I don’t write about writing that much, here. I think about writing all the time, as much as I think about horsing, which is a lot. Every day I try to stretch myself, to pummel my mind to work better, extend my sinews to find a better rhythm, throw the language of Shakespeare and Milton up in the air and try to make it dance. Just as the good horsewoman knows that she will never live long enough to know all that she would love to know about the equine mind, so the good writer will never get to the bottom of learning everything there is to learn about prose.
Yesterday, I wrote that I had forgotten how to write a blog. Quite often, I forget how to write a novel. I have to go and read one, to remind myself. Oh, yes, I say, that’s how you get a character from one room to another.
In some ways, the hardest writing I do is a completely voluntary sort. I do not do it for money, or fame, or any material reward. It is not even done under my own name. I am, for all the right reasons, anonymous. It is a daily lesson in lack of vanity, although, because I am a flawed human, vanity does creep in, like a guilty lurcher after food.
It is the work I do for HorseBack. The men and women I see there tell me stories that I can hardly process, let alone translate into perfect sentences. I am in a constant state of astonishment, awe, admiration, and deep humility. To do them justice, I must draw on every writing skill I ever possessed, and every day, I come up a little short. That’s not quite it, I say to myself, ruefully. Nearly, but not quite right.
Those who have served are such a paradox, of wild courage, filthy humour, quiet stoicism, moments of hilarious braggadocio, deep wounds, and changed perspective, that I’m not sure even Shakespeare himself could quite capture them on the page. They are at once very ordinary and absolutely extraordinary, ultimately straightforward and unbelievably subtle, easily understood and entirely enigmatic. They even speak a different language, which only they really get. A civilian can gain the occasional peek behind the curtain, but it is only a fleeting glimpse.
Today, instead of my usual dash in and out, chasing time as always, I stopped for a while, and dropped my shoulders, and spent some easy time there. There was the usual mixture of unprintable jokes, merciless ribbing, shouting laughter, and sudden, grave, contemplative moments. One veteran showed me a long scar, up his back. ‘That’s from Sarajevo,’ he said.
Tone gets lost on the internet. It’s part of the reason that there are so many fights there. It’s really important to try and express the tone, of these stories. I’ve been told things, under old oak trees, under the benign gaze of these blue hills, which are so extreme, so beyond imagination, that I can never write them down. I’ve heard of things no human eye should have to see, and no human body should have to endure. Sometimes, when the story is a particularly lacerating one, I can feel the very atoms of my own body rearrange themselves, as if the mind alone cannot process the information, as if it goes straight to the viscera, as if the exploded stardust of which my physical self is made is being stirred up by mere words, the telling is so strong. And yet, these stories are related in a down-to-earth tone, as ordinary and expected as if it is no more than a trip to the shops. There is no drama, no show-boating, no look at me. The worse the story, the more matter-of-fact the voice.
I’m very wary of pride. It can slip too often into chauvinism or superiority or narcissism. But I felt proud twice today. The first instance was early in the morning, as the red mare and I did some beautiful things together, our bodies in perfect harmony, our minds melded across the species barrier, our hearts cantering in matching rhythms. I felt proud of her, and I felt proud of myself, for giving it the time, for persevering, for taking myself back to school, so that I could be a worthy human for this great horse. I’ll never be quite as marvellous and shining as she is, but I am close now to doing her justice. It makes me lift my head and feel a singing sense of accomplishment.
And the second time was when I came in and wrote up my HorseBack morning, and, for once, I almost nailed it. I did not wander on, or amplify too much, or use too many adjectives. For once, the words came, good and true, in the right order. I can’t take too much credit for this. There is a moment when you are in the zone, and it is almost as if you are taking dictation. If I believed in higher powers or other consciousnesses, I would say that I am a mere stenographer for the prose angels. Often, when it really works, it feels as if it is nothing to do with you. The sentences are coming from somewhere else. Write it down, write it down, I say to myself. Quickly, before it is gone.
All the same, I did feel a little bit proud. Nearly there; almost right; good enough. For once, good enough.
Just two quick pictures today, as I must get on. The first is from my HorseBack morning, and tells its own story. The second, which Icannot resist, is a shot of Red with the very groovy farrier. I rather hate the term horse whisperer (you do not whisper; you listen), but I do think the farrier is a bit whispery. Red adores her. The moment the farrier arrives, my beautiful mare breathes a sigh of relief, as if all is right with the world, and goes to sleep on her shoulder. It never gets old.
Link to my HorseBack post here, in case you are interested:
And a final PS, which is to say thank you very much for the welcome back comments. I was really touched. You are very dear Dear Readers indeed.