Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Saturday 19th April

Much of what I am doing here on Crete this year is about distraction from certain memories, putting a large amount of activity, and time of course, between me and them so, hopefully, they will have less power to hurt. Believe me, seeing your spouse die of bowel cancer is not a set of memories to be treasured. If the technology, as in The Shadow of the Scorpion, was available, I would have my mind edited.

Walking of course is a big thing. I’ve mentioned before that I have been susceptible to depression and am aware that one of the best ways to keep it at bay is exercise. Walking is also both easy and highly beneficial. What I mean by this is that going for a run, or lifting some weights are activities I view as onerous. I know they are good for me but don’t particularly want to do them which is why they often fall by the wayside. Walking, especially here, entails stepping out of the door and going and, after a mile or so, a feeling of wellbeing impinges without sweaty grunting effort.

Gardening is similar. Weeding, planting and generally eking about in the garden can use up a day without much in the way of conscious thought occurring between my ears. So too with the numerous tasks involved in keeping an old stone Greek house in order. Maintenance is a big part but, at this time of the year, so is the perpetual task of running the wood-burning stove: fetching in wood, cleaning out ash, cleaning the stove-glass doors and sweeping the crap off the floor.

Mental activity, however, can be a problem. I’ve found that with the above my mind is just ticking over – doing no more than is necessary. I can’t remember who said it to me but it’s almost a Zen-like thing of just living in the moment without much thought about the past or the future. Was that here in the comments or on Facebook? Anyway, once I start putting my foot to the pedal and mental activity increases it does so, unfortunately, in all respects and of course I start mentally exploring those things I would rather avoid. Then again, I don’t want to avoid thinking perpetually – if that had been my chosen route I’m sure a bottle of bourbon a day would have done the trick.

A few days after I arrived here I started on learning Greek again as this seemed ‘safe’. A few days after that I spoke to a neighbour, Anna, and as usual said (in Greek) that I must learn more Greek. She asked me when, the implication being that over the last 7 years I haven’t really been trying. I began to ask her for phrases in Greek and I learned them. She handed over some sheets of 48 verbs written out in phonetic English in their present, past and future forms (which she had given to our other neighbour a Belgian called Jean-Pierre). I began learning these parrot fashion while I was walking. Later, in another conversation, Jean-Pierre suggested we have lessons with Anna. I got these started while also getting Anna to write out these verbs in Greek, which I can read and write at about the level of a 7 year old. On the second lesson she tested me on most of the verbs and I could speak and write over 90% of them. I am even managing to get there with the emphasis that is so important in Greek. Of course there have been downsides. I really shouldn’t have ventured into ‘yineka moo pethane’ or ‘entero carkinos’.

Now, I guess, to the writing, which is why most of you are here. I don’t have writer’s block as you can see by the above and as I know by some work I did after Caroline’s death. However the mental investment in such a creative activity is much higher than that involved in learning a language (I’ll add here that learning a language is best done by the kind of parroting that seems lacking in present day classrooms, and involves little in the way of creative thought). To write with any effectiveness requires an honesty that scrapes at the sore points in your mind, while you also have to care about your fictional characters and situations. I’m finding it difficult to care and of course I don’t want to go prodding those sore points. However, I will be getting back to it (this long post is one indicator) and since it is mostly editing I have to do that should ease me into the process.

I’ll be back, as one of my favourite film characters said.      

11 comments:

Sue said...

Walking & language learning are a great combination. Before we moved to Spain, I would count the number of steps that I took while I was walking the dog - In Spanish - If I made an error, I would start from uno once more. It was boring, repetitive but therapeutic and numbers have never been a problem for me since! Keep at it, Neal, you'll get there!

Jimmy Devine said...

Glad to hear you are actively considering a return to writing, it is why a lot of us are here, but it's not the only reason...a direct, honest and pragmatic view of life and it's many bastards is another, I for one came for the writer, but I'll stay for the man.

daniel ware said...

I guess you can't ignore it forever but maybe delaying it fir a while will mean you are better prepared for when you do decide to get back more towards "normal you" but only you can decide when that will be...

Dominic Myers said...

I'm agreeing with Jimmy here. I only came for the writer but I've become somewhat invested in you as a person... it might be daft but there you go. I'm also more than familiar with losing yourself in something to distance yourself from painful thoughts and memories. It'll come when it comes, if it doesn't then I'll still keep reading about your walking. Take care!

Dominic Myers said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Chrish said...

The remark about the 'Zen like' living in the moment is spot on. Trouble with mankind is that we constantly dwell in the past or the future, reacting the past: 'I should have said/done that instead of what I did' or: 'Next time it will be like this or that and I will say/do this or that'. Result is that we are not really alive as we should be. As some say we are more or less sleeping right through our lives apart from those moments of great joy or pain or disaster, one of the reasons a lot of people find war so exillerating (tabu! tabu!)I for myself always try to concentrate on what I am doing at the moment I'm doing it, in that way even cleaning the toilet is ok as long as one manages to avoid thoughts about how dirty the job is aso. Still, the pain will hit you again and again but as I said before, with bigger and bigger intervals, for us it's almost 4 years ago now and the gaps are still getting wider and wider but it will never go away completely......it's bearable though... and it should not go away completely I think...Keep walking! btw: you still go to Revans in the afternoon?

uncletigger said...

What Jimmy Devine said goes for me too. I got the first book of the Prince of Thrones series on your recommendation, and really liked the writing, a touch more complicated in the set-up to what I like, but the writing itself is very enjoyable.
I have been buying your older books this year, as my "Buying rather than library" budgeted spending. Re-reading them has been quite an experience, because I must have just inhaled them whole the first time. Thanks mate.

Graeme Finch said...

You need a sabbatical. Take one, no ones going away. When next you release we'll all be here. You'll be a bit different I reckon, when a you feel the need again, but the same at the same time.

andybpowell said...

neal i love your work and can't wait for more but you do what you've got to do to get you through it guess i'll just have to start back at prador moon (again x3)
Jimmy Devine's comment was spot on
we'll stick with you.

Todd Bailey said...

Yeah, just keep yourself working and going on. Physical activity like sweeping helps you sort your mind out and help in properly organizing your thoughts. Sometimes though, you'd need to take a break, cut yourself some slack, and leave the floor cleaning to maybe a service or professionals, to lighten your load. Or more importantly, make sure that you've employed the best means available for dealing with the accumulated messes and stains.

McCoy Maintenance

Unknown said...

Thank you.

My father is dying of cancer and I am experiencing a similar mental roil.