FOR approximately the last - oh, perhaps five months or so - my erstwhile constant companion, that ever-present harmony to my heartbeat, has been, to be blunt, MIA. A Cold War was, literally until last night, being fiercely and bitterly waged between my creative ability and emotions. AK-47s and RPGs of guilt, fear, grief and tiredness were in cleverly hidden ambush points around my psyche, busily blasting to pieces with icicle ammunition - I was beginning to think irreparably - the potentially perma-frosted tundra that constitutes the soul of me.
In other words, I couldn't write.
I could not write.
"So what?" I hear approximately 98 percent of the audience say. "Do something else. I mean, you're not exactly writing Harry bloody Potter worthy material are you?"
Well, no. I'm not. Not even close. This is evident by the fact that I don't take baths in a solid gold bathtub and drink Bollinger out of diamond flutes which I smash after one mouthful, as I wipe my plastic fantastic bott with fifty quid notes. It's more likely to be a cleanskin Sauv Blanc in a Target tumbler whilst I have a really hot shower, and if I'm lucky, three-ply loo paper when it comes to the more sensitive areas of life, but that's neither here nor there. The point is, for someone who is used to pushing out the equivalent of three Gone With The Wind-length books in articles and creative writing in a year, not writing is akin to not breathing. Fellow writers stopped e-mailing me because they honestly didn't know what to say. I didn't know what to say either, so I don't blame them. I also, of course, didn't know what to write. I was slowly running out of intellectual oxygen, and there didn't seem to be any end in sight.
There was, and is, a fair reason for this, not the least of which has been the usual grab-bag of illness; but overlaying that has been the death of my beloved father - yes, you guessed it, approximately five months ago. I managed to get the words to celebrate his life onto a page, and in some kind of numb state, deliver them in a way I don't think he would have hated... and then, the words stopped. They just - stopped.
I think, sometimes, in the dry-eyed insomnia that is three in the morning, they decided to stay with him, and keep him company for a time, there, in the darkness.
Then last night as I sat noodling around doing everything other than writing on the Mac, I had some kind of screwby epiphany, if you will. I was reading through some of the smooshy bits and pieces The Man Who Vaguely Resembles David Tennant and I had sent to each other when we had to play the long distance love game, and a very dim lightbulb started its feeble glimmer in my arid imagination.
There were so many - and they were wonderful. Neruda. Bukowski. Leonard Cohen. Sylvia Plath. John Green. Lots of anonymous little wonders and translations. It made me think, quite hard, about how important written words, written languages, are when it comes to expressing ourselves. Yes, we can say how we feel; but the memories of the ages exist as that - infinite memories - because they are written down, whether it be on papyrus, vellum, paper or nowadays, a virtual platform.
The amazing thing to me is not that people write, and write so beautifully. No. That is just the flame of the human spirit at work. What is truly astonishing is that it's done within the limitations of our written alphabets. How extraordinary it is to be able to express so many feelings, thoughts, emotions, opinions, fears, hopes, joys, sadnesses, expectations, desires, hates - all bound by the insignificant characters we call our tools.
The Latin alphabet has only 26 characters; Greek, 24. Cyrillic has 33 (ten vowels, 21 consonants, and two non-sounds), whilst Hebrew has just 22. Modern Standard Arabic has 28; both the Hiragana and Katakana alphabets of Japanese have 46, or 71 including diacritics. Hindi has 12 vowels, 33 consonants, and three 'compound' letters, which is similar to many Sanskrit-derivatives such as Thai and Tamil. Admittedly Chinese is out of the ballpark with 3,000, but there's always one smart-arse in the classroom of life.
I do have a point, and I am getting to it. Gradually. I may be a little excited about actually getting any words onto a page, and so I am milking it for all it's worth. My point, dear friends, is this. There are limited characters, tones, diacritics, what you will, in all the world's alphabets - so how the hell do so many, many, gifted writers manage to make poems and prose which wrap themselves around our will, our intellect, and most of all, our heart? They wield them, not as weapons, but rather bombs of thought and feeling; beguiling the senses, making us laugh, cry, and above all else, love.
I can't tell you what it means to finally be aware those 26 little characters, A through to Z, will be waiting for me when I eventually thaw the icy barrier around my best and brightest self. It provides a wondrous inner warmth. Much like the words "I love you", when said with sincerity and openness, by a person who is also the best and brightest of one's life.
And that's in any language you care to dream up.
Even bloody Chinese.