Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Snowboarding looks like fun

The title of this post is from David Isaak's recent look at POV's in fiction. Discussing third person viewpoints he says, '[Patrick] O'Brian makes omniscience look like great fun. But, then, snowboarding looks like great fun, too--but I suspect it's actually rather hard work.'

I'm just reading Mark Rowland's excellent book The Philosopher and the Wolf (How I missed this book on release I don't know, as I'm on Granta's mailing list and used to be a dog trainer with a special interest in spitz breeds (double-coated dogs with curly tails, like huskies, Akita's and the Samoyed I share my home with), and have an active interest in wolf behaviour and philosophy.

In one chapter partially meditating on happiness, Rowlands talks about happiness containing some form of pain or misery. He describes the process of trying to think an idea that is too difficult for you to think, but that thinking on it and around it, you can eventually manage to 'capture' it, or at least hone your hunting skills in much the same way as a wolf might stalk a rabbit. This opinion applies to writing too of course, but where it differs I assume from thinking is that with thinking (and to narrative plotting to a degree, I suppose) the pinnacle of the happiness comes in the Eureka! moment. A point that Rowlands' side-steps (I can't imagine that he would counter it as not being a facet of happiness) is that of finding the groove or being in the zone. He describes boxing as a way to find the zone, but obviously boxing also involves an amount of pain, so this meshes with his assertion of happiness containing a measure of pain.

As a pretty incompetent musician, I have no illusions about my ability, and rarely have the time or inclination to practice enough to become in any way competent, but I am good enough to be able to jam with other people and hit the high of being in the groove. There's no pain involved as I have no illusions or expectation and I could apply the same principle to gardening. I suppose if you look at the entire process, writing for most of us does contain a level of uncomfortableness similar to that suggested by Rowlands, but if you strip away the publishing process, if you're a make-it-up-as-you-go-along writer or a planner with a plan in place, writing in the zone is one of the least painful forms of happiness.


David Isaak said...

Different people have different pain thresholds, I guess. FX Toole, the guy who wrote the story on which the film "Million Dollar Baby" was based, was both a boxer and a writer, and he claimed that climbing into the ring and getting puched repeatedly in the face was far less painful than writing.

Neil said...

Come on, that's not a real name, David. He sounds like a reject from a BBC sci-fi sitcom.

Maybe boxing's much easier and more pleasant an experience than it looks.

David Isaak said...

You have a good ear, Neil. FX Toole was the pen name of the late boxer and trainer Jerry Boyd.