Movies didn't help. Though I experienced some wonderful moments among the afternoon audiences. (I arrived late for Nights in Rodanthe and thought the woman along the row and I were the only viewers-- until the credits rolled, and from out there in the darkness I heard sobs and many many sniffs; and noses being blown.)
Architecture books and atlases in bed at night didn't help. Even the quince and then the apple blossom-- Even finding tomato volunteers that had survived the winter tucked up against the compost heap-- Even the return of the bumblebees and each day a solitary honey bee among the blossom and flowering sage and borage and calendula-- Even sowing marbled round beans that someone's soldier uncle smuggled back to New Zealand in the toe of his sock at the end of the Second World War--
Nothing helped. After two years working on my PhD I was desperate.
Yes, I could have partied for a week or two. Got over it. But I wanted my daily life to be as Virginia Woolf describes the novelist's life:
...to proceed with the utmost quiet and regularity... so that nothing may disturb or disquiet the mysterious nosings about, feeling round, darts, dashes and sudden discoveries of that very shy and illusive spirit, the imagination.
If I stopped to party, I might never regain the apprentice script writer equivalent of what Woolf called:
...the novelist's chief desire... to be as unconscious as possible. (Selected Essays ed D Bradshaw, OUP 2008, p.143).
And then one day I turned onto the wharves from Oriental Parade on the way to a quiet and regular session at the public library. And thought "O, I've forgotten to get dressed". I looked down and saw that WHEW I wasn't in my night clothes. And realised that I'd overdone the unconscious bit, had lost the plot.
Ten minutes later, in the library, I found Norman Mailer's The Spooky Art; Some Thoughts on Writing, Random House 2003.
Mailer was 80 when he wrote The Spooky Art but his voice reminds me of a child's voice, testing how words can best convey the magic of his world. He also articulates my own problems: fear; and the monotony of marking down words:
There is always fear in trying to write a good book [or script]. That is why there are many more people who can write well than do. And, of course, many can't take the meanness of the occupation. There's nothing so very attractive about going into a room by yourself each day to look at a blank piece of paper (or monitor) and make calligraphic marks. To perform that act decade after decade punishes through the very monotony of the process (p.127)
Forget the "decade after decade" I thought: this PhD, its autoethnography and scripts and activism, its quietness, its regularity, feels like a prison already. And moved on to the next paragraph.
And went HEY THANK YOU OLD MAN. This is what he wrote:
The act of writing itself, taken as a physical act, is less interesting... than painting, or, certainly, sculpture, where your body is more exercised in the doing.
And of course, less interesting than making a film. AHA. I needed to exercise my body in the doing.
So I borrowed a son's camera. And started. With a pic of a container boat outside the window. And a tug.