How A Writer Finds Inspiration Among Her Clutter And Elsewhere

How a Writer Finds Inspiration

 

Your storage level is almost full!

Stuff, I’ve got loads of it: stuff in boxes, stuff in bags, stuff in files, in boxfiles, in fileboxes, in bags of boxed files … no, I’ll stop there, I think you’ve already got the idea. The thing about stuff is that it offers me something Cleopatra (according to Enobarbus, anyway) had in spades: “infinite variety”.   You never know what you might find when you go stuff-surfing.  If, like me, you are a committed stuffist, you’ll recognise the process I’m about to describe.   My time seems to be equally divided between apologising for the amount of stuff I’ve managed to accumulate, trying heroically to sort it all out (inevitably sending clouds of dust skywards), delving into it, and rediscovering lost treasures (those last two stages are inextricably linked and usually herald long periods of silence, followed by frantic scribbling in notebooks, more often than not with covers in rather fetching colours, newly purchased for the purpose) and all of this results in the creation of what else but more stuff.  I’m a lost cause, aren’t I?  And I’ve got to admit, I don’t really mind being seen as such.  I have mountains of stuff in attics, garages and sheds that bear witness to the level of my devotion.  Stuff is simply the gift that keeps on giving.
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Writer’s block?  Just look through your stuff.  It may not get you writing again but at least it will remind you of the road you’ve been walking along and the ideas that have kept you company. I expect you can tell by now that I’m a pushover for stationery.  Some people wander wistfully along the confectionary aisle in Tesco, ogling Cadbury Wispa multipacks with lascivious intent.  Me, I tend to dilly dally in the Home and Entertainment section and regularly go all misty-eyed at the prospect of a matching notebook and fountain pen.  I suppose I’m quite old-fashioned in many ways, you know, BC, before computers.  That’s not to say that the digital revolution had passed me by.  Far from it.  It is a wonder that has allowed me to store more stuff.  I have mounds of memory sticks full of stuff waiting to be summoned into life once more.  I soon discovered, however, at the beginning of my digital journey, many years ago, that memory sticks were, initially, apt to be quite fragile things that broke, wouldn’t load, wouldn’t open and definitely didn’t want to come out to play. To guard against this, I would always make sure I had printed a hard copy and so created more stuff.  You see the problem? 

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I’ve become less timid and more trusting as technology has advanced. I like the flexibility I’m afforded when composing directly onto screen, through the many features available.  There are, doubtless, many more functions, as yet unknown to me.  I’m sure I’ll get round to introducing myself to them eventually but, for the moment, I’m trundling along merrily, happy with my level of incompetence.  I bought a wireless charger the other day and stood in PC World big-eyed and dumb with amazement as the assistant demonstrated how it would work with my phone.  “It’s necromancy!” I blurted out in awe. There followed a silence that spoke volumes, as he, all pursed lips and withering stare, recorded the purchase.  Ah well, you can’t have all your treats at once, after all.

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The camera function on my mobile phone is another wonder to behold. I regularly photograph different locations in order to fix the moment and to give me a potential starting point for a new piece of work or a much-needed boost for an old one. Or to put it another way, I gather more stuff.  And the joy of it is that it’s so easy to do. This is all fine and dandy – or was until I received a message on my mobile phone the other week, that my storage space was nearly full.  My phone was clearly feeling a little stuffy.
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Of course, the problem was easy to resolve.  Apparently, there is a cloud I can put it all in.  I must admit I was initially a little concerned; it all sounded rather flimsy.  But when I was informed that I couldn’t sink my data (or did the message say “sync”? I forget now), I realised that, clearly well-suited to floating away on a cloud, my data had found the perfect home. To cut a long story short, more storage space was created and normal service was resumed. Or nearly.

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The image of that cloud burdened with my usually inconsequential, poorly composed words and photos began to trouble me. I could not shake off the feeling that somehow my stuff was causing harm, and that included all the printed stuff I’d managed to accumulate but somehow hadn’t as yet used productively by fashioning into worked pieces.  In short, I had been lazy.

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I thought that a walk on the moors would clear my mind.  There is nothing quite like the Dartmoor air for setting you right. For me, dawn is the best time to see the moor, when the mist, still full of sleep, hangs heavy, and you unexpectedly understand what a glorious thing it is to be able to share in such a view with the ponies and the sheep.
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But then, of course, I am also lazy, as I have said, and set off much later than that.
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My destination was Wistman’s Wood, a small area of ancient woodland in the middle of Dartmoor National Park.  The path from the main road at Two Bridges rises with good-natured ease and, when it divides, presents walkers with two equally reasonable options, the only difference being that one demands that you climb a small, sturdy stile and the other offers an open gate.  Both are equally well-travelled and short enough to retrace your steps; they also converge further on so there are no Frostian dilemmas to wrestle with here.
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As the path continues its benign way, you pass children in search of errant footballs, pets or siblings; walkers taking a breather on one of the many rocks scattered hither and yon, deep in conversation, discussing the virtues of peppered steak sandwiches as opposed to chipotle bean with cheese wraps (which is the snack less-purchased?) or else poring over recalcitrant OS maps that look ready to take flight any minute. Or you might nod to gleeful Dutch tourists, who greet each incline with a whoop of delight and are more than happy to spend a few moments chatting about the weather with you. The air seems busy with joyful noise as you approach the wood. The derivation of its name really depends upon you.  If you take your magic dark, then you might prefer the suggestion that Wistman comes from the dialect word “wisht” meaning eerie or haunted and wonder if the pixies might lead you to the Wild Hunt as the Wisht Hounds howl their greetings.  Or you might choose to think of it as a wiseman’s wood, a place of druids and ancient wisdom.  For me, it is always a mixture of the two, the one with the upper hand depending on my mood.  That day, I was hoping for a sense of clarity or perhaps even enlightenment so it was the sagacity of the wood that called me.

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When I enter the wood, it is the colour I notice first. I gorge on green with greedy eyes as the wood’s wisdom begins its work.  It teaches you that your words are sadly lacking. To describe the wood as green is somehow akin to describing Mount Elbrus as fairly big. Wistman’s Wood is alive and awash with all manner of green. It is such an inspirational place that perhaps sage would be a more fitting epithet.  The rocks are heavy with lichen and moss, the ferns sway sensuously with glossy “come hither” waywardness, and above them, the wonderful trees, short of stature, create such intricate shapes and patterns that they seem like medieval tracery. Indeed, the whole wood has the atmosphere of a cathedral or some sacred spot.  You feel bound to lower your voice.  The sound quality changes as you enter, as if excessive noise is unnecessary.  Conversations are whispered and all that can be heard is the sound of the stream at the valley’s hollow, singing the song of ages.  Looking through the leaves and gnarled branches, I see the sky and the clouds, the real clouds, that is, and recall Isaac Rosenberg’s ‘Break of day in the trenches.’ Somehow it feels “the same druid Time as ever” – although in my heart I know that this isn’t really the case and that the skies and clouds  that continue to cloak us are becoming worn and threadbare. I look behind me; the surrounding branches, now burnished by sunlight, seem on fire and I am immediately mindful of another forest, much larger than this, blazing again with “flame hurled through still heaven”: the Amazon rainforest.  I think of the gifts that I have been given freely today: the wise old wood, its skies, its clouds, its silence.  And I think then of our fragile, fractured earth and how we repay such generosity of spirit with violence. We think nothing of touching wood to bring us luck but is our luck about to run out?  We take from the land not just through its physical resources but also through inspiration, through imagery, through emotion and how do we repay these great gifts?  How do we redress the balance?  Despite the sunshine, I feel suddenly cold.

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I said earlier that stuff is the gift that keeps on giving. On that day in Wistman’s Wood, in the sage green, under the speckled skies, I was gripped by a deep guilt that, as a writer, I had continued to glean ideas from the world around me and given little in return.  What had I done? Stored all that stuff in boxes, and, more often than not, there it had stayed unless, prompted to sort it out, I had shifted it to another location where it could gather dust for a few more years.  And so, this is my lesson from the wise ones of the wood: that if I take anything from the earth, I should use it and use it well. Ideas are meant to be crafted and shared so that others can understand the moment and appreciate the twin goodness and fragility of the earth – and seek ways to nurture and strengthen it.

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So, as writers, we take from the earth and what do we give in return? Poetry, literature, our words and hope that they are never again stuffed in corners to become “just a little white with the dust.”

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If you enjoyed ‘How a Writer Finds Inspiration’ you may also like ‘Of Buses, ‘Bombs and Bartholdy’ by Clare Morris.

About the contributor

Having worked in Andalusia since 2000, Clare Morris has recently returned to the UK. She works for The Blue Nib as an Editor at Large and regularly collaborates with the abstract artist, Nigel Bird (www.nigel-bird.com). Although much of her poetry is written in response to the environment, she also enjoys incorporating more surreal elements. Hoping to challenge dominant representations of medieval women, she is also writing a historical novel which focuses on 9th century Britain and takes the elegy Wulf and Eadwacer as its starting point. She and her husband now live in Devon so that they can always put the cream on first.

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