A January Post

I started writing this post one evening when I was sitting at my kitchen table looking out at the darkness. Sheets of rain were bursting in from the sea and crashing against my window. I wondered whether the rain here is salty, so close to the ocean, but I’ve never tasted it so I can’t say. Another New Year’s Resolution then – be sure to put some rain in my mouth in 2020.

I entered this year in a kind of numbness. Politics. I can’t do them right now. Future. Is there one? And yet, after eight months of gruelling hard work, my fellow lessees and I have managed to buy the freehold of our wonderful old apartment building. We completed on New Year’s Eve and, if that is any kind of portent, it must be a good one. And an example, perhaps, of the way the tide is turning. I cannot bear to watch the news any more, but I can certainly greet my neighbours with optimism as we look forward to running our own lives and making decisions for the common good, not for some distant person’s profit. I’m thinking that everyone is going to be needing more of that spirit in the years to come.

One effect of our deep-dive into property negotiations was that, somewhere around May last year, I lost track of my novel, The Fault in Reality. After two years’ work, and just when I felt like it was really starting to gel, my book was washed away by a stream of emails and paperwork that is only now slowing down. But, at the end of this month, I will go back to it in the hope that it will, in turn, agree to come back to me.

The first thing we will do, my novel and I, is take a short working holiday together. Soon we will drive away, a hundred miles, with boxes of papers, notes, printouts, books, and my lovely new Microsoft Surface laptop. We will lounge around in a nice hotel and take healthy walks along a different coastline whilst thinking it through, always thinking it through.

I’ve just realised that it was around the same time last year, in February 2019, that I fled to Big Sur, California, to a writers’ workshop at Esalen on the ragged rugged Pacific coast. It roared with rain there too, all week, as I slithered up and down the dark rocky pathways between classes, my shoes and coat still wet from the day before. But, as always at Esalen, the landscape filled me up, and my brain was working, and it was good.

Afterwards, flying back to Los Angeles from Monterey, I saw astounding coastlines from my window seat. My novel, too, is kind of window seat because it shows me my own perspective of the world. I’m so looking forward to settling back down and getting started again.

(Oh, and by the way, I started writing this post on a dark rainy evening but I’m finishing it on a bright Sunday morning. Brexit looms, Trump buffoons, but hey ho the sun is shining – today at least.)

Flying south from Monterey to Los Angeles and watching the Pacific Coast Highway ribboning its way along the edge of a startlingly regular mountain range, The San Andreas fault is down there somewhere.

becoming animal

David Abram: I still don’t know what to think.

Years ago I came across David Abram’s book ‘The Spell of the Sensuous’ and was intrigued and thrilled by his visionary approach to the natural world. In Technobiophilia: Nature and Cyberspace, I had to include his wonderful description of a brief eye contact with a condor, flying above him at the top of a mountain, where he felt himself “stripped naked by an alien gaze infinitely more lucid and precise than my own”.

But somehow I could never fully buy in, perhaps because his reverent approach feels a little too much like church.

More recently, his videos and talks can increasingly be found online, often expressing views about digital life which are very different from my own. In many ways I find him both an inspiration and an irritant! (I suspect he is struggling to incorporate the digital as hard as I struggle with animism.)

Nevertheless, his work plays an influential role in informing the novel I’m working on now, ‘The Fault in Reality’. I’m trying to open up to his style of engagement with the physical world, and this involves battling my own deep cynicism. And it’s not really about what he is saying, so much as how it is being said, how it is being portrayed in the dreamy soft-focus videos used to convey his and others’ views.

This isn’t meant to be a criticism of Abram, but an honest expression of my own difficulties as I grapple with his work.

I want it, but I don’t want it. That’s what it boils down to. And maybe that’s what biophilia is too, a pull towards nature which both attracts and repels.

“…along with the other animals, the stones, the trees, and the clouds, we ourselves are characters within a huge story that is visibly unfolding all around us, participants within the vast imagination, or Dreaming, of the world.” (Abram, The Spell of the Sensuous)

I can’t argue with that. Who could? And yet. And yet…

I need to do a lot more thinking before I can settle with it.

If you haven’t come across Abram before, here is a taste.

Excerpt from Becoming Animal by Emma Davie & Peter Mettler, 2018, Switzerland, United Kingdom. 79min