Bear with me here but I’d decided today was a thinking day. I’ve not done much in the way of blog posting on here lately as I’ve been off inside my head doing the academic writing that’s taken up nearly all of my January and February. And it’s going very well, or at least I think so. Though no one else has been allowed to see it yet as I’m on what I’ve grandly called, if only to myself, a three month ‘Writing Retreat.’
For me this is the only way to write a story. To be in it, to live in it, breathe it and even wake up in the mornings having dreamed of what’s coming next. And yes I have used the words ‘academic’ and ‘story’ in close to each other sentences there, because that’s what I’m writing. It’s some sociology, bits of history, a lot of ethnography, more than a dash of politics, and with occasional interjections from the neo-liberal economy. But it’s still a story. And it contains some references to academic writers and their works too, occasionally. But it’s still a story, and it has to be. Otherwise you wouldn’t want to read it one day when I’ll invite you to. And I couldn’t stay interested in it for long enough to get it written.
And as I say it’s going very well. In the nearly two months I’ve taken, so far, of retreat from all but my very closest of friends I’ve written loads, and am deep in the physical as well as mental space I call ‘My Story.’
Except today when I woke up the next chapter of it wasn’t there waiting for me. No over arching idea, or “they sound good” opening words were in my mind. Blank. Even though I’m in the sort of ’empirical place’ of writing about things that have actually happened to have expected a ‘what’s next’ opening to have occurred to me. Nothing. “Fair enough” I thought, pep-talking myself into not being too bothered, “I probably just need some time to think.” Which is how come I decided today would be a thinking day. Some time to think more broadly than my mere next thousand or so words. (I write in very short chapters that could easily be mistaken for blog posts, wonder why?) To think about other things altogether than the PhD I think about most of the time. Where I’m usually mind-mapping next chapters and even dreaming opening sentences like I said. Instead I’d have a day of completely leaving my subject and thinking about some entirely other things for a change. Hoping and expecting though, if I’m honest, that some actual, practical and useful writing ideas might slip unobtrusively into the side of my mind anyway, while I’d been off watching and thinking of those other things. Except it didn’t happen.
Slipping my headphones on, it being far too early in the morning to wake up Sarah, I listened to an hour or so of classical music. One of my main calming and thinking methods. And duly thought only about the music. How I’ve underrated the grace of Sibelius, but not of Rachmaninov. And how most of Mozart I can still take or leave. But my thoughts were only about music, nothing sneaked in round the edge.
So I put on my boots and have spent the rest of the day since then out walking. My number one fail-safe method, over all of my life, for thinking about anything I want to think about. Even when the subject of the thinking is nothing, this gathering of thinking space. And it’s worked. Though not at first. So far the day had involved three parks, a promenade, a river and back to the edge of one of the parks again, as you can see from the photographs. All the time and the miles distracted by this continuing chorus of complaints in my head:
• About too many other people out walking as well;
• And why are there no public benches whatsoever along our roads any more;
• But there’s room for cars on the pavements;
• On and on, all the usual irritations of living in a city;
• As well as “What am I going to write next?“
“It’s ok, I’ll be fine when I get to the river” I kept promising myself. But I wasn’t. And it wasn’t so much that Otterspool was too busy for proper thinking. As that I was.
Over thinking the thinking itself, and not giving myself the promised space that the phrase ‘Thinking Space’ implies. So I kept walking. Back up through Otterspool, through the Aigburth Road subway and round the edges of heaving in the sunshine Sefton Park. Until I finally found this log. This perfect thinking space where I’m sitting now. And have been for the last hour. Surrounded by a sea of last autumn’s leaves, and far enough away from the maddening crowds for no one to have bothered me. Watching how the leaves are only blowing from right to left. And how the little purple crocuses to the side of me don’t look like they’re moving at all, until I’ve watched them for long enough to be able to see the tiny quiverings of spring life they make.
I’ve written all this too, while I’ve been sitting on this log. Perfectly content with my notebook on my knee. And I don’t think it’s the next part of my academic story. I don’t think so. But it might be, or might turn into some thinking that is, if I sit here a while longer.
And then it was Friday, to complete the thinking story here. A whole full and sunny day back on the allotment, writing happily and productively. PhD words flowing again after giving myself the time not to even think about them for a day.
See also ‘Breathing Spaces’ which is about the same sort of thing. Back when we all used to go to the city centre.