Life in the Writing Retreat Is Regulated By The Church Clock On The Hill.

Woe betide any writer or artists  who sleeps in after 7am or stays up after 10pm!!!

Working without the strictures associated with office practice (running a writing retreat in Portugal is the ultimate job I think) I set my own timetable and am my own boss to a certain extent. Interestingly, in spite of my freedom I find myself glancing often at a small round clock balanced against a book shelf just in my peripheral vision. Forget the time ticks on silently at the bottom of this screen, my preference is to glance at a simple battery operated clock with a basic hand mechanism on a paper face and it is this which assists in structuring my day.

That, perhaps is not entirely true as our church clock does strike the hour and half hour from 7 in the morning until 10 at night and so my day is portioned into blocks of thirty minutes, which sometimes I do use. You might wonder why I choose to impart this information, well; the reason is that I have been thinking once again about creativity. Having read The Decision Moment by Jonah Lehrer and the battle we have between rational and emotional thought I began to consider what that might mean for my own creative practice, especially in relation to time.

I sit here in my study with two paintings of mine above the desk. One is semi abstract and is in a palette of blue and green and is composed of 21 small squares which I have designed. The other is a watercolour of a friend’s kitchen, with black ink outlines and a watercolour wash. The paper is the smallest size you can buy. I find I work more effectively when I am under pressure and have a deadline and obviously very small parameters in which to work! I become afraid when I consider committing myself to a long project. I am addicted to 500 words which I can now write in an instant, the thought of developing something in full, working up to a big piece, sends me scurrying off in another direction in a cold sweat.  I even have large paper which I am afraid to use!

So how might one compensate for those feelings of terror and invading thoughts of inadequacy? Breaking time into manageable portions works quite well. If you say to yourself, ok I will write for 20 minutes on this project and stop, you may well find that without the pressure of a long stint you write much more than just 20 minutes. As Lehrer says in the book:
‘It turns out we weren’t designed to be rational creatures. Instead the mind is composed of a messy network of different areas, many of which are involved in the production of emotion. Whenever someone makes a decision, the brain is awash in feeling, driven by its inexplicable passions. Even when a person tries to be reasonable and restrained, these emotional impulses secretly influence judgment.’

 So I guess my way of trying to deal with this process is to use time, segments, ‘syllables of time’ to quote Shakespeare, to corral my imagination so it might concentrate just long enough to write.

This brings me back to time which has been uppermost in my mind for a number of reasons, the first being a series on BBC radio 4  where the curator of the British Museum is examining objects which were pertinent to Shakespeare’s era. Yesterday was the turn of Vallin’s clock made in the late 16th century (which I have seen in the flesh as it were). I won’t spoil the programme as you can download it here

But what fascinated me was that time was a very urban thing and originally it was only in the city that the need for accurate time was apparent. I guess the church clock was all anyone needed in the countryside as the rhythm was one of daylight religion and the seasons. I have been trying to locate a paper entitled:
Glennie, PD & Thrift, NT. ‘Revolutions in the times: Clocks and the Temporal Structures of Everyday Life’, in Livingstone, DN and Withers, CWJ (Eds.), Geography and Revolution, (pp. 160-198), University of Chicago Press, 2005. ISBN: 0226487334 as the concept of how time shapes everyday lives is intriguing but so far no luck. All I know is that Dr Paul Glennie works at Bristol University…watch this space.

Of course, I am not the only one fascinated by time. Read here how John Mullan has collected his best clocks in literature

And it’s a list one can easily argue with and add to, but I don’t have time right now!

Yes, I have my own memories of clocks that have marked out gradations of time in my life: the small wind up wooden clock on the mantelpiece you didn’t hear during the day. Yet coming downstairs in the middle of the night, to avail oneself of the external facilities, its sound was loud, insistent and unforgettable. The grandfather clock in the house of my three great aunts, with its sonorous tone, took me to another world, that of Victoriana.  My first alarm clock made me feel I had responsibilities and now the church clock which is chiming twelve right at this moment, reminds me I have to change activities and do something else.

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