Tag Archives: writing

You can only go there in your head

“Inner space and outer space are similar, aren’t they really?  You’re never going to get to the edge of the universe in a spaceship.  You might as well try going on a bus.  You can only go there in your head.”  This is a quote from David Hockney in ‘Spring Cannot Be Cancelled‘  by David Hockney and Martin Gayford.  It’s a beautiful book.  Full of thought-provoking insights and recent artwork by Hockney painted in Normandy mainly during the pandemic.  I read it last month while in the Yorkshire Dales [see ‘Walking the hills‘ on April 13th 2022].  Hockney writes about his need to paint.  He finds it utterly absorbing and endlessly sustaining.  Gayford compares this need and experience to the work of American psychologist, Mihaly Csiksczentmihalyi [see ‘Slow-motion multi-tasking leads to productive research‘ on September 19, 2018] who wrote about concentration so intense that there is no spare capacity to think about anything else, your self-consciousness disappears and you lose your sense of time leading to a deep sense of happiness and well-being.  I cannot paint but I can achieve something approaching a similiar state when I am writing.

Source:

Martin Gayford and David Hockney, Spring cannot be cancelled – David Hockney in Normandy, London: Thames & Hudson, 2021.

500th post

Map of all readership distributionThis is the five hundredth post on this blog.  The first 21 posts were published randomly between July 11th, 2012, and January 4th, 2013; and the weekly posts only started on January 7th, 2013, so I have another 48 posts to publish before I can claim a decade of weekly posts.  Nevertheless, I feel it is worth shouting about 500 posts.

I am a little surprised to realise that I have written five hundred posts and it has made me pause to think about why I write them.  A number of answers came to mind, including because I enjoy writing – it empties my mind and allows me to move on to new thoughts or, on other occasions, it allows me to arrange my thoughts into some sort of order.  I also write posts to communicate ideas, to disseminate research, to entertain and to fulfill a commitment, initially to funding bodies (I started the blog as part of commitment to Royal Society Wolfson Research Merit Award) but increasingly to readers of the blog.  I am amazed that for the last five years the blog has been read in more 140 countries.  While I have a handful of statistics about the readership, beyond the small handful of readers who correspond with me or who I meet in person, I have no idea who reads the blog.  Most of time I do not give much thought to who is reading my posts and my intended reader is a rather vague fuzzy figure who barely exists in my mind.

The map shows the distribution of all readers over the 500 posts with the darker colour indicating more readers per country.

On the impact of writing on well-being

Poster showing five ways to well-being: connect, be active, take notice, keep learning, giveLast week, the continuation until at least the end of March of the lockdown, which has been in place in England since the start of the year, was announced. Many people are feeling jaded and worn out by the constraints and hardships imposed by the lockdown and are struggling to maintain their well-being and mental health. While others are trying to cope with the direct impact of the coronavirus on themselves and their family and friends. I have written before about the power of writing to transport me away from the pressures of everyday life [see ‘Feeling extraordinary at ease‘ on January 8th, 2020] and to help me order my thoughts [see ‘Thinking more clearly by writing weekly‘ on May 2nd, 2018].  These posts were inspired by reading books by Natalia Ginzburg and Sylvain Tesson.  I have just finished reading ‘A Fly Girl’s Guide to University‘ edited by Odelia Younge in which Suhaiymah Manzoor-Khan writes about ‘times when my mental health was bad…writing became a solace and a friend’.  In the context of institutional pressures, racism and exclusion, she describes writing about her feelings to help her to feel and listening to her own voice when nobody else would.  I was reading the book to gain an appreciation of the experiences of woman of colour in a university; however, I think Manzoor-Khan’s words are relevant to everyone, especially when we are locked away and can only meet with much of our support networks via our computers and phones.  Tim Hayward, in the FT in January 2021, wrote a deeply moving and insightful account of his experience of fighting coronavirus, including ten days on life support, and concludes by reflecting on how writing the article helped him handle the trauma.  Of course, you don’t have to write for a newspaper, a book or a blog; although writing for an audience does focus your mind, you can write for yourself or friend and in doing so you can keep learning, take notice of your surroundings, and connect with people which will hit three out of five of the ways to well-being.

Sources:

Lola Olufemi, Odelia Younge, Waithera Sebatindira & Suhaiymah Manzoor-Khan, A Fly Girl’s Guide to University, Verve Poetry Press, Birmingham, 2019

Tim Hayward, Covid and me: 10 days on life support, FT Magazine, January 22nd, 2021.

Feeling extraordinarily at ease

At the beginning of September, I assumed significant new responsibilities and have had to rethink some of my priorities, including the weekly posting of this blog.  My decision to continue writing posts was influenced by a book I was reading at the time by Natalia Ginzburg.  In ‘Little Virtues’ she talks about her vocation as a writer and how when she sits down to write she feels extraordinarily at ease.  She worries about being misunderstood and claims to know nothing about the value of her writing.  These comments are made early in the book and much latter she writes ‘that at the  moment someone is writing he is miraculously driven to forget the immediate circumstances  of his own life.’  I can confirm that this is sometimes true for me and that writing can transport me away from the pressures of everyday life and, more recently, the stresses associated with my new role in the university.  So, I intend to continue to carve out time to write weekly posts even though, like Ginzburg, I am dubious about their value to others.

Source:

Natalia Ginzburg, Little Virtues, London: Daunt Books, 2015.