The most profound act of love, in all of love’s intoxicating forms, is to be seen.
What we really mean by this is that we want to be heard. We want people to truly understand us and accept us. We know judgment is inevitable but we want all judgement to be informed and thoughtful.
As writers we are mainly feminine or masculine…very few are equally both. This means that we see people through our own point of view and through a lifetime of our own emotions and experiences.
When trying to get the reader to really see the person of the characters we create, we have to expose them, to show their vulnerabilities and to express their strengths. Our role is to know them better than anyone else. Our responsibility is to love them equally for their strengths as we do for their weaknesses.
So how do we do that? We have to become them as we write them into the plot. We have to know them almost as well as we know ourselves as we express them in the narrative. We have to become deeply intimate with them. We either write them because we live and breath their lives or we write about them. Dispassionately and uninvolved.
One way to really know them is to get them to write a letter to you that is so profoundly intimate that you cannot help but to write their character as though you are them. Maybe give it a try to see if it works for you (top tip: don’t hold back)…here is a letter that Leila wrote to me, me as one of the other characters, Finn…her Danish male lover.
They both have to fit the narrative in their unique way. And if we are really doing our job, they have to be seen differently by each of the other characters. In this way, they will become the story itself and the plot will travel lightly upon their roles.
We don’t see people as they are, we see people as we are.
I wasn’t aware that I was racist until recently. I am not a monarchist and I’m certainly not a fascist. I’ve always been comfortable with the nationalised culture in which I find myself. I view everyone as equal. Hey, I really do treat everyone as equal to me. I believe in equality and that all lives matter, of course they do. I wish no harm to anyone and I help my black, brown or whatever brothers and sisters whenever I can. And there it is.
It’s subtle and it’s no big deal (to a white person). It’s hardly noticeable and it isn’t meant as an offence in any way. We all do it. Everyone does it. Don’t we? We categorise people, DNA doesn’t, we do.
We do believe that BAME people are equal to us. Our governments have always maintained that everything and everyone is equal, but they aren’t. They aren’t equal to me in so many ways. I’m better educated than most of them, I’m better off than most of them. I have more to show for the type of work I’ve done. My record, across the board, is better than theirs. I am much less likely to be stopped and searched because I live in a nice area and I’ve worked damned hard to get here. I have a nice car, it’s an old car, a classic. I use the latest tech and I enjoy it. I’m typing this on my new MacBook Pro. This morning’s breakfast is gluten free porridge with berries mixed in and coconut milk. I have an anti-oxident smoothie and ground coffee in an expresso cup. Why not? I’ve earned it.
I left school with just one O Level, the equivalent of a GCSE…I blame my mother for this, I’ve always blamed her for it. But I took myself off to college, I worked at my education and I ended up with a Masters Degree from a good university. I pulled myself up by my bootstraps and if I can do it then anyone can. And this is what I’ve been led to believe my whole life. We have been gifted opportunity and it’s there for us all…equally. Equally…
What I didn’t tell you, what nobody tells you, and why it’s not something we care to think about is that I started ahead in the game. I started with a background of middle class wealth. I started by living amongst middle class people. I didn’t have to go without. We didn’t have to choose between rent, food or warmth. My folks didn’t have to hold down two or three jobs whilst wondering if the kids were home, whilst wondering if they were dead or alive.
For hundreds of years we have kept poor people poor. We have allowed them to exist but not prosper. We have given with one hand whilst taking with the other. We have created a sub class of humans so that we don’t have to do the jobs that nobody else wants to do. These jobs are in large metropolitan inner cities and the rents there would make you shudder. Every penny they earn goes on rent OR food…they don’t have a penny for anything else. Most poor people are in our BAME communities.
It’s like asking them to play at the same card table with the same cards and the same odds but they have a stack of halfpennies when you and the other players have stacks and stacks of pound coins. Eventually, and it doesn’t take long, they will lose a hand or two and have nothing. We can afford to lose the odd hand, they cannot afford to lose one.
And this is why I am racist. If I weren’t, I would share some of what I have in my pile of coins so that we can all enjoy the game together. I would take joy in evening up the odds. It wouldn’t be a handout of my hard earned cash, it would be a human sharing of the bounty. A bounty that we think is out there and if we put in the right amount of effort, it’s available to all of us, equally. This is where racism sits. We don’t need this so called level playing field, we just need the same starting line. We started hundreds of years ago, our BAME family is yet to start.
We (white people) need to begin by taking a long hard look at the systems and institutions that keep some of us back from the starting line and we need to remove or improve them. We (white people) need to look at our history, our symbolism and our nationalism and see, for the first time, that it was largely built on the suffering of our BAME brothers and sisters.
In 1833, the British Government paid the sum of £20m reparations for slavery. The government had to borrow this amount as a loan as it represented nearly 25% of GDP. This loan was finally paid off in 2015. The reparations were paid to SLAVE OWNERS. For the next 182 years, British taxpayers paid back this loan. This means that ancestors of slaves paid tax to payback their forefather’s slave owners. That is despicable and disgusting. This money should have gone to pay the slaves, and if we had, they would be much closer to the starting line than they are today.
This is just one of many things that have kept black people enslaved. Sure they are ‘free’ but only free enough to serve us all. And this is why I am racist. I have turned a blind eye to this inequity. It’s been ok for me to look at my fellow competitors on the starting line, to see their white faces and think…yes we are pretty much all equal here. But would I trade places with a BAME person and swap my life for theirs? Of course I wouldn’t. I have turned a blind eye to inequity, to our abuses, to our privilege and to our racist history and imperial culture. And now I know that I am racist. So what shall I do? What will you do? I’m studying to become an anti-racist and this is why I know the above to be true.
I used to think there was a scale between the far right and the far left and we ride along its slippery bar from time to time. But I couldn’t be more wrong.
Over the past few years, I developed an unhealthy religion about my political views. I grew up slightly middle class in a family of slightly middle class people. I left the UK in ’79 as Thatcher came to the throne. In part I liked her. She was fresh and strong. Just what we needed. But I grew to hate her. My slide had begun. But the truth is, it wasn’t a political decision, it was a decision based on what I wanted for this world. My values.
These are not blue and red political churches, these are hard wired DNA processes that drive us into alleys of either tangible or abstract thinking.
Tangible thinkers are more conservative (small c). They are dutiful and compliant. They take personal responsibility for their own world but cannot take any responsibility for the bigger picture. They are concerned with doing the right thing for them and their own kind. They do what’s right for them. They have frameworks in which they operate and will strive to maintain the integrity of those frameworks at all cost. They need these frameworks to fall back on and rely upon. They reflect upon the wider world only to position themselves within it but not to take any responsibility for it.
Abstract thinkers are more open and think in aesthetics. They see the big picture and know that if they can just move what they have to just over there it will make a small difference to the whole world, even if it means making small sacrifices for the greater good. Abstract thinkers can deal with rapid change and even chaos. They are not so comfortable with frameworks or prescribed views. They can see in multilayers almost in three dimensions. But one key thing that defines an abstract thinker is that they will fight for the rights of the conservative thinker even if they fundamentally disagree with them.
Two opposing forces that gave us Brexit and a recent Tory victory even though neither decisions were rational or based on facts. This happened simply because there are way more conservative thinkers than there are abstracts. Politically speaking, traditional left voters, conservative by nature, voted for the Tories because they needed the secure frameworks offered in their agenda. Take Back Control. Get Brexit Done. No Deal Better Than a Bad Deal. Brexit Means Brexit. The Will of The People. All of them carefully thought out psychological frameworks that would appeal to conservative thinkers on both sides of the political scale. The left offered a manifesto full of abstract concepts about spending and looking after everyone whilst seemingly taking away any aspiration to do well, or they will tax your success.
There’s a place in this world for both and all it takes is the will to understand each other. But we don’t. We argue on social media. We become entrenched in our bunkers and bomb craters. We hold up in our remote cabins of thought and hold onto our cups that filleth over, which, we refuse to share. Why? Because it suits those in power to keep us divided.
If we want a better world then we need both the conservative and abstract thinkers to venture into no man’s land and have a political kick about. Once we all realise that all we want is a better world for everyone, and to stop shooting at each other, we can share our combined wisdom and work together to achieve it.
Ok, I have to declare an interest here, I grew up in a household where giving love wasn’t an obvious gift to those around me. It was missing. There were no acts or demonstrations of it and no obvious signs that anyone had the skills to practice what we all saw at the movies. There was sex and lots of it. I was unaware of it most of the time but once in a while I’d stumble across it…and I’d be sent packing.
Writing about love needs reference points, places where I can go to find stuff out. C.S. Lewis wrote about The Four Loves, dealing with the four classical definitions of love, usually spoken of by their Greek names, Eros, Storge, Philia, and Agape. The Bible refers to the philia and agape love several times and they are what can be easily defined as a love for family and a love for others. All are love but each is a different type of love. Both a sacrificially dependent on achieving good for another. We put the other first.
One man gave up 22 years of his life to cut a road through a hillside to help his villagers and future generations of villagers. This is love.
In the 1940s, the Vavilov Institue was the very largest seed bank in the world. It contained 250,000 samples of seeds, roots, and fruits collected from all 5 continents. During the 28-month siege of Leningrad (September 1941 – January 1944), despite extreme hunger and despite having easy and constant access to several tons of rice, wheat, corn, bean seeds, workers at this Institute never ate them. This is love. By the end of the siege, 28 Institute workers died of starvation while being literally surrounded by food. Surely this is an extraordinary love for their fellow man and mankind in general.
These acts of love were freely given to the people they hardly knew but to people like them.?
What I want to talk about is romantic love. Beautiful love. Immersive love. Satisfying love. And erotic love. I know very little about these things as I haven’t much experience of them. I have learned quite a bit of knowledge and I think I understand the many aspects of what each can mean. But what about the ‘feeling’ of love? What does it actually feel like? Is there a difference between falling in love and being in love? Is it a constant and continual feeling or does it rise and fall?
Erotic love is a series of phases. It’s a dance or a fluid game…it isn’t meant to be serious. We fall backwards, floating, swimming, gliding, slipping along in sublime ecstasy. We ignite and shoot upwards to the stars. It’s a surreal experience; almost out of body and ephemeral. Like a light show that fires you upwards towards the heavens and explodes all around you. You lose the sense of grounding and reality. And then…it is gone, it burns away and leaves smoke in it’s falling trails. You long for it to reignite but it doesn’t. Erotic love is a lust for otherness…it’s beautiful and sublime. It’s volatile and gentle, fast and slow, powerful and weak…it’s an array of contradictions.
Eros love is all of these things, all of the games and plays that erotic love gives to us. But it’s more. It is the deep longing for the wellbeing of your partner. It is the satisfaction of trusting your values and judgements. It is the solidity of your own integrity set firm on solid foundations. It is not dependent on what someone else does but on who they are. Love, to me, isn’t the fizz of its beginnings, love is the force behind its continuance.
Underwater Love speaks of how erotic love often fails, how it trails into smoke, it’s about the lover’s dreams and early hopes and it’s about their realisation and recognition of having to accept that it was fleeting and wonderful…but over. But I am left with the feeling that it transformed into a deep and long lasting Eros love…I want it to.
Imagine never being able to touch the one you love…
The most precious and intimate thing that has ever happened to me is the touch of another human being. That moment of first awareness, their presence. The feeling that they are close. A surge of electric energy passing through your consciousness in anticipation of it.
And then it happens. Skin touches skin and your whole body changes. Your world softens and the colours brighten. Images flood your mind. And deep within you, your heart rate quickens. Nerve endings light up. Each cell of your skin excites and becomes hypersensitive. You notice the subtle changes in heat and air circling around you.
The world outside quietens and your focus narrows inwards; you hear the rush of blood coursing through you. Your body starts to cool a little as tiny beads of sweat form. Hairs stand up like sails capturing a breeze to dissipate its heat.
Your senses uncoil and something deep within comes to life as your unspoken thoughts blend with theirs. Intentions entwine and hearts become one. You only see them as they do, you. A single touch transports you to a parallel universe where time stands still. Now is all that matters and there is nothing else. This moment, lost and alive. Submitting to its grace and power.
Just imagine a life spent apart from this person, distances are too great and access to them is denied to you, by others. You are in a world in which darkness prevails and you are forbidden from seeing each other again.
How would you cope? What would you do? Is there a way in which you can still feel their every touch? Experience their breath upon your skin? Their lips exploring you, kissing you, electrifying you? And once again two bodies reaching the highest highs that love can offer, again and again?
Would you defy them? Would you wrap yourself in a layer of forbidden skin? A layer that meant you could feel their every touch, their soft breath, their warm love, their hands upon you, every kiss and loving movement? You could be sent away for just owning such a skin. But could you bear not wearing it? Could you live without it? Would you give control of that skin to your lover? Would you submit to him, in the name of love? Could you trust them with your life?
Walking on Derbyshire’s great Chatsworth and Haddon estates today I came across signs of a small neolithic settlement. Stone outcrops marked by the hand of ancient beings in a way to communicate the messages, instructions, directives or directions to others.
It made me wonder when language started and why. How did we communicate before language? What did we have to say to each other? Was language born as a result of a more complex way of living? Has language made us lazy? Do the words we use to arrange our thoughts into manageable chunks remove the gift of intuitive conversation by worldless nuances and gestures?
But my most lingering thought was how did we think before we had language? What was in our head before we used the structure of language?
In terms of writing a book, maybe it’s not such a big question. That is until we start to think about the way people use language. The way we ‘see’ language as we use it to translate our actions and deeds towards them.
Moving along the evolutional scale from swamp to swank we must have started to think rather than react instinctively. A nod or shake of the head, universal signs and signals. When a smile didn’t have a name, how did they know whether it was a warm and inviting gesture or a baring-of-teeth hostile warning?
Writers use language to provide an invitation to their reader. Once invited, the reader then decides at which level they want to participate in the story. Some writers peel away the layers for the reader to ‘see’ their intentions. Others draw you in and make readers work things out for themselves.
The proposition is laid out, the protagonists and antagonists introduced, its premise is founded and the first defining events set the story in motion. All of this is contained within one great monolith, the novel. Good writers make you think in your own language and through your own experiences. Great writers change everything.