Sunday, 24 January 2016

Battle for the written word

I've been re-reading a few of my blog posts. It may seem a rather self centred, introspective thing to do, but it was prompted by a comment being left on a long forgotten post and my wish to rediscover it.

The commentor in question said something nice about my style of writing, and looking back through the various articles, I had to agree. Whilst it must be the very epitome of immodesty to praise one's own pros I can't help feeling that some of the text, written months and years ago, still achieves The effect I originally sought to create. Often, at the time of writing, I find myself publishing pieces without reviewing and re-writing them as much as I ought, for fear of never actually pressing "send". It isn't that I don't care about what I write, as I have commented on in the past, it is simply that I would likely never be happy with the words used or the flow of sentences and paragraphs. It was therefore a pleasant surprise to find that, in many cases, those words fitted together quite fine and conveyed the meaning in an interesting and engaging way.
What I was less happy to discover however, was my almost faultless trait of beginning interesting sounding series, only to never continue them. At the beginning of so many holidays, it seems, I have begun with the intention of writing each day, chronicling journeys and experiences, only to run out of steam before I've left the starting station. Take, for instance, my recent trip with Mark to Sicily, all the way from London by train. It had the makings of a gripping story, with significant challenges to overcome on the way to a Mediterranean idyll - save for the fact that, in writing it, I got no further than the French Alps.

Another example was my independent trip to Amsterdam with my (now previous) guide dog Vance. Typographically the starting post left a little to be desired, penned as it was on my normal dodgy Bluetooth keyboard, but the tale was truly sunk by my Phalia to write another word after my overnight ferry left Harwich.

So, whilst I can see some merit in the sense of some of my articles, I am left deeply frustrated by my apparent inability to finish what I have begun. It isn't as if there wasn't anything worthy of being written about on these trips. Had I spent the time and effort doing it I am sure I could have conveyed fear and exhilaration which seem to fill most journeys in equal measure - yes, I love travelling, but that doesn't mean it is always plain sailing. I could have happily talked about the contradiction of pleasant monotony on a long distance sleeper train to Palermo, or the frenzied swarms of bicycling locals which infect Dutch streets and make independent mobility a frankly frightening affair. I might have written of walking the circular promenade of Altigia, as if I was experiencing it live, or brought to life the cacophony of a Munich beer Hall. I didn't do any of that however, I was too busy taking photographs and audio recordings, too preoccupied with capturing the "now" to really sit back and think about it.

The tension between keyboard and camera began early on the Sicily trip. My original, indeed only, article from that journey took over three hours to write because I was so distracted with taking pictures every few miles, or recording thoughts live on video or audio. Yes, the writing was certainly hard going with a phone and keyboard combination which wrote the wrong character more often than the right, but The products of combining observation and imagination on paper are often so much more gratifying than the simple electronic capturing of a moment.

Reading those initial chapters pre-seeding empty books it seemed as though I did not, could not, trust myself to recall and relay events without those pictures and sounds of actuality to back up the memories. It was, I think, a strong desire to convey the experience to a wider audience in a way which could be digested, understood easily, and a belief that in order to do so properly one needs to film and photograph as much as possible. In my head, I could see the cut-away shots that would be needed to make my video flow, or the photographs which would help me and others to understand or appreciate a location long after it had passed. If I couldn't see the detail of a landscape or building the photographs and video would help me to review it later, and somehow this seemed more important than the feelings and thoughts triggered by the experience itself.

So, five months after Sicily I have over 4000 photographs still waiting to be organised, two hour long videos produced but plenty more footage to edit, hours of audio uploaded to the Internet and a solitary blog post which says more in its few paragraphs than most of the other electronic memories put together.

I may yet manage to write a little more about some of my most recent trips, dredging up memories from the depths of my brain, but what I would really like to do is find The inclination to take a few less photographs, video shots and audio recordings and focus a bit more on the written word. Perhaps by standing back and thinking that every picture counts, as we all did before digital photography, and not feeling that I have to chart every single second live, I can create the space to achieve this.

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