There’s a very specific set of emotions I associate with starting a new project: anticipation, excitement, curiosity, quite a bit of fear as well. These are all circling inside me and bouncing off each other like bubbles. The external manifestation of that Big New Thing feeling is the pile of books I’ve collected together on my desk. I’ve been making plans for some months, and ordering a few new things, but the moment when I took everything off the shelves and stacked them all up was when it really began for me. And the pile is big, that’s some of the fear. It seems like a huge undertaking, too much to chew, but I know that gremlin by now and I can put him back in his box. I’ve read most of these before, and some are just there to dip in and out of. Plus, I’m spending four months on this – it’s plenty of time. Gremlin boxed, I can let excitement lead for a while, looking at the titles, anticipating reading new stories, writing new stories, learning things that, at the moment, are the most fascinating things in the world (pier pilings were usually made of elm? you say, how fascinating!)
I read something that really intrigued me once, in The Table Comes First by Adam Gopnik. He’s talking about why people buy and read recipe books when they are unlikely to ever make, or be able to make, any of the dishes. He argues that the purpose of the recipe book has changed, and its role now is about story – our connection with the chef and the food. We read them like we read gossip magazines, to feel closer to a personality or a way of life that we admire. ‘The real surprise of the cookbook,’ he says, ‘is that it sometimes yields something better in the space between what’s promised and what’s made.’ And later: ‘We reanimate our passions by imagining the possibilities.’ Imagining possibilities is right where I am at in the ThamesWords project. I have hundreds of ideas, and a pile of books that’s probably higher than I can read in four months (this will not be my only reading). But I love the feeling that I have right now, I love feeling like everything is in front of me – endless possibilities and spin-offs and paths and links. I’m not fixated on the final product (although I have a rough idea what I’m aiming for), I’m just fully enjoying the process right at the present moment.
A note on fear. I am going to write short stories this term. It’s a requirement of the project (we have to explore something that’s not our main field of work), and I also really want to do it, having become more interested in short stories over the last year. But seriously, apart from a few things I’m not sure aren’t prose poems, I haven’t written a short story since… maybe primary school? I have no idea how it’s going to go. A huge part of me wants to fall back on safety and submit this blog as my project, creative non-fiction would fulfil the requirement. But it wouldn’t stretch me – I’ve done loads of blogging in my day – and it’s not what I want from this assignment. So what I really want – to learn to write a half-decent story – scares me, but I’m going to do it anyway. I think that’s what writing is, it certainly seems to be how life works.
This week my to-do list is full of reading, and emails to send, a blog post, and… one story, the first one. Just a first draft, and it’s allowed to be rubbish, and you wouldn’t believe how much more appealing everything else looks. I’ll let you know how it goes.