Sailing through and Ploughing On

There are several things I like about lecturing : I earn a little extra cash ( and I mean a little), I get away from my desk, my dog and my laundry basket and it makes me think.

Last week a student confessed to being a farmer not a sailor. I must have looked particularly blank as she immediately explained that she was a farmer because she ploughs the furrow of her own life, her own feelings, her own familiar milieu. I was startled at first. It’s not an analogy I’d heard before and it seemed counter intuitive that someone of so little experience should focus on it so exclusively. Then I remembered: at nineteen I think that’s all I did. Back then I only wrote truly abysmal poetry inspired by my ‘A’ level texts: TS Eliot, John Donne and Gerard Manley Hopkins – an inevitably unhappy menage a trois. As you can imagine it was all about me, but with obscure references, sixteenth century vocabulary and sprung rhythm.

Is this a stage? Is it a function of that unhelpful adage ‘write what you know’ or do we as young writers believe that the function of ‘the artist’ is to transmute leaden adolescent angst into literary gold? Are we more inclined to narcissism then or are some of us always more inward looking?

I don’t know. I can only speak for myself,(still a narcissist then, ed.) I ditched the poetry around the same time I cut my Kate Bush hair, discovered that southerners had funny accents and (horrifyingly) that I wasn’t that interesting. Maybe inward looking people have better furnished interior lives – more Corbusier then DFS – or, to switch back to the original metaphor, fascinating farms. My farm is notably poorly managed and has never yielded anything more inspiring than the common spud and a spud is still a spud even if you dress it up as ‘Gratin Dauphinois’. It is just as well that when I took up writing again many years later, it was as a sailor. These days, in my writing if not in my blogging, I travel as far from myself as I can get, journeying back in time, or sideways to alternate universes, switching gender, age and species. I don’t explore the depths, but the ocean is wide and unpredictable and you never know what you will find beyond the curve of the world and that has to be better than spuds.