A Letter from Coombebury Heath

I received a letter yesterday from my friend, Maxwell Fleet, who is a villager in Coombebury Heath, a place I visited during some of my overseas student days. He often relates the village news to me, and I probably enjoy his letters more than I should given that I find the place far more charming than do the denizens. Nevertheless, here is his latest letter to me:

The Oaks, Coombebury Heath, 1 May 2010

Dear Liam,

Thank you for the kind words about my weblog. I feel they are greatly undeserved since most of my posts are not proofread, nor do my photos show any great technical skill. I fear I have no promise as a blogger, especially since I can only write in spare time. It seems the truly great bloggers have scads of time to pursue their interest. What I would trulylike to share in my blog are the things that happen here at Coombebury Heath, but the fact that I keep a weblog has increased suspicion of me here, even while the legend of my prowess as a web designer has exceeded all reality. I do not have the heart to tell them that my web design consists of the most basic blogspot template, but I fear that when their bubble is burst I will finally have to move away from here.

Well, I am truly knackered with the events that have transpired in the village this week. I cannot imagine  what the unfolding disaster must have been for the people actually involved. I was merely an observer who felt great embarrassment for our village, and for the villagers I come to know and love so well. I do not want to bore you, but I somehow feel, Liam, that you somehow share my sympathy from afar for the people of Coombebury Heath. Aside from being practically the only American who has ever visited here, you took it in stride when neither I nor my friends showed the slightest interest in coming to your part of America, being satisfied that we had experienced America sufficiently lolling around Orlando, Florida and Miami.

Honestly, why in heaven’s name you showed any interest in our sleepy village is beyond me, and you broke our stereotype of Americans by fitting in with our depressed state of affairs. I mean–for yourself you eschewed the typical American trainers and bright clothing by wearing black and doing more listening than talking. You remained uncritical of our National Health even after languishing for several days with a kidney stone. I admired how undeterred you were in your opinions on the benefits of talk therapy even after discovering that every adult in our village is on antidepressants. I found your reference to our villagers as ‘hobbits’ both apt and charming, but I do recommend that you be more circumspect in choosing with whom to share this observation. Tony, the pub’s most ubiquitous patron, is particularly sensitive to these Tolkien references from Americans and New Zealanders, whom he feels have stolen the Oxford don from us and  made him their own (although I don’t think Tony has ever read any of Professor Tolkien’s works, nor even knows the story. We assumed his xenophobia about Kiwis had to do with the movies about the trilogy, but when we told him several films had been produced Tony seemed shocked that anyone would attend such a thing, let alone that a movie had been actually made about the books.)

Well, enough of reminiscing. Let me tell you what our ‘hobbits’ have been up to, and you can be the judge as to whether we will survive this flap. The uproar centred around Mrs Mosswell, the librarian, who was already roundly criticized for introducing wireless internet to the library for a number of reasons, not the least of which was the fear that it would be a means of stealing the identity of library patrons.

But I have run out of time for this letter, and will have to continue in my next.

I remain, as always, your friend,

Maxwell Fleet

Harnessing the Unconscious

I recently ordered a used copy of Dorothea Brande’s classic Becoming a Writer. I already own too many books on the writing life, but I became interested in Brande’s work when I noted its appearance on several other writer’s recommended books lists. So a package arrived in my mailbox with a clean copy of the book, and I jumped in right away.

I am very much aware that I have both external and internal messages that accuse me of being self-deluded about my desire to pursue the writing life. Brande, who wrote in the 1930s, believed that most writing self-help books of her era. At least, had a condescending tone that only strengthened the negative voices. She believed that anyone could, and should, learn the mechanics of good writing, but that the reason so many fell short of their dream to make their living by writing was an issue of the head, rather than of the hand.

Brande maintained that most people who long to write fiction are consummate daydreamers who must train to harness their unconscious dream-machine by learning to write for long stretches of time without crippling fatigue. She says,
After all, we being our storytelling, usually, long before we are able to print simple words with infinite labor. It is little wonder that the glib unconscious should balk at the drudgery of committing its stories to writing.

To Brande, written exercises are necessary to increase endurance. Like a spiritual discipline that is practiced to hear and respond to the divine voice, these exercises allow one to harness the unconscious before the memory of the dream slips away:

So if you are to have the full benefit of the richness of the unconscious you must learn to write easily and smoothly when the unconscious is in the ascendant.

How to do this?

…rise a half an hour, or a full hour, earlier than you customarily rise…and without talking, without reading the morning’s paper, without picking up the book you laid aside the night before–begin to write.

This exercise, which is surely the ancestor of Julia Cameron’s Morning Pages, was to be engaged in for as long as one had time. She advocated that each consecutive day, one was to push the envelope further by writing just a little beyond one’s perceived endurance. What would unfold in the trained writer’s life would be a perseverance that would allow one to write at any time, for long stretches.

I will let you know how it works for me.

The World Needs One More Blog

Ever since my ModernEra.us blog was taken over by history blogs, I have missed having space for my writing. I dreamed of a blog space that was just the opposite my loud, multi-colored, wysiwyg website: simple, clean, and elegant. On this site I want to present more of who I am and what I care about. I want to present my work and a few of my favorite things. I want my friends to come often and stay awhile. I have been perusing many blogs and I have added to my aggregator the  ones I admire most. I hope to use them for inspiration on this site.

So, yes, the world does need one more blog as far as I am concerned. And this is it.