When I first started this Substack publication I sought to create a space where I could articulate thoughts that I knew would never find its way into a publication house, because these ideational snippets don’t scream of existential dread and drama, they delicately tilt perspectives, opening up different vantage points to savour life. I wanted to let the world enter my being and let art speak for itself without sanitising its source, to let my words playfully smother your senses without any particular agenda-driven intent.
And to an extent, some 95 articles later, I’d like to think I’ve succeeded.
But ever so often, I feel compelled to reflect on the craft of writing, to sneakily submit to that moment of self-indulgent naval gazing, because this exercise affords an opportunity to pause and reclaim the power of the written word - every sinew of its illustrious legacy. This essay is then very much a prefatory meditation on the role of writing as sustenance and salve for the tenderest parts of our being.
So what have I found?
For a start, writing, for me, involves seeking patterns - harnessing the ability to open yourself up to the dormant connections between seemingly disparate things - because it is only through scanning the world in its subjective entirety, with its hills, valleys and curiously meandering lanes, can we truly represent its distinct flavour, with all its beauty and rawness.
It makes sense as to why I’m a self-proclaimed generalist; even when I feel compelled to write about something, I somehow end up writing about everything. The immortal words of naturalist John Muir come to mind - “when we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.” Nature is blessed with a poetic interconnectedness that is best materialised through reflective composition.
As a writer, I thrive in that precarious zone between sensibility and objectivity - to be receptive to a presiding emotion or a change in the tide of opinion, and then to bear down, with relentless and unsparing rigour, in the work of understanding why. There doesn’t have to be an answer, there just needs to be an alluring enough reason to look for one.
There are never lack of reasons to write.
When the social fabric and ideal of common institutions and of a shared society, came apart, they open up crevices and caves that are often acknowledged but never explored through the lens of broader humanity. The impact of life’s events on human predispositions, on compassion, on justice, on truth, on morality, are immeasurably important in their expansiveness. Therefore I write about what bothers me on the plane of humanism, where human values, thoughts and aspirations are violently put to the test - its severity of impact never seeming obvious to the casual observer. After all, stories are not individualised projects, they speak to a societal whole and confront how words can pierce through the veneer of shared delusion.
You wouldn’t be far amiss to say that this newsletter is ultimately a product of a restless mind. I like to think of these virtual pages as an ode to Joan Didion’s famous assertion that we often know how to write when we begin. To learn by doing, so that the sound of your best prose is etched into your mind’s ear and you’ve just got to listen for it. Over time the tight stylistic work begins to show: the subtle anagrammatic games of sound, the ricocheting consonants and the ominous pauses are all part of the wordplay that brings to life all that is invisible but present in the world around us.
But the greatest irony and lesson for me in writing is that no matter how relentlessly bullish one may be towards storytelling and the might of the pen, the story of ones’ life is never complete, always replete with jagged juxtapositions, resisting any form of bona-fide mastery. Because he who writes is never written.
As this season is a tender time in my world, I loved this line, "writing as sustenance and salve for the tenderest parts of our being."
The interconnection of everything is what both inspires me and trips me up in writing. How to let be some connections and focus on others? How to describe a sunset just from the glow and not get lost in capturing each color with words?
It seems the craft of writing is the art of a soul focusing into a beam of momentary awareness.
I love that last line! That could be the title of a book. And I’m coming to think all the interesting writers tend to have unsettled minds. Curious isn’t it? A lot of talk this week about AI taking over writing and I think it’s just poppycock. At least for anything I really want to read!