How do you write what won’t be written?

I was granted a tiny wee insight into What I Should Be Writing About just as November 2012 closed.

Sloth set in around the beginning of December.

Sloth and fear.

The idea started to intimidate me. The bigger, more expansive it got, the more I backed off into surf-the-net-land and vegetate. Into occasionally reproach yourself and feel stupid.

I’d approach Carnwath every working morning.The motte and bailey remains looking like a ridiculous giant pudding squatted in the golf course grounds. The decrepit Church nave opposite, slimy with moss and frosted with ice. And I’d be seeing the ancestors. Be overcome with the deep dark desire to delve, to unearth them.

As I turned off onto the A70 their proximity would become intoxicating. I could sense the words I needed – but couldn’t see them. I have spent every journey drafting inadequate fragments. Sifting through word lists. Constructing whole shitty verses. And discarding every one before I made it past Balerno and the end of the Whang.

I know that what I need to write is what the land is showing me. Between us lies the gulf of translation. My eyes scanning the landscape; every dip and scar, every lump and hillock, the outline of old farmhouses showing themselves to me in stony debris and lightly raised earthworks – my eyes becoming as sensitive to the changes in grass colour and in marginal earth elevation that I can feel them. An optical pressure that prints off internal pages in a language I haven’t the skill or understanding to decipher.

There are the Bronze Age clearance cairns on Staneymuir Farm. Interspersed with the grassed over neolithic funerary cairns. There is the outline of an old round house, ripped apart by the road. The Roman fortlet at Camilty sitting in a treeless depression amongst an ugly tax-evading forestry. The Roman Road revealing itself still straight and higher than the surrounding moor land – used by quad bike farmers and walkers seeking out Cauld Stane Slap and the Harperrig Reservoir. The soutterains whose purpose we guess at. The earth turning over amber bead necklaces and caesar’s head; chertz workings and stone axes; imported Arran pitchstone traded in 3500BC; funerary remains.

The reservoir with Cauld Stane Slap pass behind – the old drover’s road.

This road I travel every day has changed little in over five millenia. Maybe more. The modest one or two farmhouse additions in the last three hundred years testify to its hostility now – snow drifting yesterday over the high land and the fields slowing me to 10mph. I glimpse the lowland Scotland that the ancestors walked and worked.

What do they have to tell this troubled little land which labours now to articulate its own identity?

* http://www.flickr.com/photos/golebnik/sets/72157623440968663/detail/
follow the link for the best photos of the Whang and area I travel to get to my work in Edinburgh.

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11 thoughts on “How do you write what won’t be written?

  1. HELLO!
    Beautiful commentary. I have been in the same land-locked, word-drought dilemma many a time in the last few months. Lately, for myself, the phonetics were not as dried up as I thought. They arrived in a rush one night, without restrictions— my agenda broke free— and numerous deltas emerged.

    You have a rich, layered History staring at you in a daily drive, which in a sense can be intimidating. Mountains of the ancestors, ghosts of past events.

    Loved your phrasing: “The earth turning over amber bead necklaces and caesar's head; chertz workings and stone axes; imported Arran pitchstone traded in 3500BC; funerary remains.”

    You inspire me often to keep going with my own writing. Thanks.

  2. I am very genuinely touched by your words. They are a gift I feel honoured to receive.

    I've been turning over words and ideas these last two months. I know I tend to do that for work – I write nothing; I think and I dream the solutions and then suddenly the thing is written. I hate when my masters ask for 'a draft'. It's always 'in my head' just percolating… Argh!

    Thanks, D-G. And I am happy to hear your own word drought ended.

    I am going to keep on with this until I can decipher at least a bit of it.

  3. I read your post earlier and have come back to it and re-read it. There are so many things upon which I could comment. I shall, however, leave all the descriptive things (which are too huge a set of topics) and mention the methodology and my favourite use of words in your post.

    “An optical pressure that prints off internal pages in a language I haven't the skill or understanding to decipher.” From what you have said everything you do is based on images you hold within your head. Imagine, then, a situation where you can not hold those images; where you have to commit all images to words or photographic images or the like. That is me. “I know that what I need to write is what the land is showing me. Between us lies the gulf of translation.” That is you. You have the images. You have the words. You have the mental means. Be brave. Breach the gulf. You can. You know you can. One of our croquet team has a T-shirt and on it she had emblazoned “Just DO IT”. Get the T-shirt. Wear it. DO IT.

  4. You can do this.
    I know what you mean about having things percolating in the head until it all gells at some unpredictable moment….so when it gells in this case get it down on paper because you can make this live, not just for yourself but for us.

  5. Thanks for your words Helen. I'm touched that you'd want to read it. The project is exciting – I feel like I used to before court with a case I knew I'd only half scoped… A bit of thought, some work and words will start to flow…

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