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.