I think a big part of being a writer is being able to see more than there is.
It’s being able to look at the world and detect the undercurrents, reading in between the lines of reality if you like.
There’s one particular example I always think of that illustrates the idea perfectly.
Since I was a little kid, I’d always wanted to visit Stonehenge. I remember reading reviews about it that were quite critical – after all, it’s nothing but a bunch of rocks. But that never extinguished my desire to see it for myself.
In my twenties (no I’m not going to tell you how long ago that was) I was lucky enough to take a big around-the-world trip. I spent quite a bit of time in the UK so was delighted to realise that ambition and take myself to Stonehenge.
And you know what? Those reviews were completely valid. It truly was just a bunch of rocks, standing in a field beside a motorway. But it was so much more than that. Just looking at those stones conjured up so many images in my head, and so many stories. I couldn’t help marvelling at the longevity of these stones, still standing after hundreds of years. I couldn’t help wondering about not only the people who created this ancient monument, but also those who lived in its shadows, and whose lives were governed by whatever rituals were performed there.
I was so enchanted by this amazing place – even though it was nothing but a bunch of rocks – that I lost track of time and ended up missing the bus I had planned to catch.
It’s like that with a lot of other things. A historic village is so much more than a bunch of old houses. A forest is so much more than a whole lot of trees.
To me, it’s a basic function of having an imagination. Being able to consider more than what meets the eye, and how even apparently simple things can have their own story, or their own inherent magic.
Funny thing is, there’s a flipside to this. It kicks in at any forced suggestion that there is more to something than meets the eye. One area it applies to particularly for me is modern art. This may be a weakness in my personality but I can’t deny it. When I see some sort of modern art, my mind reacts automatically with ‘But that’s just a [insert whatever it just is].’ Even if there’s some long and complicated explanation for how the [whatever it is] is actually much more than a [whatever it is], this is a barrier I’m rarely able to overcome.
Maybe it’s my inbuilt devil’s advocacy rearing its head again. Maybe it’s the contrast between allowing my imagination to conjure up some kind of backstory versus having that backstory imposed upon me. I’m not sure. Either way, I’m going to continue to regard the world in the best way I know how to. Trying to see things for what they are, and also for more than what they are.
Posted by Jonathan Gould and tagged as