The safety pin in my ear



Image: Louder Than War

Among the many books and other things which I keep close to hand at my desk, is a little volume by Marcia Golub: I’d Rather be Writing. In this book, the author bears her kindred soul and shares the joys, frustrations and challenges she’s faced since the day she dared to call herself a writer. It’s a very personal book and one which other writers relate to because of that. A common theme throughout is how she is constantly distracted by the little things which she needs to get done in her life away from the computer. I can sympathise.

Like Marcia Golub, I can only write once everything else is out of the way. And like her and others, I am guilty of finding things to do which aren’t writing. My obsessive compulsive nature is at its most observable when I’m doing other things. All I’m trying to do is ensure that once I sit down and start to write, I won’t be distracted. Sometimes, I’ll get a bit carried away with making sure I’ve got everything out of my mind and meander off somewhere to create more distractions. Today was a good example.

I’d really like a pet. My landlady will not allow pets; I want a pet. That in itself throws up matters of philosophy, but I figured I could circumnavigate those and find a way around the impasse.

If I were to have a pet, I would actually have two: both cats. One would be a tortoiseshell with a curious zigzag marking on his face and the other would be pure white. They would be called Ziggy and Slim (The Thin White Duke), respectively. Guess what? I’ve got two cats, exactly like that.

Being a science person and a writer, I am familiar with Erwin Schrödinger. Presumably, most people are aware of Schrödinger’s Cat. As such, I have purchased two boxes and labelled them: “Ziggy” and “Slim”.

So now I have have two cats. Or maybe I don’t. No-one will ever know because the boxes may not be opened. What happens with them when no-one is looking is supposition and a paradox: Like the tree falling in the woods; If there’s no-one around to hear it fall, does it make a sound? Ergo, it cannot be denied that I have two cats. And as another universe is created at a sub-atomic level, where the catalyst of my thought brings a parallel universe into existence, no-one can prove that I don’t have two pet cats.

Schrödinger’s Cats: The best pets.

I’d much rather have my cats than the squadron of fruit flies which constantly bombard my desk at this time of year. I recognise that flies are a necessary evil of summer. The tiny ones floating around my typewriter were part of my inspiration for Cyrus Song. They’re just very irritating. I must admit that I called a particularly persistent one a cunt, right within earshot of him. Cyrus Song was always going to be a difficult one to follow but I’m working on the companion piece. It’s proving difficult to get just right but I’m a few drafts in now and it’s taking shape. I’m working on other things (editing the anthology among them) but The Cyrus Choir can no more be ignored than the dawn chorus in my mind: It’s a “must tell” story. The companion to Cyrus Song has done what many stories do: It’s got long. I may be able to trim it but I don’t think a word ought to be left out of such a thing; no matter if it doesn’t fit a market. It might even join up with its companion piece and become a novella. I don’t know yet. I’m too distracted perhaps.

After rearranging things a little to accommodate my cats, I decided I needed a haircut. This was self-administered, on account of the weather being hot and me being bored, and having some clippers. It actually turned out really well, if you like the John Lydon look: shaved back and sides, with a spiky top. I like it. Just like Johnny Rotten, I don’t give a fuck what anyone else thinks. I’ve worn a safety pin in my lughole for the last three years: originally – and still – a nod to my ska / punk musical roots: An inclusive world, where some proper Skinheads were black, because those musical movements were beget of Reggae; But also, because I can and now it’s a show of solidarity against hate and prejudice of any kind (#Safetypin).

It’s taken me the four months that I’ve lived here to realise that the best times for writing are the times between other things, when there’s nothing else to do. That way, there are no distractions. I have an IQ the size of a maximum snooker break and I’ve only just worked that out. Distractions, see? Like being drunk for a number of years. Distractions are the writer’s enemy. Not just the mental ones but someone like Marcia Golub, writing about challenges just like these and in doing so, providing her peers with another distraction: Neat trick.

Because when we get down to it, it’s just the best place to be: Somewhere with nothing else to do, other than write. Then we can do anything, in our own minds. But we can give others the means to do that and more, just with our words. I know because people have told me how affected they’ve been by my writing.

Cyrus Song is a good story and I’ve set the bar high. But with The Cyrus Choir and others which I’ve drafted as I’ve had time to think, I’m confident I can write many more, longer, deeper stories. They’re just fewer and farther between.

Ziggy and Slim will probably feature in a future story. The haircut and the safety pins have given me some philosophical ideas. There’s a talking white mouse called David Jones. There’s a manatee with body dysmorphia. There’s a rabbit, who always looks like he’s about to say something and never does; Until you’re out of the room. There’s another planet like earth, preparing for a post-human existence: These and many more are works in progress. And this is what my friend Marcia concludes in I’d Rather be Writing: All of those distractions; The things we burrow into, where others may not: Those are the stories. The imagination may require a little warping but my damaged mind is my ally.

Writing for me is not a job; I don’t think it’ll ever be a comfortable life but it’s the writing which gives me the most comfort. It’s more than a job: It’s a life.

Inquiry leads to knowledge and that raises more questions. Ultimately, it all boils down to philosophy. It is a fact that if you look anything up on Wikipedia, then click the first link, eventually, every article will lead the seeker of knowledge to philosophy (try it).

Aboard a damaged spacecraft, I chug around the universe and I find stories. Then I tell others on my home planet what I’ve seen and what might be out there. A travelling philosopher, returning from missions with tall stories that some find incredible. The thing is, I know they’re true. And the best part of this life is being the storyteller; The captain of that ship, at home in a new life, away from all that went before.

“All we have to do, is make sure we keep talking.”: That’s what the safety pin in my ear says to me.

With all of that out of the way, I can now concentrate on writing new stories, editing my anthology and re-drafting the first 16 chapters of my next novel. Infana Kolonia is still another work in progress but it is progressing, just a little slower, with everything else I have on.

I just need to feed the cats.

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