The Real World isn’t a Sound Bite

Perth has been in the news, but not for any reason I’d have hoped for. Making the news around the world since March 8 has been the disappearance of Malaysian Airlines flight MH370. Despite personal concerns I might have (with colleagues in Malaysia, including one on a Malaysian Airlines flight that day), I’ve found the ongoing media reaction occasionally disappointing.

Any airline incident has the potential to be big news, and MH370 has been no different. Having done some flying myself, and with friends who fly airliners internationally for their day job, I found the immediate speculation of terrorism, pilot suicide or unprofessional behaviour to be disheartening, and incredibly disrespectful to the families of those involved. And conspiracy theories – such that the plane was shot down by the Chinese, for example – are offensive enough at the pub, but just because people posts random theories on the internet, do they need to be repeated by the media to the point that officials have to deny it to the relatives?

The problem, as I see it, is that as a society we’re training ourselves to always prefer the simple solution: Dumb it down for me. Layman’s terms, please! Give me the executive summary, Just the facts, Ma’am.

No episode of Perry Mason was ever as long as your average real murder trial. Real life is complex and drawn out. It contains minutiae, multiple motivations, probabilities. But when do you ever see an interviewee on the TV or radio talk for more than 30 seconds? The answer is either Never, or In the boring bits. Because if you can’t summarise what you have to say in 30 seconds, the editing room is going to do it for you.

Aviation incidents are long and complex. Reports of airline disasters can be hundreds of pages long and routinely detail lengthy chains of human error, conflicts of interest between profits, safety and politics, or technical or training oversights which have sometimes been at play, without incident, for decades. When we see a jet fly overhead, there’s a temptation to see a thing. An object. It’s hard to see it as a perfectly integrated mesh of moving parts, engineered to precise tolerances and being managed by sometimes hundreds of people in a day.

Rather, the real world is complex. Science is hard. It reminds me of this snippet by Louis CK, where among other things, he mentions Chesley Sullenberger’s ditching into the Hudson River. Put yourself in the shoes of a pilot: You train, multiple flights every day, for years. On every one of those flights, you review what your plan is if the engine fails here, on takeoff. Or here, during flight. Or… at any instant. You repeat simulated engine failure exercises to understand the room and time you’ll need. And when it happens you switch to that routine: Once you have a plan, it’s no longer an emergency. But as Louis CK points out, to the average punter, that’s waaaay to complicated: It’s much simpler to call it a miracle; and when we call it a miracle we do a disservice not only to the effort of the people like Sullenberger who made it happen, but to all the people who went before, who failed, and from whose sacrifices we learned and made the world a better, safer place.

I have my theories about MH370, and while they might not involve terrorism or gross malfeasance or conspiracy, I’m happy to keep them to myself and wait for the evidence.

Instead, as our local airforce base flies out a continual stream of search teams looking for MH370, I’ll be taking a moment to contemplate the scope and complexity of this undertaking. And to them, their support teams and the countless long hours spent at their thankless, unglamorous tasks, away from the media spotlight, I’ll simply say Thank you.

Grounded

It’s been decision time this month in our household as we choose how best to adapt our goals to the ever changing priorities and responsibilities we find in life.

On the surface, one of the biggest changes compared to the last eighteen months is that I don’t plan on spending any time flying this year. I discussed with the gliding club taking some time off, as I don’t anticipate spending any time in the air this year at all. This was a decision that took a few months to evaluate as flying has always been a passion of mine.

Perhaps it’s the result of years of computer programming: I like the simplicity of boolean logic. Things are true or false: I don’t feel comfortable doing things half-well. I either want to do them well (or be working hard towards that goal), or I don’t want to do them at all. Perhaps that’s just part of professional development: developing the ability to focus on a task to completion, self evaluate, and improve with each successive iteration. And I’d argue that focus is a zero-sum game: the more energy we invest in one area, the less focused we are in another.

It should go without saying, but flying implies at least some minimum quota of focus. When I was doing six or seven flights every weekend, and studying flying mid-week, there was an obvious improvement in skills. That kind of focus didn’t just contribute to the first gliding club trophy I have, it also made for safer flying, and even value for money: I was getting something out of each flight.

But then a new workplace, significant time invested in a new writing project, and the continued pulls of family responsibilities started to eat into that focus. I flew less, didn’t recap the flying during the week, and felt the focus begin to evaporate.

In this context, grounded sounds like such a negative term. Yet in the big picture it really isn’t, because being grounded is also exactly the sort of focus we’re talking about here: With one less diversion to balance, I’m able to concentrate more on the day job at the day job, and my writing project, which by now has some concrete wordcount goals, will also get the focus it requires.

There will be other changes this year. Managing goals and expectations will always be a real challenge. While I can manage the extremely fragmented writing time amidst family and work life, I can’t help but compare what I manage to achieve now with what I could achieve years ago, when every minute outside the day job was my own.

But if climbing the mountain takes a little longer, then perhaps it’s only more reason to look around us and notice the vitality and hardiness of what grows on the slope around us. And if we’re climbing with others, then perhaps it’s also an opportunity to share the same observations with them.

Because for every one joule of energy I expend this year on these limited foci, I’m directing two towards my young children, whose own bright futures are grounded here, now.

Rewriting the Year To Come

It’s New Year’s day: The kids are ‘cleaning their rooms’ (which means finding all the toys they’ve secreted throughout, playing with them, and then getting more toys out to add to the playtime and result in a messier room than they started); it’s another warm, dry summer’s day outside; Disney soundtracks are playing on iTunes, and I have 50 pages of outline in front of me needing attention.

As the calendar year flips over another digit I’ve cause to reflect on what an amazing year 2013 has been. It’s been a year of big changes and broadened horizons: a new job, in a new industry, employing new concepts and technologies; riding a motorcycle again after a four year hiatus; making time to write and get productive again.

Throughout, I found myself fronting up to fears and roadblocks and forcing myself past them. Restraining a pattern of negative thinking has been a constant struggle, but it’s been worth it. At the end of the year I’ve things to show for the effort.

The last three months, when there’s been a few minutes here and there, I’ve been writing again. And now, at the end of the year and with extensive notes and an outline for a novel, I can see what the theme for 2014 is going to be.

Learning to rewrite.

In the past, rewriting has been like pulling teeth; it’s been like an opportunity for the negative thought patterns to get out and stretch their legs: Couldn’t I just tidy up the draft? If I couldn’t write a decent draft in the first place, then I’m bad at this, right? It only needs rewriting because it’s broken…

Then I started thinking about process, how it fits in with reading, and began reframing rewriting. Rewriting is the writer’s half of the reader’s re-reading. It’s a chance to grow an improved story. Add layers.

In software development we don’t tend to rewrite. It happens, but only extremely rarely. Usually, we only refactor – take a part of the whole, and restructure it to be cleaner, clearer, or more efficient if there’s some benefit to the exercise. Rewriting is avoided – because it’s horribly expensive. Subtle features in the original get forgotten in the rewrite. The rewrite takes forever. You’re losing money and productivity that could have been better spent elsewhere. Maybe business will dictate a rewrite after the product’s been around a while, but almost never will the current code be binned and something new started from scratch.

But I like the coding analogy. Coding has taught me to put my butt in the chair and hands on the keyboard, or to stick with the project and see it through, or to carefully consider structure before starting.

And so here, like many other analogies, any comparison of fiction writing to software development breaks down. They’re simply different, with different goals and audiences. As I work on a project which I enjoy being immersed in, I can see the benefit of letting go of what’s already been written, taking a fresh look, and moving the story onward and upward. Because story isn’t plot – it isn’t even what was written. It’s what we’re trying to say. It’s what we want the reader to take with them. And there’s always a better way to say it.

I hope you’ve had a magnificent 2013, and all the very best for 2014.

Process

Some time ago I was discussing the challenges of The Day Job with a work colleague. They were the usual things that one encounters, particularly in software development: Frustrations with finishing the current task, or really getting a sense of how much more will be required, or whether requirements will change and invalidate the hard won results of difficult hours/days/weeks. His take on the subject was this: Live in the moment.

As usual, it took me a long time to figure it out.

Part of what helped was work on my current novel. As I started to refine my workflow and reap some productivity benefits from it I started to realise that I was more and more enjoying the process of writing the novel. I was becoming increasingly less concerned with the end goal of handing over a finished copy to someone.

For me this was a Big Thing. I’m generally fairly goal oriented, and a workflow that says Finish This Book In 3 Months was historically the most appealing. When I was last writing regularly, I’d look at published authors I knew. Seeing they were generating product on a regular basis, I tried to model my own process on theirs.

Which is how I burned out.

With this project, while trying to work at the pace I had before but having taken the artificial, arbitrary (and frankly stupid) deadline out of the picture, I find I’m enjoying it. More than that too, because the product of this process feels better. Higher quality. More complete. As I analyse my writing process I start to see it as a reflection of the reader’s process.

A reader doesn’t buy a product.

I don’t know how I can say that any clearer. A reader doesn’t buy a novel to own it. They don’t buy it to be seen with it. They buy it to read; to spend many hours in the process of reading – enjoying the shared experience the author created.

For an author to write with a goal of generating product I think is dishonest to the reader but perhaps not a real breakthrough intuition. But something this morning made me wonder if it’s a reflection of our culture.

I was watching Burt Rutan’s 2006 TED speech on space exploration with the family. While talking about manned spaceflight, he briefly mentioned the US setting the goal of reaching the moon, reaching the goal, and… stopping.

It ties in well, I think: For a decade, the US had a rapid, refined process for advancing manned spaceflight. Risks were taken. Innovation happened. Then, it reached its goal and, mission accomplished, the process was discarded. With that meteoric progress and innovation in manned spaceflight now firmly in the past, Rutan’s prompted to ask a question: What lofty dreams are the kids of today going to imagine for their futures? Cellphones with more features? Has that really become the milestone of achievement we’ve evolved our culture toward?

Life is a process.

We’re living it at this moment. Reading this post, in the here and now. But when we translate it into words, tell ourselves or someone else what we’re doing, we break it down into snapshots. Images. Milestones. A three dimensional picture is far easier to represent than a four dimensional one, an abstract summary easier to relate than the infinite dimensionality of the present moment.

So, as a culture, we focus on those milestones. Events. What has happened. What we hope or fear will happen in the future.

And therein lies the danger. We convince ourselves that the representation is reality. That life really is made up of these arbitrarily defined, effectively fictional, milestones. The book we’re writing is only there to be finished. Worse, the book we’re reading is there only to be finished. The project we’re completing for work exists only to be tied with a bow and shoved out of the way – hard – so we can get to the next one.

It’s terrifying, for once we’ve ascribed our life’s meaning to milestones – events which by definition have no real duration or existence themselves – we come unstuck. Because of what we haven’t defined: The undescribed space lying between the events, the multidimensional now existing between our abstract summaries. That’s where we live, and love, and breathe. By framing our reality on events, goals and achievements, we’ve devalued the very substance of life itself, made it subservient to the fiction. Meaningless.

So my colleague’s advice was something I needed to hear. I needed to recapture the moment, to stop focusing on what happened and what’s next and discover what’s now.

It was good advice, and worth sharing.

See life differently. Be daring.

Live in the moment.

Fear

Every year gets harder. I remember a friend saying this to me around ten years ago after, at about this time of year, I’d quipped that the year ending had been particularly challenging. In the example being discussed it was certainly true, but was it really true of every year? I wasn’t sure, but as a concept it gave me a lens with which to look at future years.

Ten years into the future, I suspect I’m in a position to offer commentary to the me-of-ten-years-ago on the whole thing, and my observation since is an emphatic I Hope So.

Sure, it’s possible to disengage, go live on our own somewhere and subsist, to never seek new challenges, fear change and avoid it. And from that point of view we might say that my friend’s statement clearly doesn’t apply to Every year.

But maybe it should.

If we’re cruising on autopilot, we’re not changed, we’re not growing, and we’re not able to take advantage of new and exciting possibilities. We’re stagnating, and perhaps like a hypothetical aircraft left on autopilot while its pilot takes a nap, eventually we find ourselves out of fuel and on an unavoidable final glide towards The End. I’ll go out on a limb here and suggest that life’s too valuable to nap through.

But then, challenges are challenging, right? Sometimes they’re not of our making, and events outside our control make for new objectives, provide new fears, and force us to step up and face the new day when we’d rather pull ourselves further under the covers. And if the challenges are of our own making, if we’re pushing ourselves continually into new and difficult situations, then we can also become self critical in the face of real or potential failure: what possessed us with the tenacity to attempt something so bold?

And yet, whether of our own making or others, facing our fears, trying the impossible, and picking ourselves up after failure for another try is the stuff life is made of. We’re not immutable and neither is the world we live in.

So face the music, apply for the new job, and above all learn – to face the challenge, breathe deeply, stand tall; to salsa, skydive, motorcycle, fly.

And at the end of the year, if we can say it was our most difficult year yet, I think we should give ourselves a high five. Mission accomplished: Life being Lived.

A Storied October

It’s been a good month for the muse.

I’ve been progressing through plotting a new novel project, which I’m hoping to have largely complete by November. While there’s a temptation to think of writing at all an accomplishment of sorts (given how little fiction I’ve been producing lately), I’m trying to strenuously avoid that line of thinking. Instead, getting back into enjoying the process, enjoying the daily progression towards the goal without simply focusing on the goal and being frustrated at how far away it is, has been something I really needed to do. I might write more about this in the coming months, but I think it’s at the heart of a few problems I’ve had with my writing (and balancing famly/writing/work/life).

NaNoWriMo is coming up for its annual Novemberley madness, and while it’s certainly not for everyone, it’s encouraging to see much more local recognition of it than in past years. Several local libraries are getting behind it, so to put in a show of support and meet a few aspirant writers in the process I popped around for one of their info sessions. I last finished a NaNoWriMo novel in 2008, and while that particular project may continue to languish in pergatory awaiting a page-one rewrite, there’s no denying that learning one can write fiction quickly, to a deadline, and complete it has some merit.

Though I did conclude that libraries probably aren’t my ideal writing milieu.

Kat and I then attended a day of talks at CrimeScene 2013, a micro-convention here in Perth on the topic of Crime Fiction. Talks we attended included the differences between Australian and US law (which, given just how much US crime fiction is on our shelves or TV, is quite an eye opener), limitations of DNA evidence, firearms inaccuracies in crime fiction, and a few on the topic of writing the genre. Amusingly, I’d only even heard about the convention through Lee Battersby’s blog a few days before, but as spur of the moment decisions go, it was well worth it.

We also found time to see Gravity, which I’d studiously avoided trailers for and perhaps partly as a consequence can’t recommend highly enough. There are a great many story-telling reasons why I enjoyed this film, and while it may not have been scientifically accurate in all respects, I think films like this and Apollo 13 are incredibly important for both the hard-SF market and the future of space science.

Consider that heroism and action and rising above the mundane might motivate an audience to seek more of the subject matter after the curtain closes. If this is the case, what are they wanting more of? If they’re reading or watching SF which obviously breaks well known, accepted laws of physics, then why draw a link to and become involved with space science at all? This is where I’ve always felt hard-SF needs to stake out its market, and why despite its few technical weaknesses (which many audience members are clearly unaware of) Gravity puts forth a generally believable scenario, invests the audience in it, and plays it all out before a scenic backdrop to die for. And in a market where we might occasionally think a 3 hour movie sounds like good value for money, it shows just how much more can be done in 90 minutes with decent pacing.

 

 

Xenophobe Nation

Some time ago I had occasion to travel to Korea for work. The job involved getting out into the countryside, inspecting some equipment, taking a lot of photos and meeting with some Korean business associates. Having spent precious little time in Asia (at this point I think the sum total was four months in Taiwan and a day in Hong Kong) I found the cultural experience fascinating and, if I think about it, a little disturbing. Fascinating because, well, differences are. But disturbing because it seemed that the way in which I communicated and carried myself in Korean society left some of the locals uneasy. What was I doing so wrong?

I may have been born elsewhere, but I’ve spent most of my life in urban Australia, at its heart a very multicultural society. Melbourne is the second largest Greek city outside Athens; Perth, thanks in part to its timezone and distance from the other major Australian cities, has at times more in common with India, Indonesia and China than it does with its own national capital. So when a work colleague was leaving for Korea just recently we got to discussing our cultural differences, and he cleared it up for me – Korea is a monoculture.

Having lived here most of my life, have I become so accustomed to a sort of multicultural tolerance that monocultural intolerance is, if not inconceivable, then at least difficult to fathom? Perhaps this is why when an image like the following goes viral I think it says more about the people who are popularising it than does the picture itself.

The caption is

Two women standing in line at an airport, completely unaware that their daughters are holding hands. The innocence and love of children is amazing.

Wait a second… innocence? Of what crime are they unaware? Is there a subtext here pitting racial disharmony (the parents ignoring each other) against the kids’ ignorance of it? If so, and if racism might even be a small part of why this image became popular, are we not propagating the concept of racism by popularising it?

If I ignore the caption – and I’m pretty sure that’s a good idea – what I see in the image is completely different. As a parent, if I’m not visibly acknowledging my kid holding hands with another I can assure you it doesn’t mean I’m unaware of it. No, if one of the first things you grow as a parent is eyes in the back of your head, then I’m fairly sure any parent is aware of what their kid is doing if said kid is in their arms.

Rather, as adults we tend to be focused on what we need to do next. Like, get on the plane. So if I and a friend (or random stranger) are travelling and waiting for a vacant ticket counter we might well look as the adults in the photo do, in which case I’d substitute my own caption:

Kids. Not giving a damn about schedules since forever.

Multicultural societies or not though, I do wonder if we’re still letting our xenophobic buttons be pushed unawares.

Any news headline which can elicit an emotional response will make an audience sit up and pay attention – and few emotional responses are quite as effective as fear. If since childhood we’ve been made aware of stories of school shootings, child abductions, paedophilia and more; as parents these stories relate directly to our responsibilities to our children – even to the point where we’re doing them a disservice.

And if we also live in a city, rushing about ignoring the people around us, does it become completely too easy to ignore a stranger? If I’m on a four lane highway in the city, surrounded by a hundred other cars all going 80, how easy is it to ignore that car stopped, broken, in the middle of the road with its hazards on? For me to fit in with the crowd, not hold up traffic, keep moving, get where I’m going?

And yes, that happened – and what really gives me pause is that a few days earlier I was in the country, saw a car similarly stopped, and thought nothing to pull over and ask how I might lend a hand.

Some might argue that urban isolation is a myth, but I’m not so sure. I worry that even without traditional racial or ethnic boundaries to prey on, a fearmongering media is finding it can still sell stories that have us boarding up the windows for fear of the stranger walking down the street.

And if that stranger comes to us asking for help, are we going to be so used to the wall between us that we can’t listen?

So perhaps it’s time for good news stories whatever the caption.

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Tending the Introvert

A recent io9 article on the science behind extroversion and introversion got me thinking on this subject at length. Not least because I think that society tends to render introversion with negative connotations. Just consider the loaded introduction to this Huffington Post article:

Are you a happy, outgoing person, or are you more neurotic and anxious?

Like, really? So in the broad spectrum of human experience, personality can be read as either outgoing or, as a single mutually exclusive alternative, neuroses?

I’m an introvert, and I’m comfortable being an introvert. But it wasn’t always so – from the end of my teens to my early twenties, there was a time when being an introvert seemed a definite disadvantage: Like the Huff Post article, people around me seemed to be pushing the notion that introversion was a defect, an illness a person could and should be cured of.

It’s at this stage it seems worth noting that introversion and shyness are very different traits. Shyness, or social anxiety, is a response to the real or perceived opinions of others. If left unchecked, it promotes a dependency on the approval of others which can lead to extremes. And if we’re stuck in a loop of either approval seeking or disapproval avoidance, at which point do we find a moment to be true to ourselves, to live our own lives?

No, introversion is something else entirely. While Carl Jung first popularised the terms extroversion and introversion, modern popular understanding tends towards a description based on how a person derives their mental energy – for introverts, from solitary introspection, and for extroverts, from external interaction.

Various personality models take this into account, and tests such as Myers-Briggs may then go to add further personality classifications to result in a wide variety of “common” personality types. It’s always interesting to see that Introverts take up a significant proportion of a sample population in these test results.

Take that, extroversion promoters!

Yet, I’d wager that introverts are always going to tend to perceive themselves living in a world where they’re second class citizens.

Sure, introverts can expend energy in social interactions, but given an introvert is energised by solitary time, that’s where their compulsions lie. It follows then that they’re not going to be running out to promote their product to others, to perform three stage shows a day, every day, for a year on tour, or to be perceived as the last man standing at the bar. Not that those things are anathema to the introvert, but if they’re not where you’re most motivated to spend your time, you’re quite possibly not going to be as good at them as those who are, right?

But introverts have their place too, and not just as computer programmers or writers. As a New Statesman article put it when discussing the strengths and weaknesses of having a more introverted leader such as Obama:

Carl Jung, who popularised the word, described introverts as people who focus on the meaning of events rather than the social surface. They tend to work in a more considered way. We may need those qualities now more than ever. The incentive structure of democracy has been revealed as problematic: too many promises, too lightly made.

In a media culture that promotes performance, social high-fives itself every chance it can get, and tries to motivate our purchasing decisions based on how we will socialise with one another or be seen by others, it’s easy to conclude that the introvert is the endangered species. One of the latest films out of hollywood is not called Woz, it’s called Jobs. It’s a story about the extroverted guy behind the founding of Apple, not the introverted guy.

Because after all, watching someone sit in a cubicle for hours at a time, talking to nobody and quietly solving problems isn’t box office material.

But don’t be fooled: Just because it isn’t fun to see, doesn’t mean it isn’t fun to be.

Perspective

This last week a friend made the statement that she likes rainbows. This wasn’t a general observation of preference to all things colourful, soon to be joined by equal support for unicorns and butterflies. Rather, it was a statement of solidarity in support of the LGBT community and some recent protests against Vladimir Putin’s perspectives on their identity.
Even taken out of the context of the discussion at hand, I could hardly disagree: I like rainbows too.
A rainbow is an almost perfect metaphor for language and communication.
If a friend tells me he’s feeling alone, or hurt, or excited, he does so in words and body language, perhaps also reflecting these feelings in his choice of activity or repose. Lets say I take this communication and try and understand it. How do I understand how someone else is feeling? What if I’ve never experienced the emotion he’s talking about? What if, and this I suggest is guaranteed, I’ve never felt it the same way?
If I’m reading a novel that promises action, emotional turmoil and wonder, how does it deliver this? The emotion I’m feeling isn’t the author’s. It’s not even the character’s – since the character never existed to have those feelings in the first place. The emotions are my own.
So I suggest that when we empathise, we take another person’s perceived emotional situation and translate it – using our own experience – to an emotional feeling of our own experience.
What has any of this to do with rainbows?
I never really saw the connection until a few years ago, when flying above some mist.
Here on terra firma, when your friend points out a rainbow, you turn and look and sure enough, there’s a rainbow where they pointed, off in the distance. An arc that, weather and terrain permitting, stretches from one point in the ground, across the heavens to another. This rainbow you’re both seeing must be the same thing – and if it’s the same thing, then surely it must exist outside of ourselves?
From the air though, another interesting property of rainbows is revealed. They’re a circle, with the shadow of your aircraft at their centre.
And at the exact centre of that circle, amidst the shadow of the aircraft, is you – your shadow.
Though we might be both on the ground and you see turn to where I’ve just pointed out a rainbow, the rainbow you see is your own. Hidden by terrain, light and shadow, at the centre of your rainbow is you. And at the centre of mine is me.
Rainbows are like communication – like good communication. Because although what we’re observing is physically, provably different, we convince ourselves that we’re sharing the same experience. And if only we could all communicate that well, I suspect there’d be a lot less need for protests or shows of solidarity.
So yes, I like rainbows too.

Flying and Motorcycling are not so unlike Writing after all.

These last two or three years, getting distraction-free time I’ve found to be both a frustration and a challenge. Time to focus on creative pursuits has been something I’ve always been able to manage in the BC (Before Children). There are also some activities, such as writing, which I need to be engaged in as part of my personality, but which seem stymied by an environment which precludes concentration.

It also occasionally seems frustrating if I’m tempted to contrast “my time” with work. The office environment at The Day Job is engineered towards focus, a quiet place where the day’s task gets done. At home, in contrast, parenting is the primary focus, where it’s either time spent engaging with our young kids or else, it seems, trying to think straight while they have some noisy playtime of their own. Once the hours spent commuting or preparing for the day are subtracted, it feels like there’s hardly more than a pair of moments left to rub together.

Or so it seemed.

In this blog I’ve spent some time talking about motorcycling and flying. For me, these activities are about focus – they’re a chance to quit worrying about or planning the future, or reviewing the past, and simply live a hundred percent in the moment. There’s little room for daydreaming or spare thinking.

And so it was that through an odd transition from flying to motorcycling that has led to a workable writing schedule again. Flying is something that might only take a few hours once a month, so it’s an easy way to take time off from the family and get that focus. And realise just how important focus is.

But flying’s occasional – in my situation it’s not something I can engage in every day (nor, I think, would I want to – I think it would lose some of its romance were it to devolve into a day job). Motorcycling, though I’d argue to be substantially more risky, is an activity involving focus which can be done more regularly – whether on the weekend for a ride in the hills, or daily for a commute to work.

So I commuted a few times.

And hated it.

Well, I was riding the bike, so that was somehow intrinsically fun. But dealing with traffic jams, bad drivers, weather and having to dress in all the kit (or risk the consequences without) were serious detractors. And despite knocking thirty minutes off the commute every day when compared to public transport, it was also stressful.

So I packed the writing laptop into the bag and wrote on the bus.

And loved it.

So whether or not the current writing develops into the novel I’d like it to be, or simply becomes much needed practice and writing time, it feels good to be engaging in that activity again.