August 20, 2018

Thy precious time misspent, redeem,
Each present day thy last esteem,
Improve thy talent with due care;
For the great day thyself prepare.
(Thomas Ken, ‘Awake My Soul’ (1674))

Sunday. Too much cheese too late in the evening, perhaps. I woke around 2.45 am. (This is getting to be a habit.) Mercifully, I fell back into sleep shortly afterwards. An answer to a question I’d been asking came to me, out-of-the-blue, upon waking in the early morning. But I couldn’t for the life of me remember it afterwards. It had something to do with an elegant separation of two things.


Monday: I dreamt of someone whom I once worked with. In the dream, they’d suffered a severe stroke and couldn’t remember who I was. (‘Ageing anxiety, John!’) 7.00 am: I woke my younger son. He was going to catch a train and visit his girlfriend. I used to perform the role of his human alarm clock when he was in school. Now, he’s about to embark upon his first job. 8.00 am: A communion.

8.30 am: Administrations to prepare my timetable for the week ahead. The art of compacting and compressing comes to the fore. ‘Redeem the time’. Make the day count. On with uploading CDs to iTunes on the periphery. I came across a CD given to me by the pianist Margaret Leng Tan (my cousin-in-law). She’d been John Cage’s muse during the latter part of his career. The personal inscription on the insert read: ‘Serenity, Beauty, Ecstasy, Angst’. That’s a heady combination of mutually antagonistic experiences. Perhaps she was implying that you couldn’t have one without the others: Light and darkness was present at the primordial Creation. They’ve been present at every subsequent act of creation. Like love and unlove (which is not the same as hate), togetherness and departure, the moment and the memory, and access and denial, both must be experienced before a resolution can occur:

John Cage and Margaret Lang Tan, Daughters of the Lonesome Isle (1994)

Margaret had also given me one of a series of miniature grand pianos which she’d made out of individual New York City Metro tickets:

I wanted to begin writing the paper, starting with a topic that I felt confident had sufficient shape and substance to be fleshed out. Where this section will lie in the overall structure of the paper can be decided later. Rarely do I begin at the beginning. If writing is deferred for too long, the research becomes an end in itself and one’s confidence in the being able to make something of it, ebbs. Having written around this topic before, I’ve also had to reacquaint myself with the ground that had been already covered. Otherwise, I was liable to either reinvent my own wheel or, at worst, unconsciously self-plagiarise. For example, I’d initiated a discussion about silence in visual artworks in my The Bible as Visual Culture: When Image Becomes Text (2015). The paper would, in part, provide an amplification of this theme. (A louder silence!, as it were.):

Ideas emerge like a murmuring of starlings: following one another, assuming varieties of form but, presently, having no fixed structure. Writing tests whether the writer has fully understood the content of their research, developed sufficiently cogent ideas, and enough evidence in support of them. Often, I find that I’ve undertaken too much research in one area and not enough in another. Writing exposes this imbalance.

1.40 pm: After lunch, I pushed on with the graft of constructing sentences and joining them to form paragraphs. It can be a painfully slow business. I wasn’t writing up findings; rather, I was finding out things through the process of writing. Writing = thinking. It’s about finding your way in the dark, while searching for the light switch. (And we could all do with a bit of illumination, now and again.) 3.00 pm: A moment of tea-fuelled respite and reflection:

6.45 pm: Off to my other life: the Holy Trinity Church committee at the Vicarage.

‘The silence to come’
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