Grieving over time’s passage

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“Time! The past! Something – a voice, a song, a chance fragrance – lifts the curtain on my soul’s memories… That which I was and will never again be! That which I had and will never again have! The dead! The dead who loved me in my childhood. Whenever I remember them, my whole soul shivers and I feel exiled from all hearts, alone in the night of myself, weeping like a beggar before the closed silence of all doors.”

From The Book of Disquiet – Fernando Pessoa (translated by Richard Zenith)

In between

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I finished planning my second novel today. Now all there is left to do is open a Word document and start. But that’s the hard part. I’m in the moment between picking up a pen and putting it to paper. Placing my hands over the computer keyboard and starting to type. I always find this moment uncomfortable. So why do I prolong it? What am I scared of?

I’m concerned that I might not have planned enough. That I might not be ready. That a lot of translation work will come in and I’ll lose momentum (something I need when writing a book). That the words won’t flow, and I’ll waste time staring at a blank screen. That I’ll get stuck halfway and give up (again).

Once I start writing, these worries melt away. I guess I just have to get on with it. I’ve done it before, I can do it again. Still, it’s a bit scary.

Late afternoon run

I spent the morning planning my new novel. The planning process raised a number of questions, to which I had no answer. Rather than sitting at my desk, staring out at the beautiful early spring sun, I decided to go for a run. The answers to questions often present themselves when I’m running. I did a 10K along the lake in the centre of the city. The sky and lake were a deep blue, the breeze was chilly, but not overly so, and the answers, well, they came.

Even in Kyoto…

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“Even in Kyoto

Hearing the cuckoo’s cry

I long for Kyoto”

Matsuo Basho

Sometimes, when I’m running along the lake at sunset, I long for the town in which I live. I view it through the eyes of someone who has left, and will never return, and feel a deep yearning. This tells me that, despite the challenges that living in rural Japan can bring, I am in the right place. I also see it through the eyes of the past. I’ve been here for 21 years. Most of them have been good years. But I’ve seen friends come and go, and now, there is only me left. Perhaps I’m also yearning for those carefree times with good friends, drinking, singing karaoke, staying out till sunrise… Even when I’m here, I long to be here. Of course, sometimes I think seriously of leaving, but when I’m running, and the sun is setting in the deep red sky, that thought is unbearable. I long to be here. And here I stay.

The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists

Whenever anyone asks me what my favourite book is, I answer without hesitation – The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists by Robert Noonan (pen name Robert Tressell).

Noonan was a house painter, and wrote the book in his spare time. It was written over 100 years ago, but the descriptions and story have a depressing familiarity. It could have been written last week. It tells the story of a house painter and his workmates, as they struggle to find work to stay out of the workhouse. They are the working poor, in some cases, dreadfully poor, and Noonan hides nothing from us. On the original title page, Noonan wrote “Being the story of twelve months in Hell, told by one of the damned, and written down by Robert Tressell.”

Noonan was a single father, and was afraid of the things he described in the book – not finding work, poverty, and ending up in the workhouse. It is semi-autobiographical, which makes it even more depressing than if it were true fiction. The horrors described in the book actually happened, and if you have every worked, you will probably recognise your boss, superiors or employer in some of the characters. I did!

The book explores the relationship between the working class and the employers and ruling class, and analyses the way the latter exploit the former. The “philanthropists” are the members of the working class who contribute to their own exploitation by siding with their bosses, accepting their lot and position in life, and helping to perpetuate their misery.

Noonan submitted the manuscript to three publishing houses, but it was rejected by all of them. He became so depressed, he tried to burn it by throwing it in the fire. Luckily, his daughter rescued it, and kept it under her bed.

Noonan died of TB in a Liverpool hospital in 1911 at the age of 40. He was penniless, and was buried in an unmarked pauper’s grave in Liverpool. The grave was discovered in 1970 and is now marked. I visited a few years ago, and there were flowers by the gravestone. It’s a kind of pilgrimage site for local socialist and labour activists. Noonan never got to see just how popular and influential the book would become, especially to the labour and socialist movements in the UK. George Orwell called it “a book everyone should read”. It’s free on Kindle!

The Poet

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You, the hour, are deserting me,

wounding me with the beat of your wings.

Alone: now what use my mouth?

What are my days and nights to me?

I have no sweetheart and no house,

nowhere that is my home ground. All things

into which I give myself

grow in riches and give me out.

Rainer Maria Rilke (Translated by Susan Ranson and Marielle Sutherland)

Slowly, but surely….

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My second novel is slowly, but surely, coming into being. Well, in my head, if not on paper. It’s a novel I started and gave up on five years ago. I now know why I gave up. I was going in the wrong direction. Now, the pieces are falling into place, which is a sign I am heading in the right direction. At last.

This novel involves philosophy, so it will require quite a lot of research. I have a Master’s degree in Philosophy, but it is around 10 years since I got that. I have forgotten a lot of what I learnt, and I have given many books away, but fortunately, I kept hold of the ones I’m going to need.

The main issue is going to be weaving the story together. It goes back and forth between the past and the present. My first novel was set in the present day, in the present tense, so it was quite easy to structure. This one is going to be a bit more difficult. I need a good chunk of time to sit down and plan it out thoroughly before I start writing. I work better if I have a plan and know where I’m heading. Maybe that is part of the reason why the book floundered five years ago – I didn’t really have a plan.

Unfortunately, right now, I don’t have the chunks of time that I need, as my publishing and translation businesses are keeping me busy. Still, I add to the story in my mind as I’m running, or driving. I’m building the world that I will eventually bring to life. One could say that having no time is just an excuse, and there is some validity in that. However, my publishing and translation activities involve constant writing, so by the time I’m through with them, I have no creative energy left. I seem to only have a certain amount each day, and once it’s used up, it’s gone. I’m also studying for some exams in my translation fields which takes up time.

Still, I’m getting there, slowly…but surely…