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Alone at Christmas

Alone at Christmas? Yes, to my delight. Fully planned while my partner is on a fortnight’s retreat.

The ‘plan’ included doing nothing, much harder than it sounds. Ideas for books – fiction and non-fiction – keep filling the sky, often with flying machines from another planet. Yet, apart from watching a truly dreadful film, I have not only managed to do nothing, I have also – in doing nothing – allowed the creation of crumbs, dirty dishes, a slow diminishment of personal hygiene, books picked up then thrown to join their company in piles or not even that neat, abandoment to the God of Cheese, and many other affronts to health and respectability. Have I enjoyed it? No.

I fervently look forward to resuming work. I don’t think ‘relaxation’ is to be taken lightly, something that’s like getting drunk or feeling morally free to glut. I doubt I’d be writing this if I’d gone the way of mere hedonism.

Rest or relaxation are crucial to the writer. A writer, this is something so often forgotten, is first a human being. Truly, a human being can write copy for advertising or sentences for bestselling fiction in the same way that a politician can use stock phrases, penny-in-the-slot sentimental ideas, to control the masses. Such would be best advised never to rest, never to remotely consider what they do.

But a writer who is soul-body-creation and writes almost as a holy calling. also needs rest, retreat. To write with everyhting you have, all that you love and believe crucial is very hard and very lonely. The ideal rest, as opposed to the muddier one I described above. entails a discipline itself. To go away for a month ‘to rest’or ‘to recollect’ is pointless without discipline.

However we discover and shape rest, it is vital. Seneca reminds us:

The mind should not be kept continuously at the same pitch of concentration, but given amusing diversions… Our minds must relax: they will rise better and keener after a rest. Just as you must not force fertile farmland, as uninterrupted productivity will soon exhaust it, so constant effort will sap our mental vigor, while a short period of rest and relaxation will restore our powers. Unremitting effort leads to a kind of mental dullness and lethargy. Nor would men’s wishes move so much in this direction if sport and play did not involve a sort of natural pleasure; though repeated indulgence in these will destroy all the gravity and force of our minds. After all, sleep too is essential as a restorative, but if you prolong it constantly day and night it will be death. There is a big difference between slackening your hold on something and severing the link…

Well, that’s something that came my way yesterday via my friends who tal about Stoicism (something that interests me, not something I intend to purchase).

In an interesting article about the philosopher David Hume, Julian Baggini notes that

… in AnEnquiry Concerning Human Understanding (1748): ‘The mind requires some relaxation, and cannot always support its bent to care and industry.’ Philosophy matters, but it is not all that matters, and although it is a good thing, one can have too much of it. ‘Abstruse thought and profound researches I prohibit,’ says Hume, ‘and will severely punish, by the pensive melancholy which they introduce, by the endless uncertainty in which they involve you.’ The life ‘most suitable to the human race’ is a ‘mixed kind’ in which play, pleasure and diversion matter as well as what are thought of as the ‘higher’ pursuits. ‘Be a philosopher,’ advised Hume, ‘but, amidst all your philosophy, be still a man.’

I think that as writers we have first of all to be men and women, fully human and alive in the many worlds of society. To be fully alive is to look after ourselves and rest, to spare a salutary smile in acknowledgement that our writing life is a lovely dewdrop on being’s profundity. But then, so is football, David Hume and Seneca.

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