he rain has come this morning after what feels like an interminable absence. Up here among the great beeches we are shaded from it to some degree, but without much breeze to cool it, the warmth has become cloying and I have found it difficult to work in the studio, or even to think clearly. As the earth moistens outside, the dust washes off the hard surfaces, and the smells change - I feel the moisture as if I were a plant, feel in it my life force return to its rhythm.
This rhythm finds its root on the dampening ground, just as the plants will tap their roots deeper into the moistening soil. A good and thorough soak today will hopefully return to the soil its capacity to hold the sporadic rain that may follow this. It causes me to reflect on the feeding that my roots need, on the ground from which I can find my capacity and strength.
For the last weeks I have been grappling with new technology, and moreover with unfamiliar thinking and demands. As the book I have been writing for the last 16 months completes its editing cycle, and becomes ever more of the world outside of me, rather than of me, I find myself entering a new cycle. For the book to reach that world, to find an audience my writing of it will no longer suffice. A virtual construct appears to me as a shimmer on some unwelcome horizon. I am asked to follow paths that I am unfamiliar with, to create an avatar which will replace me the writer and draw people to the book. This new self, stealing my name begins to carve an online presence, to develop a following, and to make demands on me which I feel myself in conflict with.
I feel as if my inadequacies and the strategies with which I have guarded them, are becoming exposed, as if I were being invaded. A life time spent in a workshop, or in journaling, more recent years developing a teaching identity ring fenced by familiarity, has been torn open to the view of the wider world. The ground that I have so fastidiously cultivated to feel safe on, is cracking at my feet, and I am so busy trying to shift them to accommodate it that I don’t notice the new land that pushes up through the cracks. I avoid it as if it were to swallow me, rather than see the bridges it provides to explore new potential.
The writer and the craftsman share many similarities, are carved from the same soft stone. There is a need to find a physical expression, to make feeling and sensibility materialise substantively, to become ground onto which a sense of self can grow. The oak and chestnut bench that presently lies on the floor of my workshop half constructed, its various limbs still unattached, and strewn over the ground, is much like this piece of writing forming in the moment, to be edited, crafted, kept or discarded. As the rain falls outside my open window, I feel that it, my bits of wood and my words are somehow part of a life force, an expression of the potential of transformation.
Yet, the challenge right now is to translate this awareness of transformative potential into my digital avatar, to find in my online presence some of the grounding that my analogue presence has worked so hard to establish. Last October when I was a full six months into the writing of the book ‘Material’, I was in my usual morning perch at the Green Table café on the Dartington estate near my home. I had spent the preceding months writing freely into the subject, finding what emerged, and in it discovering some of my thinking previously hidden to me. Yet as the task matured in front of me, I became aware of the fissures in the ground, the weaknesses that needed addressing, and one in particular.
As my thinking emerged in my writing, so did I, Nick. I was becoming increasingly visible on the page, and increasingly uncomfortable with it. On the one hand I could not prevent my voice forming, yet on the other I resisted it, curtailed and edited the exposure of it and was caught in a place where I was neither visible nor invisible, neither liquid nor solid. I had been working through my writing with a mind to this dilemma, realising that I needed to edit it accordingly, bringing more of myself in so that the reader was able to find me in the writing. On this particular morning I was in the early stages of this process, on the face of it comfortable with it, removing sections of writing that no longer seemed appropriate and introducing others. The book was becoming something different to what I had expected.
After a while I became aware that my body was behaving strangely, that my breathing was getting shallower and more rapid, that my chest was getting ever tighter and pains were slowly travelling from it down my arms. There came a point where I had to stop writing, where I could not ignore my body any more. I started to shake uncontrollably and felt on the edge of fainting. I gripped the table I was sitting at fearing I would fall and looked around me feeling that everyone must be staring at me. No one was. I felt like I was having a heart attack, but knew it was very unlikely. I searched on the computer to find that I was probably having a panic attack, but that didn’t make it any better. I was racked with pain and uncontrollable fear. Finally I managed to get in touch with my wife who was in London, but I was barely able to form any words. She called a local friend and soon I was back at his house, the paramedics walking through the door, me feeling awkward as the symptoms had begun to subside.
Reflecting back on this now I realise that it had been triggered by my writing, that somewhere internally I was feeling exposed and in danger. I have not had another since, but the marketing of the book, and the exposure of myself on line and awareness that I must fracture the comfort of my isolated ways have taken me close to the edge. As the book itself came to completion, it was as if a physical manifestation of my own sense of self. I was not nervous of it, rather it helped me sense my capacity, gave me form, allowed me a solid ground on which to stand. The problem was, that in taking the book to marketplace that I was on unfamiliar territory, and in a covid world scraped clear of any opportunity of face to face meetings and talks, I have been reduced to embracing my online avatar as my only way forward. This is the road I am on, and though my conscious rational mind understands the need for it, my body rebels, anxiety often rendering me mute for fear of the exposure I feel.