Paul Kingsnorth

The space between writing and doing

If I’ve ever had a busier year in my life, I can’t remember when it was. I don’t seem to be able to remember much at the moment.

Here are some things I have taken on this year, all of them entirely my own fault:

Producing a second Dark Mountain book;
Curating a second Dark Mountain festival;
Promoting my newly-published poetry collection – readings, events, trying to get people to notice;
Doing quite a lot of public speaking;
Helping run a campaign against a new supermarket in my town;
Putting a new website together (still not finished, you’ll note …);
Teaching beginners scything courses;
Setting up and running a branch of the Scythe Shop;

Oh, and having a son: Jeevan Kingsnorth, born in January. Which seems a very long time ago already.

And this is the big stuff. There are a million little commitments too, which seem barely worth mentioning in this context. All told though, I end up with very few hours in my day, and very little sleep.

On one level, I want this to stop, and for my life to calm down. On another, it keeps me alive, it broadens my mind, it introduces me to new and fascinating people. It feels like a step change in what I do, and the connections I make, and it feels like my work, and my life, are headed in new directions – directions that I like and am excited about.

And yet, all this doing doesn’t leave enough time for writing. And writing is what I do, or should do, or ought to do or want to. When I can’t devote enough time, or headspace, to writing, I get itchy. The main casualty of this over-committed year has been the novel I have been working on for three years now. It has completely stalled. I’ll be taking it up again towards the end of the year – that’s if I can somehow earn enough money to fund the writing time I need. If you look at the above list again you’ll notice that very few of the activities on it pay very much, and most of them pay nothing at all. Not that I’d mind, but I have to eat, and these days if you don’t feed your children you get arrested. It’s political correctness gone mad.

But writing is not just an activity. Writing is a way of being. Poetry, in particular, requires a certain stillness, some time, some space, inner and outer. It requires reflection, contemplation, input, time for experiences to compost down and come out as images. I don’t have any of that at the moment. Not the space for poetry nor the time for (much) prose.

And that is a loss: sometimes I can really feel it; physically feel it. Writing is solitary, can drive you mad, force you inside yourself where you might not want to go. It can be dark in there. You need to get out, feed your outer self, meet people, go places. But too much of that – too much of the doing and not enough of the writing – and something big is lost. Doing, in the end, is easy. Everyone is doing. Writing, or at least writing well, writing truly – that’s the real stuff.

Next year, then – next year, I will do less, and consequently, I hope, return to my writing self. I feel like something is missing; or has been sleeping, waiting for me to notice what’s gone.

Designed and built long ago and kept on life support by spanner.