It’s been awhile since I wrote. Or practised photography with focus and determination. And yet they remain, the voices in the background muttering away like toothless old men. A year ago I started a writing course online, it was interesting and I was quite invested. Then life happened, the demands exceeded the time I had to easily give up and it drifted away. But the first assignment, which I’m shamelessly reproducing here, was to describe the writer in me. So although his voice seems rarely heard, I’ll share the tale and throw in a descriptive photo as well.
Wishing the snow away…
Writing has always been in the background, not something I’ve ever questioned. Often I put more effort into thinking about writing than doing it. Even the assignment ended up stewing in the back of my mind. But since this is about me “the writer” I will start at the beginning.
Picture a young boy, pounding out dreadful science fiction on his parents manual typewriter. He couldn’t type too fast or the keys would jam. He always ended up getting ink on his fingers and any changes meant the whole page had to be retyped.
The boy remembers the excitement of his first word processor. You could just change a line and print? Typing and retyping are all parts of writing, but at its heart it serves a basic need to communicate, to share and expose your thoughts and dreams to others.
After many years in very technical, scientific and exact fields where words had to be precise, unequivocal and not subject to misunderstanding, I wanted something simpler and more personal. Ironically, although the vast majority of my writing has been technical my memory is fickle and is in constant need of checking. Perhaps that is why I love creative writing. Some of my most creative work has come from getting something I remembered completely and utterly wrong. I have a copper-tube memory; apple juice in, cider out, or vinegar if I’m having a bad day.
But to talk about the earliest years of the closet science-fiction writer means examining the youth who was trying to understand himself. Writing was an engine of discovery, finding the hero or the villain within, the twists of a technological advance, the ramifications of alien life. It was a way to explore the world without actually, you know, getting dirty or learning how to become an astronaut.
But of course that wasn’t the only writing I did. I remember the junior high years as being filled with me actively avoiding and being attracted to the opposite sex. Scribblers were filled with encounters that were greatly exaggerated or entirely fictional! This was my second encounter with fiction, sort of the soft-porn crypto-autobiographical encounters of a parallel universe me.
Years later I came across those same scribblers and discovered that puberty is best left alone once you’ve passed through it. They were destroyed, thankfully never read by another human being. But that is the paradox of writing. We make marks understood by those around us that would, if not mistreated, easily outlive us. But those scribblers were intensely personal. Just as diaries around the world have always been someones internal voice. Sometimes the intended audience is only one.
Once I got to university my writing became dedicated to the technical, the scientific. I had a thesis to complete, papers to write. The writing style was very dry but my adviser was someone who insisted that the text should be easy to read. He hated the passive voice and put that prejudice into all of us. We didn’t have dialogue or interesting changes in point-of-view, this was still science after all. Descriptive, researched and detailed but fortunately, not passive.
I was writing creatively also. Short-form poetry that was only marginally better than the science fiction of my teens and short philosophical pages that remind me now of blog entries before blogs were invented. I also wanted to be one of those people who kept a daily journal. I didn’t want to write in it all the time, but the idea appealed to me. Eventually I came to an uncomfortable truce with the fact that I wasn’t going to write in my journal every day. It was going to only be exercised when I was travelling. Like taking pictures, a mental snapshot of where my head was during the journey.
It did lead to my peculiar fetish involving pens and notebooks. I LOVE notebooks, especially the little black Moleskines with the elastic built-in to hold it together. And a pen, especially one of just the right heft and having just the correct flow of ink. It is ironic because having always been involved with computers, I could type faster than I could write longhand from a very early age. The pounding away on the manual typewriter had given me the basic muscles which were tempered on a variety of cheap chicklet keyboards from early ‘80’s home computers. One of the most helpful tools I ever developed was knowing the keyboard as an extension of my hands.
Of course, rather than pounding out those sci-fi epics I suppose I could have taken a typing course, but I’ve never learned well in that sort of environment. If I’m going to learn how to type, I want what I am typing to be meaningful. No little jumping red foxes allowed. I still collect notebooks and pens and the scribbler-period was strictly handwritten. For all the necessity and convenience of a keyboard the pen still pulls out the most personal writing.
In recent years I discovered blogging and photography. Both have had their ups and downs in output but they have become woven together in my writing. The words add to the photograph and the picture speaks the story.
Of course they can also lie to one another, lead the reader astray or in unexpected directions. I remember taking a picture of a wire-fence in the back yard, low to the ground and silhouetted against a red sunset sky. I liked the lines and the colours and it was with that in my head that I took the shot. Once I had the picture on my computer screen though I saw a war zone. Blood red colours and the tangle of wire fences, from the perspective of a dying soldier watching his last sunset. Once removed from the original context the picture took on a life of its own. Just add the words.