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Wednesday, March 10, 2010

9. The Writing Life (4) Meanderings ... going where the currents take me

Five domains of the writer's mind
intimate private public real imagined

The Intimate Space: In which the project is conceived
The Private Space: The physical place , the processes
The Public Space: The reader in the writer’s mind
The Real Space: The real world from which material comes
The Imagined Space: The world created in the writing

intimate private public real imagined
Seeking a metaphor ...
Nigel Krauth, the writer and academic, proposed that there are five “spaces” or “domains” that are at play – at interplay – as a writer writes. If this were geometry, they'd be planes of the mind. Were it geology, strata of the mind; but strata that tilt and cut across each other. They are the faces of Rubic's cube. They are prime colours, endlessly mixing and re-mixing.

Private Space
It is Sunday morning. I’m feeling in good nick. Ideas flow and weave through my mind as I eat breakfast. I’m thinking about voices- line with the thoughts I’ve been having about the archetypes. Earlier I completed my reading of Lauren Richardson’s article on research as writing – or is it writing as research. I’m sitting at my computer. It’s 9.40 am. I’m typing, not dictating.

Intimate Space
The ‘project’? What does Krauth mean by the project? Does he mean my PhD, or the piece I’m conceiving as I write?
I had a good idea earlier, but it has swirled away, as ideas do unless I take a firm hold of them. I am a bear in the river, and the salmon are swimming past. It’s no easy job to grab them: they are fast, strong and above all slippery. I need to get my claws in, or they slither out of my grasp.

(Returning to this paragraph, I find that I like the bear and salmon image. Salmon-thoughts returning from the great ocean, swimming upstream – against the normal flow … The normal flow is downstream - the line of least resistance. These deeper thoughts – these attempts to impose rationality in the irrational flow of sensory experience, the minutiae of daily life… )

The metaphor has returned:

Years ago, at Sandy Point where I holidayed 10 to 12 weeks every year, during school breaks, one of my favourite pastimes was spear fishing at night. We would head out into the surf once darkness had fallen, with a small 6 volt battery pack, a bag to hold our catch, and a three pronged spear.

The best time was just after the tide turned. Moonless nights were best. Ideally, the surf wasn’t rolling, nor the sand roiling. Moonless, calm, windless nights, with a gently incoming tide lapping: they were the best nights.
Flounder were relatively easy to catch - once you had mastered the trick of recognition. Flounder are bottom feeders. They swim along the bottom. They take frequent rests, and just ‘sit’ on the sea floor. Often they will flutter their ‘wings’ as they settle, so that sand covers most of their bodies.
You have to learn to spot them – to see the vague outline of their shape, and most importantly, their protruding eyes. Once you spot a flounder, you can usually spear it without difficulty. Even if the flounder senses danger, its escape strategy is predictable: it will swim off for 4 or 5 metres or so, then make a sharp veer – at an angle of 150 degrees – for another metre. It’s escape strategy forms the shape of a 7.

Mullet don’t so much swim as drift in with the incoming tide. Like flounder, mullet are scavengers. The trick with mullet is to keep them at the edge of the light; you don’t shine the light directly into their eyes, or they will swim off. Even if they do swim off, there is some chance that you can spear one, as they are not fast fish. Rabbits are dazzled by spotlights, and often sit, in a panic of immobility; mullet are spooked by bright light in their eyes.

The spearing itself is tricky because of the refraction of light. Unless you are directly above your quarry, refraction affects your aim. Your spear gives the illusion of being bent, so you must allow for that.

There are many ways, the saying goes, to skin a cat. There are even more ways to catch fish with spears. Garfish swim in schools along the surface of the water. The strategy with garfish is to use the spear as a club, and stun the garfish with a thump behind the head.

Salmon trout used to spawn in Shallow Inlet – maybe they still do – and were a very popular fish with rod-and-reel anglers. Once hooked, they would put up quite a fight, swimming rapidly this way and that, attempting to free themselves of the hook. Salmon trout were the most difficult of all fish to spear. They are fast swimmers and unpredictable. Unlike mullet, who drift and laze in the shallows, salmon swim in schools, and make rapid forays into the shallows, riding in on incoming waves, in search of food in the shallows, then just as rapidly dart back out into deeper water. I have speared salmon, but on most occasions, it was pure luck, and not skill that landed me the fish.

Flathead were a prized fish among we spear-and-light hunter-gatherers. Flathead, like flounder, are scavengers, who lie of the sea bed a filter the water through their mouths and gills to extract food scraps.

Here is the strategy for catching flathead. You catch a glimpse of a flathead at the very edge of your circle of light. You must immediately work out how to get behind the fish; flathead are easily spooked by light and approaching danger, and swim off into deep water immediately they sense danger. As you circle behind the fish, you must keep your quarry at the very edge of the light circle; its shape will be just visible. Ideally, you need at least two people to stalk a flathead: one to keep the fish at the edge of the light’s reach, the other to stealthily approach and spear the fish.

Flathead are very strong fish. If it’s a large flathead – say 2 or 3 kilos – spearing the fish isn’t the end of it. They writhe their powerful bodies attempting to escape your barbs; if you once let the fish raise itself off the seabed, it can pull the spear out of your hands – such is its strength.

Writing-thinking is sometimes like spearing flathead. If you make to direct an approach, your fish-thought will escape into the deep waters, into the murky depth of your unconscious. You have to creep up on some ideas, with cunning and hidden purposes your main weapons.

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