I do the thinking thing very well. For so much of my life and for so many things in it, I think very carefully before I leap and I’m good at it. Over the years, people have learnt to trust and depend on that and because I love them, that’s something special I can do for them rather than a burden, especially as I know the love is returned. That’s always top of the priority pole and that’s the way it should be. It’s what I bring to that communal table of the feast of life and I’m glad to be able to do that.
At the same time, it’s that strange bit of me that people can’t quite get in touch with. They know it’s there and I know it’s there and it very definitely doesn’t do the sharing thing, but they’re good enough to overlook it anyway. It’s the thing that sometimes makes me a stranger in my own house but I’ve learnt to live with that. We all have an essential nature and things are as they are but I’ve come to think that while it’s a cold and calculating side of me, it helps me to look out for the people I care about. When it comes to them, I don’t do careless or stupid. There’s always a plan B and it has a lot of very flexible options.
I do my own things but for me, so much of life is about loving them, because without them in my life, it would simply have no context, no meaning, nothing much. I would have been nobody and nothing; a selfish creature. They’re the frame around the picture of my life, that rich verdant background landscape to the portrait of me looking out of the picture at the world and you. If you don’t care about somebody or something, you’re nobody. And if nobody cares about you, you’re truly lost. I’ve seen people die from lack of love.
Logic is a hat I put on any time I need to and it works. It helps me make good decisions and a livelihood. It’s a good servant who’s never failed me, although I’ve failed it on a few occasions. Those were the times I tried to use it in human situations, in which it had absolutely no business, and that was always my mistake. As I said, it’s a good servant but I’m occasionally a bad master.
There’s another side though. I’m one of those slightly off-balance people who never quite falls over, so family and friends tend to worry about me as an ongoing task but they also come to me when they’re in real trouble, because they sense I know what it’s like to really be in trouble, so they feel they can talk to me. Desperation straits, shit creek dot com, no paddle, the whole bloody disaster, what the hell. Once you’ve been through the loops, it’s very hard to condemn anyone for being human and just screwing up. You see, if you’ve ever been in a situation where you desperately needed a bit of compassion, you learn how to give it back.
Their cock ups are safe with me, because they know I gave up judging people a long time ago. If they need some advice sorting out one of those bad bad situations, then God help them, I’m probably their best bet and they know I can keep my mouth shut. They come to me because I’m painfully human but what they really want after a few tears, is that cold bit of me, Pointman the thinker, to come up with some sort of way out and they always get my best shot at it.
I embarrass them a bit with my other edgy friendships, which are not quite understood or approved of in the circle they want me in. They think I shouldn’t have anything to do with such people but it’s part of them humouring me and my eccentric ways and I understand and genuinely appreciate that latitude they give me. I know all the orphans, outcasts, stray dogs and mad deranged outriders on the fringes of terminal desperation, because in so many ways, I’m one of them. We’re hopeless birds of a feather but at the same time, that makes us a gang and nobody gets left behind when I’m around. That’s never going to happen. I’m a leadership type and I’ve learnt to live with that too. Old fashioned stuff but dead or alive, everybody goes home or I won’t, and everyone knows that one as well. It’s that wobbly but loyal part of me that worries my friends but somehow keeps me going too.
I recognise only too well that little dark spot of sadness on their soul, so I never try to reform them or save them and they’re quite relieved about that. It’s why we get on. I’m an occasional drinking companion, someone who grins hard at life’s cruelties and knows when to just shut up. That is the final kindness.
I’ve learnt to keep those two sides of me in balance by giving each of them their own fair shake. The natural-born survivor but somehow essentially borg Pointman, and Pointy, who will always rage against the machine; both get control of my mind but never at the same time. When I write, it’s Pointy in the driving seat but Pointman is the critic, who looks at the results of Pointy’s ramblings and tightens them up. Pointy listens to the advice, because he knows it stops him getting too artsy fartsy. Pointman keeps an edge on things.
Pointman walks far ahead. He never steps on a dry leaf, because he has the patience to look for each and every damn dry leaf and where every footfall will end, but at the end of the day, if he screws up, he knows his friends will all get zapped, which is why he’ll always insist on taking the point, because he’s good at it. If he does it well, nobody gets hurt. If he does it badly, he and everyone else gets zapped. It’s a nice simple life.
There’s a bit more to it though. Pointy has his moments of black despair but Pointman never gives up; he’ll always keep coming at you. Pointy decides he’s simply had enough but Pointman can always hang on in there for that extra vital one minute and screw the hurt locker. He kills Pointy like that. Always hang in there and survive; that’s all you’ve got to do. You have to love and admire that thing about him. Pointman will always be Pointy’s last best hope.
Writing is Pointy’s turf and Pointman knows that and knows he can’t do it either; being logical is useful but it’s essentially boring. Writing is different. It isn’t subject to analysis, dissection, synthesis, prediction, simulation or anything. Pointman is the mind and Pointy is the heart. It’s the interaction between those two aspects of my personality that breathes life into the one. It’s by now an old and comfortable marriage, a synergy, a symbiotic relationship that they both profit from. They’d be totally useless without each other. Somewhere in that Legrange point between logic and emotion, is judgement and instinct.
Once you get past writing the straight technical articles, you’re on your own and into unknown territory. It’s hard to explain because I don’t understand how it works myself. If I could explain it, then I could define and delineate it and having bottled it, would probably never bother to do it again. It’s the mystery of what may still be within you that drives you on. You see, I never know what will pop out and some of the stuff surprises even me.
There isn’t a process. It’s just knowing I’ve a few hours free and there’s something bothering me that wants to get out. A restlessness. The nearest I can come to it is a beach.
It’s big and yellow and sandy. There’s nobody there but you. It’s flat and it’s miles of flat. There’s a single rock on it that’s the size of a bus and it’s probably been there for hundreds of years. You look at it and you know you’ve just got to find a way to climb to the top of it. You grunt and groan, find a few handholds and eventually get to the top of the thing. You sit down to rest, with your forearms resting on your knees and watch the white-capped bluiness of the sea. The sun warms your skin. It was a good climb and you wonder how many other people over the centuries have done it. You smile because you know they all had to do it too. They got up there and the bloody kids insisted on getting up there too, so they somehow managed to get them up there as well. It’s one of those human things. The long dead ghosts of them all are there beside you, sitting on the rock, enjoying the sunshine and looking out to sea.
The waves come and go and a few seagulls make cheerful brainless noises, which you ignore, and your mind is in neutral. Time passes.
You see it then, the big mother of a wave on the horizon. A thin blue line which gets thicker and thicker. Pretty soon, it’s huge, it’s massive and it’s coming straight at you like a bull on rails. It’s choices time. Run for your life or say fuck it, do your worst. You decide to stay, because you know it’s pointless to run and you’d rather take it like a man. It grows bigger as it approaches but has its own terrible towering power, a wall of perfect arching Prussian blue, which you can’t help but think is beautiful. Jesus, it’s perfect and it’s beautiful. Before it, you are nothing. It’s going to kill you.
You decide to stand up on the rock in the face of it, to honour its terrible beauty and show your own small human defiance of it.
It smashes into you, blasting you and the rock, head over heels up the beach and far away into the interior. It’s knocked every last bit of bit of air out of your lungs and you’re choking for breath. All you can taste is blood, snot and salt rammed up your nose. It turns you over and you spot that immemorial rock, rolling along with all the other debris, like it weighs nothing. You’re hurting but there’s light up above so you know you have to kick for it or die. It twists you and it turns you but you still drive for the light because you know it’s life. There’s nothing else left but that brightness. Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
You break surface, just as your lungs are bursting and your strength is failing. Light and air. Dear Lord, how sweet they are. You float on your back, how sweet and sweet and sweet again it is to be alive. You get to do another day. You’re alive. You laugh and the water splashes into your mouth and you gag but you don’t care. You’re the leaf now. You’ve made it and you’re feeling cocky. You float in the swell and it lifts you and drops you but you don’t care, because you’re waiting for your strength come back. The sky is blue and those stupid seagulls are still screeching.
You take a good breath, you turn and dive back into the thing and it’s beautiful. You see the chaos in the swirling but you see the beauty too. It’s unformed but things are starting to settle. It’s all patterns and unconnected things. Shapes and colours moving. It’s tones and swirls and geometry. There’s a meaning there, a hazy structure but it’s a feeling in the tips of your fingers thing, you’ve nearly got it but it’s somehow so elusive and it slips away from you. Your lungs are killing you, so you break for the surface and air.
You get there. It’s a new sky and it’s a dark and angry sky. Dark blue with black clouds spitting thunderbolts and lightning strikes to lash the ocean. The harder they lash, the more a fixed grimace of defiance grows on your face. Go on, do it, do it, I defy you. It rages and lashes harder in response but you laugh because you sense all it can do is kill you and that it knows would be defeat. You’d rather die than bend the knee and it can’t top that. You’re a free man, a gloriously free man and you turn and dive down again, leaving it to rage helplessly behind you in frustration, as your heels disappear under the water.
It’s calmer now, things have settled down. The water is clearer and you see the beautifully unlikely colours of the fish. Some swim alone because they’re fish of a single terrible purpose, some swim in schools because that’s their nature, their formations echoing Euclid’s geometry and their synchronised changes in direction, suggesting nature’s very own strange attractors. All shapes and forms of life are there, just getting back to the business of it after the deluge.
You see the ghosts of other swimmers and sometimes catch their eyes and see into their hearts. Some of them swim alone too. There’s even a hint of a mermaid, somewhere off in the periphery of your vision, with her knowing look and that come to me smile. If you let her catch your eye, you’ll be lost. It’s all a mishmash of stream of consciousness stuff but you start to look for that something, a meaning or point. You see it then, the particular oyster on the bottom that you just know has a pearl in it. You might just be able to reach it, grab it and head back upwards but it’s a risky one. You go for it anyway. Diving down, you snatch it cleanly and kick for the surface, determined to get there. The light’s there above you and you’re kicking for it but it’s fading, fading and you think today’s the day you’re finally not going to make it, as the tunnel of light narrows and narrows and finally blinks out of existence. You’ve gotten away with it so many times before; it’s sort of okay.
You regain consciousness, washed up on your back, somewhere between the tide’s edge and the sandy beach. There’s white dried salt on your skin and your mouth is dry. The sea has spat you out and the sun has burnt your skin. The dream is over again but you’ve brought back something, which is still somehow miraculously clutched tightly in your hand, because that’s the prize. It’s the story of a person’s life or an idea or just a concept and it’s all yours. It has form but it also has expression. It wants to speak for itself but with your help. You’re just the diver who’s retrieved it from the hidden depths. If it wasn’t you, it would have been someone else who dared those waters, because those waters are like that immemorial rock; we’ll always take a crack at it. That’s our nature.
You go back to your sun-bleached shack on the beach and you write it and that’s that, but it isn’t. You look at it. It’s just a rough portrait you’ve blocked out using raw and burnt Sienna. You start with the white, because that’s where the light comes from and add in the flesh tones and some background. A bit of orange, a touch of yellow and a hint of red here and there, to bring it to life. Vincent on fire. You work the oils on the canvas, like you’re not supposed to do, blending one colour into another seamlessly and you look hard at what the light is doing. The edges get sharpened and you wonder if it’s going to be a failed piece but the bull in you decides that’s not going to happen. The hours pass unnoticed. You work away on it and the touches get smaller and smaller, so you know it’s finished. You go and get a drink, come back, sit down, light a smoke and look at it for the first time. It’s judgement day and it’s merciless. Have you caught something or was it all vanity. You never really know. It is what it is and has now got a life of its own, out into the world on its own terms.
One day, I’ll spot something wondrous on that ocean floor and know I’ve got the stark choice of breaking for the surface or risking everything by continuing to dive down for it, just to hold it in my hands for a single precious moment. Don’t ever write, because one day, in a very real sense, you know you’ll eventually dive deep and hard and you’ll no longer care about ever coming up to that surface again. All you’ll want is that shiny bauble on the ocean’s floor.
It’s that irresistible impulse that kills all writers in the end.
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