Who Are You Writing For?

June 28, 2014

“My readers would welcome whatever life style I chose, as long as I made sure each new work was an improvement over the last.” – Haruki Murakami

Known to turn down parties, important engagements and even own family gatherings, Haruki Murakami’s steadfast dedication to his writing schedule, a five to six hour stint beginning at 4am, borders on that of the extreme hermit. Sacrifice for the sake of the reader. That’s the name of the game.

The great Japanese novelist and myself are pretty far apart of course. Not just in terms of quality and output but also in our attitude to our readership. Whereas Murakami toils and sweats to make each of his stories more resounding than the next. I, on the other hand, write principally for myself.

Sure, so the platforms are different — I’m not kidding myself pretending to be a novelist with millions of readers anticipating my next hit.  But isn’t ‘writing’ writing all the same? And something as crude and arguably ego-centric as publishing ones own meandering thoughts on a self-titled blog surely still qualifies.

Like structuring a novel, our blogs still require a certain amount of thought and organisation. We sit down to the work, invest time in words, spend a little time formatting. It’s not too dissimilar.

So what’s this neat little caveat, that ‘I write for myself’, really all about? Surely the very act of hitting publish eradicates any chance of that being true? Read More

As a young man Joan Miró suffered such debilitating depression that he could barely do anything. It took painting, which he discovered later, to shake him out of it. It was this discovery, coupled with vigorous exercise, that Miró attested to being the tonic that prevented him from relapse.

For most creative people it’s the downtime that provides the breaks and spaces in which to really hone the imagination. Setbacks, as crushing as they appear to us at the time, later become gifts. Without them we don’t have the opportunity to feel pain, sadness or disappointment. The things that eventually translate into our work and make it all the more special.

Is our preoccupation with being productive really that healthy for us? Toni Morrison, who juggled writing with work and raising children as a single mother, certainly didn’t seem to think so. According to her, it was the gaps in her day, the downtime spent “driving to work or in the subway when I’m mowing the lawn”, that most allowed her to “brood” on ideas that would later shape her works. Read More

About a year ago I was sitting in Playa del Carmen, Mexico, getting acquainted with the words of Marcus Aurelius in his book ‘Meditations’. Aside from blowing my mind (a familiar reaction for many during a first reading), I knew that life, from then on, was going to feel different. This first introduction into the ancient art of stoicism had me hooked.

During the next several months I began to read a lot about the philosophy, picking up works by Seneca, Epictetus and Rufus Musonius and wondering how all of this might fit together to form some coherent strategy in my life. Where people like Tim Ferriss looked at it as the precept for a kind of ‘operating system‘ that functioned beneath the day-to-day, it wasn’t really working out that way for me. I was still struggling to turn this ancient wisdom into applicable lessons that worked as I jumped from one thing to the next, never being able to decide quite what to do.

In truth, stoicism, as powerful as it seemed when I read it, didn’t seem to stick all that much when life tended to present its challenges. The verbosity of it, coupled with the fact that it was written and followed by people with contrasting backgrounds to my own (I’m not an emperor, or a former slave, or the marketing executive of American Apparel, or Tom Wolfe, or Bill Clinton), often led to me wonder if it had much practical use for someone like me at all.

Just as I was thinking that, that was when I discovered the concept of ‘premeditated evil’. The one stoic concept, above all others, that I think helps anyone regardless of their background, status or direction in life. For me, this forms the key technique of the philosophy. The one that is most useful, above others, when you find yourself in the stickiest pile of shit and everything seems to be falling on top of you.

The best way I’ve seen it outlined thus far is in Donald Robertson’s book Stoicism and the Art of Happiness: Ancient Tips for Modern Challenges. Referred to here as ‘decatastrophizing’, you’ll have to get over the fact it sounds pretty counterproductive at first. Do that, however, and you’ll get a pretty neat period of clarity and perspective on anything you’ve been struggling with before.
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Bronze statues of pilgrims past - mountaintop after Pamplona

The best experience of my life thus far? Quite possibly. Romantics take whatever schmaltzy way of contextualisation they can. For myself, aggrandised statements seem to work. The camino; just a walk, turned out to be more than just a walk. It was a definitive moment in my swiftly departing twenties. My Christopher McCandless moment. An adventure sacred enough to consider abandonment at any attempt of putting it into words.

Ironic then, that one of the biggest consequences to come out of a near-month of walking, is how much of an absolute necessity it is to share more with others. As the camino teaches; you can do just as much by talking, listening and simply giving your time and attention to others. That’s why I think it’s fundamental for each of us, at some point in our lives, to give something like this a go. To discard our regular labours and habits, albeit temporarily, and to live alongside others. To see just how many different ways a life can be lived.

So, erm, yep, that’s why I’ll try and write.

What follows then is an attempt to try and convey some of the experiences I felt walking The Way over a period of 25 days. Not to totalise, generalise or butcher an experience, but rather to mainly just show two things. The first, what it did for me. The second, what it can perhaps do for you. Thrown in are all sorts of meditations, lessons and observations.

All to be read backed by the soundtrack of Alanis’ Jagged Little Pill… Read More

If you’re reading this you’ve either A) been redirected here by my email auto-responder or B) got a sick interest in what I’m doing with my life. I’m hedging my bets on A. Someone as busy as you doesn’t come here by accident or by leisure now do they?

Or perhaps you do. Nonetheless, I’ve hung up my old judgemental boots. And on the shelf they shall stay if this new challenge is anything to go by. It’s 500 miles you see. Overland in two countries. All on foot.

I’m guessing after I’m done boots are the last thing I’m going to want on my sweet little feet. Boots, and a backpack weighing down on them. Because that’s how it works see. I’ll be schlepping all the gear I’ll need for 30 plus days on the road with me as I go. But that won’t be too much of an issue. Considering I’ve gone more minimal than your average with this one.

But I’m guessing, spare the intrinsics, you want to know why I’m not responding to any emails, texts or calls you might be sending me. Well, besides the fact that I don’t much like you, the best answer I can give is peace. Historically speaking the Camino Frances (the particular route of the Camino de Santiago – or the Way of St. James –  I’ll be walking), stands as a major pilgrimage for Christians looking to get closer to God. For me however, it’s simply designed as a month long break. A way to disconnect. An excuse not to think about all the normal shit one thinks about when going through the motions.

It’s also the type of challenge I need right now. Something that’s physical. Something with a finite beginning and end. Something that doesn’t involve me dipping my wick into the technological abyss.

Doing it for Jesus (or, more accurately, the apostle St. James)  is simply a bonus.

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