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.