Just as I was about to go to bed last night, book and mug of Milo set aside, I recalled a sentence from the sci-fi author William Gibson.
‘The future is already here, but unevenly distributed.’
Immediately I went to my desk, opened a notebook and wrote 4 000 words of a new fiction. That will no doubt take 18 months or longer to percolate down into publishability. But that sudden fierce impulse to write, and having the story make and unmake itself under my pen, is the best part of the whole enterprise, a kind of chilly ecstacy.
On the other hand, my word count the day before yesterday was negative. Minus 480 words. I wrote them, read through them, couldn’t go on. A dead end. Read them again yesterday and deleted them. Another false move on the chess board of characters and imperfectly free will, what they choose to do, what I choose for them to do, what doesn’t work out. The red knight, the black queen, the awkward pawn. The chess board swept clean, the game over for now.
On various blogs, there is an ongoing debate and questioning about what we blog, why and when. Issues to do with privacy and self-disclosure, what we suppress, what we write about instead of what we choose not to tell. How many taboos can be broken? With what consequences? How can we talk about honesty when so much is not revealed, hidden away in private notebooks, not even broached in emails or letters? For example — I don’t write about local controversies because readers who live here might deduce my real identity. I also don’t write about local controversies because it would take too much time to explain and contextualise them for overseas readers.
Is blogging a service to readers? I honestly don’t know. It may encourage someone to realise how relatively sane and ordinary life can become in sobriety. Certain posts may shed some light on the nature of alcoholism and recovery, or depression or living with PTSD. I hope so, and I am always touched to think a post has helped or encouraged a reader. We all need to feel useful to others.
But I write because writing is just what I do. I’m not a great talker, not really someone for the phone or any kind of public speaking. I’m an erratic listener, sometimes better than at other times, well-meaning but often unskilled. I don’t gossip, even if I enjoy hearing about scandals and secrets as much as the next person. Privacy and silence matters to me: my life is shaped by discretion and protectiveness of those I care for, those who trust me. What I am at core is a writer, that is how I express myself and that is where the impulse to blog arises, not primarily altruistic but in hopes of joining a neighbourhood of fellow bloggers and writers, a conversation, in the hope of discovering more about life and sober living as I write.
And fiction is another kind of territory, more random and indirect, another kind of displaced telling and hiding. If you are a close friend of mine, you may read my innocuous little fictions and find your fondness for a wrist tattoo or habit of saying, ‘And your point is?’ given to a completely unrecognisable character who has just run away from her husband with a bisexual gym instructor, or a retrenched librarian who has moved into a haunted house to encounter a long-dead airman who smokes Camel cigarettes and sulks under the stairs. There is a character in a sci-fi novella who drinks wine but is not alcoholic: he originates in an old university friend who likes a glass of unwooded chardonnay on the odd occasion. I give some quirk of my personality to characters from time to time — a liking for homemade ravioli or quoting Wittgenstein — but my characters go on to bear and raise children with troubled dispositions, or develop allergies to cats, or to show an callous and charming facility for murder, and they are not me.
Emily Dickinson: ‘Tell the truth/but tell it slant.’
And to end on a controversial note: here is Damian Thompson in the Guardian arguing about the rightness and wrongness of Alcoholics Anonymous. And looking again at what neurobiology might reveal to us about the mystery of addictive behaviours. Questions and opinions to make us think, think, think on a sleepy Thursday morning.
If its disease model is wrong, why does it work so well? There’s no mystery. It takes drunks who want to stay sober and surrounds them with like-minded souls. The “programme” doesn’t manage disease: it creates an environment in which the temptation to drink ebbs away.