I really must get myself to start thinking seriously about writing earlier in the day. Not necessarily writing, but inhabiting the space, trying on the idea of doing it, really thinking about the process of writing, the excitement of imagination, the potential of the task itself. Because after a day of meandering around and not actually thinking of it, I’ve spent the last three hours working up to this point, and now I’m tired and nothing’s happened yet.

But I’m here. It began, really, with listening to a lecture by Mark Steel on Lord Byron. I have a huge mancrush on Byron, I admire his spirit and passion, his exuberant self-belief combined with such exact poetry that he clearly doubted many things but never long enough (in himself especially) for those doubts to scar him, instead they empowered him when he unerringly overcame them.

Part of my fascination is also due to me playing Byron in the play Bloody Poetry at university, the experience of which was just astonishingly REAL from the beginning to the end. I remember now the “Why the fuck not” impetus of my resolution to act (haha) on the coincidence of a call for auditions meeting a resurgence in my desire to do some acting, something I’d put behind me after beating myself up over an experience years before.

I remember the audition, shit I remember the walk to the audition – a walk I echo now almost every day – and how long it felt, how every step of the way was as if I was wading into onrushing water, as if a tide was pushing against my legs and persuading me to turn away, to give up my foolish ideas. But I strode on. It was one of the most important decisions of my life, as overdramatic as that sounds. I chose to follow the call of my soul.

I’m an incredibly surface person, that is my emotions, my thoughts even, are so often written plain across my face like a TV broadcast. I think this is why I always found acting so natural, though I think it’s what I would need to master and learn how to wield properly were I to ever pursue acting beyond amateur performances. And at the same time I’m also intensely affected by the things that brush that surface.

Other people, news reports, TV shows, weather, random occurences, books, films, music, everything which touches me leaves a mark. Sometimes I find this oppressive, when external forces seem to suffocate my self, but a great deal of the time it’s just how I live – my mood is altered, directed almost, by the waves of the world as they crash against me.

For instance: Listening to the lecture, remembering playing Byron, sitting and watching The World at War, then reading about writing on the Guardian, now listening to The National, I’m in the perfect state to write. More often than not it’s solemn things which grip me, but then at the same time they are the things which feel most ‘me’. I anticipate I’m going to write a lot of stories with at least some solemn element to them.

But I’m touched by happiness as much as sadness, by hate as much as love, by excitement and boredom the same measure. Playing Byron was a riot, given his outspoken and unabashed character, and the play is brilliant. It helped I was playing opposite a guy called Russ Bain who took the part of Percy Bysshe Shelley, and that the two of us – though hugely different in many ways – struck up an easy friendship, a good stage match. Russ, you have my Casablanca DVD, I want it back.

Playing Byron was electric, though I can’t say if I did the play justice, only that I loved every minute of it and took home with me the exhilaration of being on stage every night, though there was a lot more I took away from the play and not all of it now makes me smile. I can run a slide show of memories from that period, with the strongest moments bursting out like freezeframes from a broadcast, so intensely was I affected by the experience.

When talking about characters, knowing other people, even being able to think about other people comes out as with previous posts, I worry that my windsock-like personality impairs any chance I have of creating a real ‘other’ in my writing. Because of my tendency to flutter and flow with the course of passing moods, emotions and people I spend a lot of time compensating through my self-check, my inward monitoring – and this doesn’t help in any walk of life with perceiving other people.

Being a surface person, I’d always been confused by other people for who the surface was never an unconcious mirror of their inner thoughts and emotions, had attempted to read their face as they must so easily read mine. I still have to catch myself now, I still occasionally forget about my own expressions. I’ve still not quite managed to look past the exterior and see into other people, which is how I imagine everyone else operates.

But I can see that writing doesn’t demand I dip below the surface and see the workings of other people who are already out there, it only asks that I understand there is a surface, and something that lies beneath which may or may not marry up with what exists there. I had thought knowing myself would prevent knowing others. In fact, all I need to do is think differently about how I know myself, and, crucially, to think about knowing others.


About Ben Catley-Richardson

Writer, reader, husband. Father!
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