Moments of perfect stillness


Friday was a good day, despite a couple of hitches. The only Triumph dealership on Vancouver Island has no sales demo models of the type of sports tourers I’m looking at, and we had to go rushing around for an ATM at the Brentwood / Mill bay ferry, as they only take cash or prepaid tickets. No credit cards.

The majority of the day was taken up with an unscheduled side trip to Butchart Gardens, a gorgeous 55 Acre flower garden and Arboretum created in an old limestone quarry. Most of the blooms are typically North American, big, a trifle blowsy, but nonetheless quite wonderful. The air subtly scented except for the heady, musky sledgehammer between the sinuses that is the fragrance of a lily.

Angie and I continued one of our philosophical conversations about how to find what I call “Moments of perfect stillness” and their use in aiding the creative process. We walked barefoot on grass, simply stopped and looked, took pictures, and in between noisy knots of people tried to explore this notion. I feel the flowers helped her understand my occasional silences are never a rebuff, merely preoccupation.

For my own part I’ve always been concerned that the need to talk incessantly reveals a deep inner insecurity. A need for constant reassurance indicating that all is not well with them. For the interrupted, it breaks the flow of ideas, and can scatter the creative thought process like a thousand startled pigeons. It’s what I call being ‘Porlocked’ after Coleridges eponymous ‘person from Porlock‘.

When I feel sure of my territory, or need to test concepts out, I share them with friends, but not before. I’m also pretty careful who I share them with. There’s nothing worse than saying what’s on your mind when whoever you talk to isn’t in the mood, doesn’t take you seriously, and / or has a mind so closed it visibly clanks when the cogs start turning.

In seeking a ‘moment of stillness’, my way of ‘getting there’ is simply to focus on a sound or smell and close my eyes, or focus on a vague point in the middle distance. Then concentrate. What does your chosen sound or smell mean? What are its associations and how do you feel about them? There are a number of self help authors who recommend this approach, but I always found the superficial Mnemonics they recommend a little too flimsy for keeping stories about whole worlds in my head. Don’t get me wrong, they’re great for small stuff, but not so good for mentally bookmarking extended storylines and the ever branching tree of character development. I have to be able to see, hear, and almost touch these thought-avatars for this mental anchor to function.

What really works for me is to add layers of ideas until the base concept of the focus object / memory feels solid in my mind, and then use that specific memory as a kind of mental mooring post. From that point it becomes relatively easy to concentrate on other things because the moment centres your thoughts, not letting them drift aimlessly and lose the truly important stuff you wanted to think about in the first place. It’s a form of self hypnosis. One which seems to work when heavy duty cogitation is required, and especially in unknown or uncertain mental territory. An occupational hazard when trying to write speculative fiction.

Take this blog post. I started it on Saturday, and picked at it through multiple interruptions, my over excitable dog, a couple of domestic dramas, a heavy duty conversation about email functionality, impending flights, other peoples preoccupations, travel plans for the next five years, a reorganisation of my kitchen and telephone calls from friends, family and various automated autodiallers. Using the moment of perfect stillness that I constructed as an anchor point, I can still flip up the memory of Butchart Gardens. Amongst other things; including story lines and character trees.

I’ve even managed to keep up a consistent 1 – 2000 words per day on ‘Darkness’ and ‘Cerberus’. Rugged.

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Martyn K Jones

A writer who first trained as an Electrical Engineer, then fulfilled various roles within the computing industry. First published in 'SuperBike' magazine, 1978 under the pseudonym Harry Matthews. Since then has written and had published a wide variety of work; from PR copy in trade magazines to supernatural short stories and the occasional satirical article. Emigrated to Canada in 2007. Became a Canadian Citizen December 2014. Now branching out as a serious science fiction novelist.

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