… moans from an unruly writer …

Installation by Frederick Franck

Installation by Frederick Franck

While I write, wrestle with style, query words battling for attention and set out sequences to string ideas together, anyone watching me might assume I’m a nervous wreck. My body, perfectly able to string an arrow to a bow and hit a target, has a wild notion of focus when it comes to writing. It shifts and wriggles, gets up pretending I need a coffee, ends up cleaning the sink, checks the porch for post and so on, all the while allowing my word sculpting to continue until, bingo …. I rely on intuition, which slips into little silences, opens a crack in the surface of things and reveals a hidden layer, and, occasionally offers a glimpse into the infinity of now. A tiny glimpse is all it takes to relax, sharpen senses and spark a creative dialogue between my inner voices that often quarrel and fool around like the average family.

I respect moderate conflict, it stirs up mud but clears the air, and even when the inner crowd gets fed-up with listening – grace, solitude, or a good night’s sleep bring additional insights, bridge divides and re-establish a tolerable rhythm of chaos and peace.

Am I fooling myself? Is my knack for intuition just guesswork. Is it inborn? Does it evolve with experience, as a kind of deeper listening skill humanity moves towards? Can it be learned? Is it worth defending? Or is it the relic of a go-with-the-flow philosophy that avoids closer analysis of my thought processes and behaviour? I seem to struggle with two kinds of temperaments, one looking for the particle and the other for the wave, stretched between rational and irrational numbers. The two temperaments compete but need each other.

Pilgrim Fool by Celcil Collins

Pilgrim Fool by Celcil Collins

Scientists and statisticians tend to approach the unknown rationally, and seem set to eradicate human incompetence and messiness. Some frenzied rational prophets go as far as knocking anything that can’t be quantified and evidenced. I value logic, what annoys me is the attitude that scoffs at people who hold hands with the fool.

There are more reliable methods than the vagaries of intuition, shown in a New York Times piece by Gary Wolf ‘The Data Driven Life’ from April 2010,  a long but brilliant article that received many pages of diverse comments. Not everyone is keen on the Quantified Self.

I resist being monitored and quantified by data, fixed as particle, ticked off for my risk-taking folly, my random cross-referencing. The geeks and outliers the article describes have fun recording their every move. And I grant that someone suffering from high blood pressure or apnoea benefits from being nudged by a gadget to take a deep breath. I remember being excited and applauding the first biofeedback devices that affirmed how thoughts affect our physiology and vice versa. When it comes to data dependency, I have a hunch it will starve emotional intelligence, which I strongly believe develops through mastery of language.

Working a few years for Social Services, we used to write narrative assessments until a computer programme with tick boxes was introduced. We hated it. Conveying observations in writing was shoved aside as time-consuming, subjective and vague, while quantitative recording was hailed as reliable, though its data hinges no less on interpretation and application.

Recently I skimmed an article suggesting future novels will be written by computers. My cynic leapt from its slumber and argued that a machine hasn’t got 100 Billion neurons and can’t be intimate with nature, is immune to changing metabolisms and moods – hour by hour, night and day. Immune to what comes on the breath, with wind, dust, rain and radio waves that travel through the cosmos, nor is a machine influenced by dreams, synchronicities, diets, layers of revolving memories, kind gestures, general anxieties, rejection, loss of control, loss of a loved one, global news … the unpredictable influx of thoughts and emotions that our mind continuously sifts, evaluates and re-interprets.

Irrational humans can’t be quantified and controlled, which may be why since ancient times there has been an ambition to create artificial beings.  Here a bit of fun from Turing and his colleague Strachey – a reasoned-out love letter, achieved through programming a 1951 computer to make sentences via algorithms, having been fed on love synonyms from a Thesaurus:

Honey Dear – My sympathetic affection beautifully attracts your affectionate enthusiasm. You are my loving adoration: my breathless adoration. My fellow feeling breathlessly hopes for your dear eagerness. My lovesick adoration cherishes your avid ardour.

Yours wistfully, M.U.C. (Manchester University Computer)

…. M. U. C. is eager, if a little verbose and breathless 🙂

Since then, artificial intelligence is even more breathless with numbers, but operates highly sophisticated technology that improved the quality of our lives. I admit I’m fascinated by the concept of cyborgs, but don’t want to get plucked into the human network protocol .

Our privacy is at stake. And our relationship with nature? … its record of life and the human experience, the treasure house of the collective unconscious, translated and re-membered through DNA, invisible spheres and the very light we breathe. Anything alive changes from moment to moment. And our experiences, insights and expectations have a vital part in the changing.

Nature is the book I grew up with, it taught me stuff:                                                                                                       About growing … put a seed into earth, tend to its needs and its story flowers.                                                        About resilience … a seedling lost in a dark corner will grow towards any spot of light, no matter how it must bend and curl its stalk around obstacles.                                                                                                                                       About connections … the dynamic geometry of the tiniest plants and vast galaxies are reflected in each other.

Enough samples to show the obvious – nature teaches through metaphors. My theme is resilience. I take risks and accept that struggling makes me inventive, expands my consciousness, polishes my heart and challenges me to think for myself.

My moan extends to the growing practice of enticing people to emulate machines in service of progress and economic efficiency, in jobs that dull the senses and dull the mind.

Meanwhile I cheer the unruly folk, including fools, dreamers, innovators, artists, poets and writers with an ear towards the hidden – who translate past and future newly into the present – the open-minded, who can tolerate conflict, value intuitive signals that chime in the heart, and who can occasionally endure being suspended like a leaf on a gossamer thread.

What do you, my reader, think?

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25 Comments

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25 responses to “… moans from an unruly writer …

  1. I think Muse – it’s the Muse isn’t it that whips into that little space that you leave by doing something a little less concentrated. The “Love” letter reminded me of instructions on so many things, the words make are all put down in a sort of logical order and the idea is there but it just doesn’t – “do it”. Yes you need the magic spark that is – oh I don’t know life or soul or whatever, isn’t it part of what makes us human.

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  2. Viv

    I like unruly, messy, chaotic and creative stews that produce works of blinding genius and new concepts.
    We are surely related. xx

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  3. Truly one of the best posts you have written, so wrestling seems to suit the appearance of the bon mot! For a moment (skimming before re-reading)I mistook the M.U.C love letter as a reader comment. Sometimes not that far off. Glad it was not so in your case. Also loved the images. You are VERY good at this-spilling onto a disciplined page that ends up more than coherent.

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  4. Reblogged this on INVOLUTION: Science and God: Mavericks and Inspiration and commented:
    This coheres with everything this blog hopes to elucidate.

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  5. silentnovelist

    What do I, your reader think? Ashen, you truly are in tune. I’m on a week’s leave from work, spending time at home doing something both practical and creative: in the garden, painting my doors and windows. Lots of sounds among the birdsong, voices rising in the space between the brush strokes, and in just a few more months I will let them shout, and I will be free to listen. I’m just glad the whispers haven’t gone away. This sentence: ‘My moan extends to the growing practice of enticing people to emulate machines in service of progress and economic efficiency, in jobs that dull the senses and dull the mind.’ That’s been me for the last 2 years, specifically economics, and I’m doing it so that when its done (counting the weeks now) I’ll be free to join the unruly folk forever, free to dream and wait and listen and write. Thank you as ever for your thoughts which draw me back to what matters. Diana x

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  6. Pingback: … moans from an unruly writer … | Daisychains of Silence

  7. I wouldn’t mind reading a novel written by an intelligent machine. Too many novels out there feel like they’ve been written by some primitive computer ))

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  8. Fran Macilvey

    I enjoyed this reflective and amusing post. xxx 🙂

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  9. Bravo, Ashen! As one of the unruly, I cheered at every word of this post. Thank you for celebrating the “ear towards the hidden” so beautifully. B

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    • It may come to be 🙂 Here is an older vision, by Rilke, from Sonnets to Orpheus, part 2 no 10, translated by me:

      All we gained is threatened by the machine
      so long it assumes being in spirit, not in obeying.
      The fair, hesitant gesture of a radiant hand unseen,
      it wilfully forges ahead, cutting sharper into stone.

      Nowhere does it slow down for us to win distance,
      or remain oiled by itself in the silent factory.
      It is life – and claims to know best about living –
      and with equal resolve will order, create and destroy.

      Yet our presence remains enchanted, our origin still
      at a hundred thresholds. A playing of pristine powers
      that none is moved by who does not kneel in adoration.

      Words still softly dissolve before the unspeakable state,
      and sounds from most resonant stones give form and
      gather music, ever new, into the unmade.

      Rainer Maria Rilke
      Translated by Ashen Venema, 2008

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  10. Thank you so much Ashen for this lovely post! (I hope this one gets posted; my previous attempt at my comment ‘could not be posted’).
    I’m in favour of technology when it is to the benefit of all, but the shadow of Big Brother hangs.
    How limiting to attempt to quantify mystery.
    I’ve JUST been reading about Alan Turing, the British agent who cracked the Nazis Enigma code. He was jailed for his homosexuality by the British ..

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    • This posted all right, Susan. I think a new philosophy is needed that gives the particle mode and the wave mode equal importance.
      Turing – his treatment was tragic. And ignorance pervails.
      As well as a brilliant mathematician he was also a visionary, looking for the how of things (wave mode) – patterns, the existence of Fibonacci numbers in the structure of plants.

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