I’m reading Margaret Atwood On Writers and Writing. It’s lovely to read an author musing on being the very thing that they are without sounding too grandiose or other wordly. Long have we been exposed to the accepted narrative that The Writer operates on some higher and more noble plane than mere mortals, and it’s pleasantly comforting to hear such a great writer talk about the insecurities her young self felt when treading out into these rather murky waters. Something that really struck a chord with me, was the notion of the writer having two distinct sides to themselves. I don’t know if people are surprised that the novel I’m writing is quite bleak and violent. Certainly I’m a cheery person, not one to dwell on the negative side of things, yet clearly someone in there is more than preoccupied with the darker side of humanity. And I’ve noticed her a lot more of late. Mostly because of all the time I’m spending on my own. As any teacher will tell you, time for quiet reflection is hardly a feature of the job. While you do feel isolated from your peers (a group of teenagers doesn’t have quite the same vibe, although they can be fun) it’s rare that you feel truly isolated, rushing as you are from one lesson, observation, plan, assessment, book marking, Parents’ Evening, data entry and so on until you are gasping for breath at the end of each half term.
What I’ve noticed since clambering off that particular roller coaster is that I spend a lot of time truly on my own, with a good stretch of hours in front of me, cleared away for the task of writing. Which is when she comes out. I find that I get delighted with altercations, minor catastrophes in the street which would usually upset me, or at least produce an empathetic reaction. I’m much more likely to be scribbling down some notes or thinking about how to perfectly capture the abject look of sorrow on the face of the girl opposite me on the tube than offer any sort of support. It’s unnerving. Not only this, but I can’t remember ever having been so silent for such long periods of time. With my money-paying exploits taking me all over London (private tutoring, to be clear) I spend an inordinate amount of time on trains, buses, walking, and even when I get there it’s a one-to-one conversation with a pupil, not a cacophony of voices heard streaming out of a Year 8 class last thing on a Friday. I like talking. A lot. In fact it might be that my writing has got more dialogue-heavy the less I’ve found real conversation happening in my life. If you happen to be the person I encounter that evening, I do apologise for the ear-bashing you’ll get for a good forty minutes, but I hope you understand.
According to quite a few people out there, I might be doing myself a favour. Apparently, spending time truly on our own is one of the things we’ve lost in the modern social networking age, and might be one of the things we need in order to simply process the amount of information we’re overloaded with on a daily basis. But also, to be happy. There’s something to be said about staring out of the window for a few minutes. Even if, as in my case, it’s in the search for an interesting way of describing something mundane. We could all do with a bit of time getting to know ourselves, however many of us there may be.
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