Today is neither an anniversary nor a milestone. I haven't run this blog for five years yet, nor have I posted 500 entries to it (though both landmark numbers are drawing close). It's not the time for a retrospective but nevertheless...
For reasons that, when strung together in their non-linear confusion, constitute life, I found myself in a strangely contemplative mood the other day. Looking back over a few years of writing development, I was trying to see the progress and draw conclusions that might enlighten the way that lies ahead.
There can be no doubt that I'm a more accomplished writer than I was five years ago, that I have gained loads of experience and broadened my skill base. I can enliven a month with a good dozen posts if I apply myself. It doesn't take much effort, and it certainly isn't painful.
If quantity were the objective, I would have reached most goals last year. Hidden in the jungle of uncharacteristically dense prolixity are surely a few blunders that I'd rather not go back to, but that doesn't matter. They are few and I have already forgotten about them. And while there are no literary gems hidden among the countless lines, I'd like to think that my writing is solid throughout.
Last year's verbosity has not held up. I've cut down dramatically on the number of posts, going from ten a month to six or seven. This was mostly because writing, though it doesn't pay the bills or even contribute, had become routine. It took me while to realize this because a blog is a habit by its very nature. But my writing has got stuck and I'm frequently lost for inspiration.
Contemplating this development, I recalled a piece on my homepage that is older than this blog, that was written when there was neither a reason for writing nor any sort of self-imposed pressure. Writing was pure enjoyment back then and even now, it gives me pleasure to read it.
It was the eve of my 30th birthday, a day that many equate with the end of youth. From among my friends, there had been comments about how the decrepitude of old age would start in earnest the moment the door into the fourth decade is crossed. Some lived in fear and desperate denial of the day it would happen to them.
I thought all of this was bunk, but kept the sentiment in my mind because it would make a good lead into my story. The first sentence would emphasize that I was turning thirty and I getting old. I was supposed to be tired, phlegmatic and exhausted – never mind the light bounce in my step as I walked to the Grenoble train station. My bike in tow and a pack on my back, I was about to take the night train to the catholic mekka of Lourdes, in the far southwest of the country, to the feet of the Pyrenees.
The next day would be that year's final mountain stage of the Tour de France, and I had set out to ride up the last climb of the highest category, to cheer up the riders and celebrate myself. It was still cool when I got off the train in Lourdes, but the day turned out brilliant. Thousands were on their bikes, suffering up the relentless climb, and orders of magnitude more were later gathered on the meadows surrounding the pass.
It was as if a village fair had been beamed up from the dales. Barbecues had been fired up and beer was on tap. Dozens of booths sold assorted schlock, mostly Tour merchandise and paraphernalia. Several million pounds worth of bikes, mine only a tiny contribution, were piled desultorily in the ditches. High above, a pair of eagles surveyed the rattle with suspicion.
When the eagles were rudely displaced by invading helicopters, chartered by French television, the riders weren't far. Cadel Evans was the first to summit, the other heroes of the day not far behind. Those in the lead were supposed to enjoy climbing but they looked decidedly worse than the heavy-set sprinters who seemed to cruise up the mountain with little effort.
Half an hour later, the Tour caravan had passed through. The helicopters stayed with it and the eagles returned. I hopped on my bike and took the road to Pau in a rather suicidal fashion, hoping that no one would ascent at this point. About two hours later, the active part of the day was coming to an end with dinner on a terrace overlooking the Pyrenees.
Sunset was still hours away but I had a ride home to catch. The second train in as many nights took me back to Grenoble. The night was short and the amount of sleep certainly not sufficient in light of the exercise. I had predicted that. I had in fact hoped for it, and even if it hadn't happened, I wouldn't have changed the last sentence of my story, which had gotten into my head together with the first one. I was feeling tired, sluggish and exhausted – briefly, befitting my age.
Such moments of inspiration happen all too rarely. But the key point with inspiration is that one can't force it. All one can do is be ready when it strikes. And being ready is crucial: The mind needs to be open, receptive and welcoming. To regain that state with respect to writing, I've cut short the number of posts I publish on this blog.
Has it been of any use? I can't tell yet, but next week I'm going to France for a few days, and I'll quickly notice if the words flow more naturally. And maybe you'll get something decent to read as well.