away inside my cranium. I need to consume some pretentious intellectual material or it may be lost forever. So, I've attempted to start reading Crime and Punishment. It's quite hard going though. I'm not very good with anything written before c. 1922.

So anyway, that's it for now. Hope you're all well.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Carey Family Conference and all that jazz

First of all, sorry that my blog has been broken for over a week. It's fixed now. I just had to republish it. The reason why is unbeknown to me - it's something to do with the Janus that is technology.

Last week we went on the Carey Family Conference. Many of you will know that this is a long-standing tradition in our family. We've been ten years on the trot (except I've missed one in that time). It's a great week of Bible teaching, fun and talking in a place called Cloverley Hall in Shropshire that happens to be very beautiful. There are about 180 adults that go and around 356,943 children. I think.

This year the main speaker was Andy Christofides. He preached on 2 Peter 1:1-11. It was strange because a lot of people said that they had studied 2 Peter themselves recently, myself being one of them. But although I had really enjoyed studying it and felt like I had learnt a lot from it, when I heard Andy speak on it I realise there was so much more to learn! Which is the point, I guess.

Main things that stood out in the week:

1) How precious our faith is, because of a) it allows us to believe things that to sinful humans seem impossible; b) because of who the giver is that gave us the faith; c) because it is a rare faith (the broad and the narrow gates); d) because our faith cost God the 'precious blood of Christ' to give (1 Peter 2:18-19); e) because our faith WORKS - it saves us from eternal death.

2) How powerful God is and how little we 'take advantage' of this - e.g. how many times do we struggle with sin or difficulties, and then realise we haven't actually prayed about it?

3) Although it's easy to focus on how God's grace was given in the cross and by letting us come into his presence through Jesus as opposed to all the restrictions placed on the Jews (the High Priest going into the Holy of Holies only once per yr after sacrifices etc), I was struck this week for the first time by how gracious it was of God to actually dwell amongst humans AT ALL by dwelling in the tabernacle/temple, after Adam and Eve had been cut off from the Garden.

4) How much I love so many of the people that go to Carey, and how much we can learn from each other.

5) How giving more time to spend with God makes a huge difference.

6) How life is hard and life is tough and this world is racked by sin, but that if we bring our burdens to God in prayer he really does lighten our load and help us.

7) How great my family is!

8) How many people pray for us!

All in all it was a great week. I learnt a lot and had a LOT of fun. To all who went, thanks for being so great, and to those of you who didn't but think it sounds like a good thing to go on, follow your instincts and get a booking form for next year's!