Singularities and Originality

Freedom of speech as defined by is the right to speak without censorship or restraint, to communicate one’s opinions and ideas without fear of retaliation. Amnesty international goes even further and defines freedom of speech as the right to express ideas and opinions that may be deeply offensive to others. It adds a caveat: use your freedom of speech responsibly: it is a powerful weapon for change. It certainly is a weapon. They say the pen is mightier than the sword. Its message reverberates down the ages for far longer. Expressing ideas that rattle the pots and pans of established thinking can start revolutions. And yet without them we would stagnate and die for lack of oxygen. Once the earth was flat and people risked the flames suggesting it was round-ish. Polish priest Copernicus risked being labelled an heretic when he suggested that the earth was not in fact the centre of the universe but a smallish planet, third rock from a smallish star that got lost in an immensity of galaxies extending into infinity. The idea shattered the vanity of the church and flattened the egos of Italian nobles who thought they were God’s gift to everything. But this flashbulb insight of Copernicus got people thinking and soon rooftops all over Europe were sprouting telescopes pointed at the heavens and curious people peering into space open to the possibility of other worlds “out there”. Change begins with a new idea, a thought that defies gravity and tests our wings. Dangerous yes but exploration of the unknown is how we discover new worlds and new worlds are essential to the perpetuation of life.

There is a term in cosmology called a singularity, where the known laws of physics break down. The most famous singularity is the Big Bang, a theory that once the entire material universe was held in a single concentrated state, compact as a billiard ball. How long it remained undisturbed we have no way of knowing. But one day all the laws that governed it broke down and it exploded apart setting in train life as we know it. It is puzzling indeed that such range and diversity of expression flowed from this uni-dimensional state. To quote Stephen Hawkings: “It is not easy to see how so much variety could come from a single explosive beginning to everything.” Someone or something had a new idea and what a brilliant flashbulb moment it was. Shattering apart the old world that had constricted life into a rigid ball there was no way of knowing what if any good would come of it. There was every chance that like Humpty Dumpty the pieces may never have been put back together again. Instead it opened up streams of potential and creative variations hitherto unimagined. Worlds within worlds grew in colour and diversity and beauty so intense it is still difficult to process and we are still making discoveries that delight us and all because of a singularity that deviated from the known and understood routine. Likewise original ideas set in train a flood of possibilities for expression and yet, humanity is so afraid of new ideas and the changes they ring in. Science is always on the look-out for singularities because therein lies our heritage and our future. Nothing can progress without an event that defies the known and crumbles the existing rigid patterns. And yet, humanity would rather go to war than change their minds. Like most of you I watch the evening news and feel both sad and sickened by the prattle of people unwilling to give ground. I hear the same old patterns of commerce, punishment and pugilism that keeps us shackled to disharmony. I observe people who would rather kill than listen. Empathise with people who are dying to be heard. And all the arguments are over Words. Mightier than any sword, their meaning is often lost in the shouting and defiance based on fear. Fear of change. Fear of life itself because life depends on singularities of being, thought and actions that kick-start creation and patterns of being that become new worlds.

I see a world enslaved in a fear of words. There is a certain safety in institutionalised thinking. It’s the burrow of the lazy mind, the retreat of those cowed or beaten by ostracism, prejudice or social isolation because they happen to be singularities, different, original and therefore dangerous to the herd. If you don’t think like everybody else and share the same social goals you are dangerous or stupid. Certainly you are not one of us and you don’t belong. People hide behind social edifices called nations, armies, institutions, ethnicity, gender or wealth. There are many and they are subtle in their methods of controlling our thinking and our behaviour. So much speech these days is either politically incorrect or subversive and the “rules” that keep us and our thinking in place are stringently applied in behavioural codes and media hype biased towards drama and fear. Fear constitutes the bars that cage us in social stratas where we risk ostracism if we dare commit the crime of originality. The last bastion of freedom of expression and speech is Art. It has always been the temple of imagination where original thought is prayer. In a world increasingly nervous of new ideas it is incumbent upon artists in every field to express themselves uniquely and ask the questions most people are afraid to ask for fear of being misunderstood or worse, executed, and it is vital that we risk the answers that lead us into unknown territory and open up parallel or complimentary worlds that defy all the known laws and social mores that keep us manageable and obedient to outmoded paradigms of being.

If we don’t we will never truly live. Faith is the key to overcoming fear.

Respect for Writing

I once read a book called Respect For Acting by Uta Hagen, a brilliant actress and teacher who lived in New York in the middle part of the last century. She had tutored some very famous actors and was highly regarded as one of the truly great stage performers of her day. Her “method” was simple enough … find a reason to do anything the director asks you to. She explained it like this: if the stage direction is to “jump for joy” and you can’t manufacture enough joy to leap convincingly imagine the floor becoming increasingly hot, so hot you must jump up to stop your feet burning. It sounds silly but these are the sorts of devices actors use to give reality to their performances. Emotions are often hard to conjure but simple games of the imagination are quite easy. Uta’s advice helped me “find” reality in my art when I was a burgeoning actress but I wondered what she meant by respect for acting. Surely acting was about becoming a star and being worshiped? The answer came a few years later when some of my classmates at drama school were beginning to make a name for themselves and their attitude was one of profound disrespect for their art and inflated regard for their own talent, which was, in many cases mediocre at best. The years peeled away and eventually I found my true passion, something I could truly respect – writing. But now I am seeing the same lack of respect for the art of writing in many would-be writers. I am encountering people who assume their first draft is fabulous and needs no polishing or assessing. It is very disrespectful.True, we cannot know how many submissions publishers are receiving in any given week. Nor can we compare the quality of our own manuscript to theirs but it is wise to assume some wonderful manuscripts are crossing the desks of publishers and if we wish to compete we need to submit our very best work. I hear much chatter about slush piles and volume and how hopeless it all is but now that I am working closely with a publisher I know how eager they are to find gems. And they do read submissions. It’s a convenient lie to believe your manuscript wasn’t even looked at when it gets rejected. If you get rejected, and we all do, take another look at how you can improve your story. Polish it. Have it assessed. We all work in isolation and it’s easy to assume our work goes out there into the ether or gets dropped down some bottomless black hole but all effort is eventually rewarded and we owe our art the respect it deserves by submitting only our most polished mss and accepting advice when it is offered, especially if it chimes authentically. We can all improve our work. Writing groups can be very helpful for feedback and support and taking courses every so often is a great way of cross-pollinating ideas with other writers. But in the absence of a local writing group or a great teacher an assessor can make a huge difference. It’s all about respect…for ourselves and for our art. And remember the manuscript that never gets published is the one you never submit. Keep writing.

My Book at last!

Well it’s been a mission to get this far but today at long last Catch the Moon, Mary is officially available through Linen Press Books It feels good to know that I have worked hard to produce a book that isn’t just more mind-slush and depressingly predictable like many books we could all name. I’ve chosen difficult and challenging themes, difficult and challenging characters. They don’t all end up in bed and no-one gets whipped! They do pursue their passions and they do seek connection. Not unlike life with its variables and emotional underpinnings. I welcome any comments or questions after you’ve read it. Exchanging ideas is grist for the intellectual mill. Self-publishing was never an option for me. It’s taken five years of rejections to finally find the right publisher for my book. Lynn Michell is arguably the best editor on earth and our mutual product is one I am proud to put my name to. Happy days all.