I’ve blogged previously about my ongoing battle with fountain pens. As a Scotsman I knew once said, “It’s a sair ficht.” While he was referring to the daily struggle between the ways of the flesh and the ways of the spirit, I feel, in microcosm, so is the Way of the Fountain Pen for me. I love the romantic icon of the fountain pen, but for as long as I can remember it has only loved to scratch holes in my paper and (somehow) put ink in and around my mouth.
Our most recent skirmish was held this morning in a local coffee shop as I tried to do some journaling. Thankfully, I was prepared with several squares of scrap paper on which to get the pen working before damaging my journal. Nevertheless, Stanley (yes, my pens do have names) was channelling Hermann Rorschach — so not much journaling was done. I obligingly embraced the opportunity to do a spot of coffee-shop psychoanalysis, folded the papers in half over Stanley’s leaked blobs to see what could be found. What do you see in these, I wonder?
(Add your answers in the comments – but don’t look there until you’ve decided what you see; and don’t overthink it!)
A couple of these are absolutely startling. to my mind (it’s that first one that blows me away). Of course the reason our minds are so quick to see things in these ink blots has something to do with the fact that they are fractal (so they inevitably resemble the forms that occur in nature) and the fact that we are fundamentally wired to try to interpret sensory input. That what we see varies from person to person, supposedly indicates differences in our state of mind, our habits of thought or perception.
Although this is supposed to be a ‘writers blog’ it tends to be a repository for the things I don’t write: the stuff I do when I should be writing. When I do find the time to actually do some writing (for myself), I often find all my brain wants to do is mess about and compose nonsense. I find this incredibly easy and profoundly satisfying.
Really, ‘nonsense’, of the sort that Lewis Carroll and Edward Lear gave us, leaves a much wider space for readers or listeners’ imaginations to play in. It harps upon this beautiful feature of human languages: with syntax, sound and context we are more than half way to understanding meaning. Who the hell needs vocabulary?
A good writing implement can bring out the best in us.
I’m mainly a pencil person for taking notes, doodling and writing. For journaling, inking in or neater work, I adore the triplus® fineliner by STAEDTLER. But lately, a couple of fountain pens have been added to the arsenal. A good one, well primed, is a wonderful writer. A bad one can fill a page very quickly with bizarre textures and symbols.
The pages of my scratch book have recorded a strange battle over the last week or so:
Page one was an ordinary page in the scratch book. A few lines of pencil were engaged in a key debate.
Page two played host to pencil lines – decadent and fanciful in bourgeois ingnorance of their own demise
On page three, the fountain pen ink army came with raw scratches, marching upon the page in angry angles and scrawls.
In forms foreign and fantastical it fell upon page four, forsooth!
By page five, total and permanent domination was secured.
I like to believe that even the way we scribble when trying to get a blasted pen to work can be pressed into the service of narrative.
I have an app that seems to be permanently open in my brain; maybe it is a monkey on a typewriter. Strings of letters constantly rearrange themselves and every so often a combination sticks and I have a new word in my head. I’ve tried to figure out what to do with these words.
Some of them have ended up in a story I wrote, about a “jellyfarglemarsh”, which you can listen to over at Stories from the Borders of Sleep. Others are being collected in a document on Draft (superb tool for distraction-free writing and collaboration invented by Nathan Kontny) until I find a use for them. As a writer, you always need new words for things.
The typewriting-monkey app goes crazy, though, when I play Scrabble. In the last month, I would have scored a lot better in Scrabble if I could have played some of the following non-words:
I have been labouring my way through the complete tales of the brothers Grimm, on and off, for the last three years. At first, there were curious and enchanting moments but, I have to admit, it has felt more ‘uphill’ recently. I’m not sure how to understand the resurgence of interest in Will and Jake’s collection. There has been a popular TV series and a couple of movies have tried to reclaim the tales for the dark side, after years of disneyfication; Philip Pullman has turned his pen to them, and several others have delighted in re-working them for the ‘Potter, Buffy and Twilight’ generation.
Having almost finished reading the complete works, I have my own take on the oeuvre.
When the brothers rolled into a village on their collecting expeditions, I reckon that the locals thought it would be a jolly jape to ply them with schnapps and treat them to lengthy, extemporized tales that endlessly recombined a basket of popular motifs in spirals of fantasy. These plot lines were not authentically handed down through the generations until they were captured and immortalised with pen and ink; they were made upon the spot, like the rambling narratives that children play out in the tree house and at the bottom of the garden or the anecdotes of a boozy uncle who can’t remember the end from the beginning.
For example, here is the tale of the Three Black Princesses. It is wryly amusing for the fact that it barely goes anywhere, it is clearly unfinished and there are some serious issues with overall coherence. I hope my rendition is faithful to the original.
I’m not complaining for a minute; this is the life I have chosen for myself and I love it. As in any job, though, there are good days and bad days.
I am often asked for advice by people who are considering going self employed in creative fields and my first line is a reality check. If I had known all this when I started three and a half years ago, I don’t think it would have changed anything, but this is my second attempt to “go it alone” after I learned some hard lessons the first time round, which was about ten years ago.
Shuffling to your PC in your pyjamas with a cup of coffee at 11am to start work
Getting up at 6am and sometimes working ‘til midnight to meet a deadline.
Lunching with friends
Skipping meals because you are “in the zone” and don’t want to lose the flow
Being your own boss and beholden to nobody
Working for a string of “bosses” in succession and often simultaneously
Never having to fill in another job application
Being on a permanent job hunt to line up the next month of work
Never having to go through another annual performance review
Trying to stay on top of your game and develop your skills with virtually no guidance
Holidays when you want them
No paid leave and the laptop comes on holiday with you because it’s impossible to “abandon the baby”
Extended amounts of time in your own little world
Missing the banter and mutual support of a work environment
Doing what you love every day
Tax returns, accounts, marketing, pitching and admin at least 30% of the time
Time to work on your “big idea”
Shelving the “big idea” until things calm down a bit
Having control over your working environment
Moving to the kitchen because the desk is too cluttered, tripping over the laundry pile and the dog/cat who is doing everything in its power to distract you
“My office is a coffee shop”
Spending half an hour trying to get access to their unfeasibly slow WiFi, getting the shakes by lunch time (after your 4th espresso), going outside to take a phone call that you don’t want to be overheard
Practice the guitar in your “lunch break”
Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook and Stumbleupon in your “lunch break”