Taking things for granted. We all do it and it has a variety of terms to describe it, familiarity breeds contempt, stopping and smelling the roses etc. Just recently I’ve noticed several examples and it wasn’t until I stopped and thought about them that it occurred to me they were worth blogging about.
The other night we fed my niece and her partner who live in Amsterdam. She’s doing a music masters at the Amsterdam conservatory and he’s just graduated with a degree in writing music for film. They’re here for Christmas and have been doing a fair bit of sightseeing, next week they’re going to the South Island. They went with my brother and the rest of the family to Lake Tarawera and caught a trout. They went out fishing on Auckland harbour and caught many many snapper. By comparison, if you fall into the waters of the Amsterdam canals you go to hospital to have your stomach pumped.
We fed them home grown potatoes, kumara, pumpkin, asparagus, baby carrots and for dessert huge strawberries, blueberries, papaya etc. My niece said they’re loving the fruit and veges because the ones they get in Amsterdam are flavourless. How often do I stop and think about the wonderful bounty of fruit and veges? Practically never.
A couple of weeks ago we had an election here and the voter turnout was below 50%. So more people didn’t bother to get out and vote, than did. Shame on you! Did it occur to you for a moment that people in other parts of the world actually die so that their countrymen might, one day, have the right to cast a vote? If any government tried to take away our democratic rights there’d be indignant screams from every corner, but how many of those people voted when they had the chance? Exercise your freedom to vote or risk losing it.
Two things I’ve noticed since moving to the country, the stars at night are really clear and the wind makes amazing noises in large trees. I love standing and listening to the wind in the trees, it sounds like the sea. I commented on that to my sister-in-law the other day, they have huge trees on their rural property. She was surprised at the noise all around her.
And when you drive around you see empty farmland, it has stock on it but no people. Miles and miles of paddocks and bush and hills. I am reminded of a Sunday afternoon in 2004 when I was in Tokyo. I was on a bus going from a concert venue back to our hotel. We passed through a huge crossroads and stopped at lights. As far as I could see in all directions the pavements were packed with people, so tightly that they could hardly move. Thousands of people. Why? Because on Sunday afternoons in Tokyo people go out for a ‘walk’. I travel 16kms to pick Lucas up from school, through rural heartland New Zealand, and I never see another human being walking anywhere.
Speaking of Lucas, he’s not very well. He’s had a myriad of tests and faces more. He’s a brave little boy and he puts on his happy face and goes to school. When he’s with me we play with dinosaurs and play tickling games and fill up the bathroom basin and play with orcas and crocodiles and laugh, a lot. But we take health for granted, especially in children, and it is very hard to see them not well.
So stop for a moment and think about the things you take for granted, the people, the countryside, the weather, the food, the sounds, then have a day of appreciating them, noticing them, counting them, treasuring them. At the end of the day you will feel like a billionaire.
Today’s tips come from Will Self. He’s a British novelist and short story writer. I must confess I’ve never read any of his work, but since I read that he’s been shortlisted three times for the Bad Sex in Fiction award, I’m now considering reading those.
1. Don’t look back until you’ve written an entire draft, just begin each day from the last sentence you wrote the preceding day. This prevents those cringing feelings, and means that you have a substantial body of work before you get down to the real work which is all in . . .
2. The edit.
3. Always carry a notebook. And I mean always. The short-term memory only retains information for three minutes; unless it is committed to paper you can lose an idea for ever.
4. Stop reading fiction – it’s all lies anyway, and it doesn’t have anything to tell you that you don’t know already (assuming, that is, you’ve read a great deal of fiction in the past; if you haven’t you have no business whatsoever being a writer of fiction).
5. You know that sickening feeling of inadequacy and over-exposure you feel when you look upon your own empurpled prose? Relax into the awareness that this ghastly sensation will never, ever leave you, no matter how successful and publicly lauded you become. It is intrinsic to the real business of writing and should be cherished.
6. Live life and write about life. Of the making of many books there is indeed no end, but there are more than enough books about books.
7. By the same token remember how much time people spend watching TV. If you’re writing a novel with a contemporary setting there need to be long passages where nothing happens save for TV watching: “Later, George watched Grand Designs while eating HobNobs. Later still he watched the shopping channel for a while . . .”
8. The writing life is essentially one of solitary confinement – if you can’t deal with this you needn’t apply.
9. Oh, and not forgetting the occasional beating administered by the sadistic guards of the imagination.
10. Regard yourself as a small corporation of one. Take yourself off on team-building exercises (long walks). Hold a Christmas party every year at which you stand in the corner of your writing room, shouting very loudly to yourself while drinking a bottle of white wine. The following day you will feel a deep and cohering sense of embarrassment.