Seven hours later...
It's a glorious spring morning in North-West England. Blue sky, leaf buds, a crisp frost glistening in the pale yet radiant sun.
My mission for today: to keep my thoughts clutter-free.
See, I've been having some problems with that. Since Christmas, I've been writing on various instalments of Hiding Behind The Couch, alongside my other work of teaching social science, editing and publishing. There's nothing new there; I operate in a state of constant mental activity, bordering on hypomanic, and I'm happy that way. If I ever watch TV or movies, they need to have some intellectual substance (and be well written/produced/directed/enacted) to fully hold my attention.
In my normal mode of operation, I can write several different stories in parallel, grade essays for two different undergraduate courses, and work on at least half a dozen publishing projects without ever dropping the mental ball. Like a spider's web (visual similes are my thing), I can see all the threads, both as separate strands with distinct end points, and the intricate connections between.
Hiding Behind The Couch series, you may already have noted that he and I share a few traits in this respect.
...always watching, listening, putting it all together, like there’s a constant stream of thought running through his mind, picking up the shingle of theories and evidence, sifting it, depositing what he doesn’t need and forging on...
Josh does it all to a greater extreme, of course. To avoid spoilers for anyone new to reading the series, I'll just say that for the most part, Josh's thoughts are highly organised, governed by logic and mediated by intelligence, but there are times when they're a scrambled mess. He can't separate the intellectual from the emotional; he struggles to reach the end of one thought process without veering off into another. It is overwhelming, impossible.
That's what I've been experiencing, I realised, this morning, after a week away from my normal environment, followed by a good night's sleep.
It was something of a revelation, which seems daft to say. I knew at Christmas I'd burnt out, and I took some steps to address it. However, the world keeps spinning regardless of our cries of 'Stop! I want to get off!'
I owe huge thanks to Hans Hirschi and my mother-in-law, for hitting the pause button on my behalf.
Confession time: I love being at home, and given the choice I'd probably never go anywhere, or so I thought until this past week. That's not the confession, by the way. Anyone who knows me is aware of my hermit-like ways. What I'm now prepared to admit is that going away for a while can be (and has been on this occasion) precisely what I need in order to reboot my brain.
Bless Hans - I was so far behind with work that I was still editing his upcoming release, Jonathan's Promise, while I was his guest in Gothenburg last week, and he kept saying, "I didn't invite you here to work." But the thing is, even though I was working, it was without the rest of the mental noise, the constant interference of other thoughts, reminders of things I must not forget, fretful realisations that I would have to forego sleep, or writing, or some other necessity, like visiting family, in order to hit deadlines.
So yes, I did work while I was in Gothenburg, but not all the time. In fact, last Wednesday, Hans and I spent at least as much time chatting as we did working, and it was jolly good fun! We really do interact in a continued state of 'agree to disagree', because we're both strong-minded and hold firm opinions on a lot of social/political points. We do actually agree on quite a few things, but there's little conversation to be had once Person A says 'I think such-and-such' and Person B says 'I agree absolutely'.
Hans is fluent in I-have-no-idea-how-many languages, and I am constantly in awe of his linguistic abilities. Listening to him switch between Swedish, English and Alemannic(?) (his son does it, too) was both fascinating and humbling. I'm something of a dunce when it comes to learning other languages, although I love (obsess, study) accents and dialects, and even when conversations around me are in a language or dialect I don't understand, I am enthralled by the sounds and rhythms. I'm intrigued by their origins, their development, and I love incorporating dialect into my writing, although there's a skill to doing it well and not losing readers with too many contractions and dropped letters.
English language and culture is perhaps the only real bone of contention I have with Hans, and I'm pretty sure much of the time he only harps on because he knows it winds me up. Hans doesn't seem to think much of England, which I can understand up to a point. It's difficult for us English folk to hold on to any sense of pride and love for our country without being branded a nationalist, blind to the violent imperial history of 'Great Britain'. It's why many of us choose to identify as 'English' rather than 'British', although, historically, we don't do much better in that regard (consider the demise of 'Kernow', for instance).
Hans reviewed my novel, Taking Him On, he had this to say: "...the love with which she describes her English motherland, the culture, the food, the people, even a stinking, old pub, is permeated with so much love."
It's a lovely, albeit back-handed, compliment, and his views are shared by many. English food is bland and greasy; the English climate is wet and rainy; English conversation consists of talking about the weather (therefore rain?)... I'll come back to this in a moment.
Anyway, I had a great time in Sweden, not least because it was a much-needed break. Hans makes delicious fondue (I was not the only one delighted by this welcoming family dinner), he's intelligent company, and he's an incredible tour guide. Visiting Sweden had been on my list of things to do since my adolescence, when the Lerum School of Music came to Southport on the first leg of an exchange trip that sadly didn't get as far as the second leg.
Indeed, my fascination with Sweden is what led to the inclusion of a Swedish character in Hiding Behind The Couch (Kris Johansson), which ultimately is why Hans and I connected in the first place. My trip to Sweden (which included a flying visit to Lerum) was enriching, therapeutic, educational - plus I made a friend in Albin the cat! I also gave silent thanks many times over that the Swedes are bloody brilliant at speaking English, or there would have been no coffee at Göteborg airport for me!
From Sweden to home briefly, and then to Norfolk, for my mother-in-law's eightieth birthday. I was once again immersed in the culture I love and know. This is the home county of Taking Him On (mentioned above - part of my other series - Checking Him Out). Norfolk is the northern county on the East Anglian peninsula (the bump on the right side of England), and it's fairly flat terrain, with lots of farmland.
|© Adrian Cable - Creative Commons Licence|
Real ale, a traditional English roast beef dinner, and it did rain, typically, when I'm trying to make an entirely different point, but still... On the way home, I pondered over the potential utility of old windmills with their derelict sails, and revelled in the changes in light, the weather and the fauna, as we ventured further north-west, back home to West Lancashire. I do love England, I'm not ashamed to say. It is a beautiful country with a rich history, so many different cultures, dialects, regional food and drink - how can anyone claim English food is bland when we invented Marmite? ;)
In conclusion, I'm glad to be home. There really is no place like it. But I'm also glad I went away for a few days. My thoughts had become like the spider's web we accidentally walk through, unanchored and dishevelled. Now I'm ready to spin anew.