Mark Cantrell, Author

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BLOG: Author, Know Thyself

Posted by Mark Cantrell on October 11, 2014 at 7:45 PM

So what's with the writing, then?

By Mark Cantrell

ONE of the things I'm struggling with at the moment is possibly a bit of an indulgence, even outside the norm of writers' angst, but I find myself in the grip of a peculiar existential conundrum.


Sure, I wrestle with all the usual concerns that bark and bare fangs at an author just trying to get along; there's time, ticking impatience; there's the demands of modern life, the angst of obscurity, the all-too-common concerns that I'm not actually any good at this writing game.


But I find myself adding a further quandary to the mindstorms of raucous doubt: "Yes, but," my mindsight asks, "what are you actually about as a writer, what are you actually for?"


To be honest, I'm buggered if I know.


Okay, I'm trying – hoping – to make a name for myself as a writer and win recognition for my work. But this doesn't actually answer the question. What am I trying to be recognised for?


This is perhaps where the indulgence comes in, it might even be a distraction; if my work ever does gain recognition it will be bestowed on me by people who bring their own answers to my question, with little or no regard to my own conceits of self-perception. On the other hand, perhaps my questions go to the very heart and soul of my work.


Introspection is very much my bag. I've always been something of an introvert, and this is reflected in my writing. I need time to myself to reflect on things, to think things through, to retreat into the privacy of my headspace and mentally doodle. You can call it daydreaming, if you want, but it's in that creative cosmos at the core of my neural processing space where my work comes into being. So, naturally, I need to dive in and drift through the primordial soup brewed in the crevices of the mindscape.


This is the place where authors find themself, as much as they find their raw imaginings, but I find it's a precarious universe; easily subject to perturbations of crass reality, the bellicose demands of mundane living, this introspective inner space is all too susceptible to becoming 'frothed' by the confusion these times.


Well, haven't authors forever battled against the disturbances and distractions of existence? It's as perennial as the species, one generation to the next, all the way back to long lost stories and songs wrought to mind and shared around Neolithic hearths to pass the tides of time.


So, to this confusing stew I add still more and stir the pot, wondering not at the recipe or its taste and whether it's good enough, but what it's actually for. As yet, I have no answers; there's just a spinning head, a sense of existential bewilderment sloshing around in the pan between my ears.


It doesn't help being a journalist, writing about a host of social issues around housing. Nor does it ease my conscience, raising these issues, adding exposure to such protracted concerns, as I read about the horrendous agonies in the Middle East, the brutalities of ISIS, or the bloodshed in Ukraine and the geopolitical gamesmanship being played out there between rivals East and West that may yet engulf us all.


It's not as if I can do anything about such monstrous events; when all is said and done, I'm barely just another bit player in the crowd scene as the teetering UK crumbles under the weight of its history.


After saying that, I guess it's somewhat laughable for me to add that I've always looked to authors such as George Orwell, or journalists such as Paul Foot or John Pilger as my guiding lights. No, I'm not putting myself in their league – far from it, I'm Rincewind to their Arch Chancellor – but they form a part of my frame of reference, and, well, one can always aspire from afar.


But even if I bask in the shadows cast by giants, I remain a writer with something to say, and it's this that often leaves me wondering what it is I should be trying to say.


There's so much going in the world, near and far, it's bewildering. Little wonder, I guess, that I am so often left to wonder what I'm about as a writer. I don't know, perhaps it is pathetic, to think that it matters, but there's something about me that finds it difficult to disconnect and disengage; entertainment, the spinning of a good yarn has never been enough – I've always needed something to say.


For better or worse, damned if I don't, ignored if I am (or maybe vice versa), I'm a writer driven with a social conscience, a seething sense of anger, an urge to speak my piece; determined to make sense of the world, even if it only makes sense for fleeting moments, and then only for me.


So I can't change the world, but maybe, just occasionally, I can provoke a little thought amongst those who can. It's a little something that passes for my bit.


They say you shouldn't raise the problems if you can't provide the solution; sometimes it's the questions asked, the critical chorus of dissent that provokes the answer; sometimes, there just are no answers. That's life.


An epitaph for my existential soul-searching; maybe there is no answer to the question of what my purpose is as a writer. After all, as a journalist, I have no other purpose than to inform, educate and even entertain. We are not involved, we cannot be involved; we are but messengers. There is no purpose but the story. So suffer in the margins, dear scribe.


The voice of discontent, that's never enough: the story has its own agenda, and can that ever be fully disentangled from the storyteller?


Yes, I want to tell the stories, I want to provoke thought and reflection, even entertain, but the one without the other is a soulless simulacrum of the human narrative – and empty writing.


In the midnight hours, hunched over our screens, it's the emptiness that drives us, the void that invokes the purpose – to find humanity's voice and fill the space with meaning. There is conscience in the silence – and it demands to be heard. That's as good a purpose as any.


Mark Cantrell,


16 September 2014


Copyright © September 2014. All Rights Reserved.

Categories: BLOG, PERSONAL

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