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  • Writer's pictureMike Gould

Hearing the voice from the silent space

Senior citizen looking pensive

The Dickens Effect

As we approach Christmas, it becomes an annual habit to think about loneliness and isolation - to look beyond the comforts of our own homes and consider how others will celebrate (if that's the right word) the festive season. It's the Charles Dickens in us, briefly enraged and ready to 'strike a blow'. That many of us, myself included, do not give the same consideration to others once the days lighten and the temperatures rise, is indicative of a looking-away, an unwillingness to confront the social and cultural problems staring us in the face: the tents in shop-doorways; the people turning a key into an empty house with no family inside; the teenager with a hundred contacts but few friends; the exhausted carer dragging him or herself up yet again to answer the panic cord. I could go on.

It is not the unique function of writers or other artists to be able to do this, but action to tackle issues of isolation arises out of imagination. If we can't look under the skin of things then who can? If nothing else, we should be able to imagine the life that breathes beyond the flap of the tent, the pane of glass onto a hospital ward, or the darkened space beyond the hall where a kettle boils enough water for just one cup of tea. Fortune or fate has given us this capacity; how we use the power with which we've been endowed is another matter.

Thank you for reading

As writers, we are doubly lucky in having our own, ready-made community. I was fortunate recently to have a communication from a fellow writer, an editor whom I have never met but briefly worked with on an educational project. He'd read my blog about my fantasy novel and was writing his own first novel - could we chat about progress? I thoroughly enjoyed our conversation, and am sure I got much more from it than he did - and also enjoyed his taking the time later to read my opening chapters and offer some thoughtful and perceptive comments. I have yet to reciprocate - but will do so soon (I promise, Chris!).

We may write alone but the writing community itself is huge and supportive. I am lucky to be a member of Hastings Writers' Group, but also to have many colleagues and friends who seem more than happy to put up with listening to me rattle on about my latest work in progress. I may have said a similar thing in previous blogs but in the current times which seem to be about division, about pulling-up the metaphorical drawbridge, about shouting the loudest, we need the imagination of writers with their ears to the ground picking up the sounds of the quieter footsteps, and their eyes looking beyond the closed door to the silent spaces.

On that note, I'll end with a poem I wrote a couple of years back. It's not about my mother, suffering her own delusions and stuck in hospital as I type, but another woman. I guess it asks who is real? What version of a person are we seeing? And, most importantly, do we have the courage to engage with that person, to hear their voice whatever iteration of their life we're confronted with?

Gone with the wind

She stopped me in the street,

Elegant in her crimson coat,

Grey hair a little wild;

I should have seen the signs.

Her arms outstretched,

She asked me if I'd seen it,

Her favourite film, she even

Quoted to me Scarlett's lines

Three or four times, maybe more

Till the light went on inside

My head and went off in hers,

As she said those words.

'I shall never be poor again!'

She cried, and shook her

Thin brown arms, embracing air

In imitation of her heroine.

I stood there, gurning like a fool.

The dog started to yap,

Giving me a reason to escape.

'You're beautiful,' she said.

I said nothing, not even

'I'm no Clark Gable;'

I should have taken time

To hear more, learn more, of her life.

I wondered who she'd been;

A foolish thought, for this is

What she is, now, here,

Somehow new, breaking out

Of silences and spaces,

Talking films to strangers,

Her own movie reel

Stuck forever on the same frame.

(c) Mike Gould 2018

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