PAUL K LYONS
JOURNAL - 2003 - APRIL
2 April 2003
I’m only just getting back to normal health after the stress on my knee caused first by the walk, then by the two volleyball games, and after the light cold that appeared to touch my sinuses and lungs. I’ve just been for a jog around the block. I could only manage a three-quarter distance, although before I was getting to the point of being able to do the whole block without too much difficulty.
I’ve not been as assiduous in my commentary of the invasion as I should have been. It’s been going for nearly two weeks now, and, in my assessment, the coalition partners (only US and UK troops are actually fighting as far as I can tell) have not had one single lucky break - everything has gone against them.
There have been far too many friendly fire incidents, which, I suppose, must be the consequence of youthful troops, without much experience, scared and/or trigger happy. Thus, much energy has to be expended in explaining the incidents to the media, in setting up enquiries, and in trying to justify what appear to be unnecessary deaths. There have been at least three serious incidents of the allies killing groups of civilians. Given the extent of the bombing, there seem to have been remarkably few civilian deaths, but the soldiers, the soldiers’ spokesmen, and the politicians can’t say that. A bomb on the very first night might have killed or injured Saddam Hussein but this cannot be proven. Even the failure of Hussein to appear on TV referring to current events does not seem to be proof of anything.
10 years ago, during the Gulf War, the people in Basra, Iraq’s second biggest city, rose up against their leader, but were then crushed when the allies refused to prosecute the war inside Iraq. Basra is made up of Shia Muslims who are less favourable to Hussein than the Sunni Muslims which are in the majority in Iraq. The coalition might have had reasonable expectations that Basra would rise up again, quickly and helpfully when the coalition pressed its way into southern Iraq. It didn’t. Hussein appears to have infiltrated various levels of loyal armies and quasi-terrorists in the region which have managed to keep the population well repressed. Besides, having once been let down by the Western forces, the Iraqi people are less willing to believe the leaflets and other propaganda being distributed now.
Any hopes that Baghdad might implode from within, and that the people would line the streets with roses and candles for the invading army, have long since been dashed. The people may not love Hussein (perhaps they do, after decades of brainwashing, they’ve known nothing else), but they have no reason to love the invaders who are bombing their cities and killing their sons. How can they know, how can they understand, how can they believe that a better day is coming?
In addition, the Arab world, especially the press, is unremittingly against the war. Arab leaders are trying to hold on to some middle ground, but find themselves increasingly drawn into making public proclamations against the invasion of Iraq. A couple of suicide bombers have struck apparently for the cause of Iraq (Hussein always supported the Palestinian cause), and, with many of Hussein’s soldiers blending into the civilian population, the UK and US now have to pay even closer attention to terrorist and suicide attacks - thus making it more difficult to develop a friendly relationship with the populations of the towns and villages they take over.
It is proving, as Robin Cook and I feared, a very messy war. There will be no quick end, many lives will be lost (certainly hundreds of US and UK soldiers, and probably 10,000s of Iraqi soldiers), huge amounts of money will be burnt up in explosions, and will be needed for rebuilding. And who can gauge the cost (in terms of a greater West-Muslim divide, and future Osama bin Ladens) against the benefit (a revived Iraq, eventually, and a world in which autocratic leaders will think long and hard before acting like Hussein again - perhaps, who knows, Syria, Iran, Libya may decide the risks of sponsoring terrorism and terrorists groups is too great now they’ve seen what the giant does when its angry.)
Because the weather has been so good of late, very springlike, I’ve planted my seed potatoes. With luck I’ll get leaf growth which will make the vegetable plots look a little more attractive when prospective buyers come (although, now I think about it, they’ll probably be coming in the next two or three weeks, which will be far too early for leaf growth).
I’ve written about 10,000 words of Kip Fenn chapter seven, but have taken a day off today - to do admin stuff.
Perhaps I should mention Sue briefly. She has finally sent me a couple of pictures. I thought perhaps she might be quite middle-aged, gentle and fusty in appearance, but the reverse is true. She has squarish features, a hard boyish face, not softened at all by her very short hair (and, in one scary photo, a shaved head). We’ve had a little conflict in the last few letters which, I suppose, I provoked. But she won’t engage in a fight (as Anna did) she immediately sees my point, and, if necessary, apologises for responding too thoughtlessly,
I’m close to finishing chapter seven, at least I’ve reached 21,000 words, but the trouble is I’ve only got Kip to the age of 65. This chapter is supposed to cover the decade until he’s 70. I’m not sure I know what happened - the stories I wanted to tell in this chapter took too long. I’ve decided I need to take a rain check, which means rereading the whole manuscript up to this point, before carrying on with chapter eight. It was a little dispiriting to realise that I’ve written less than 1,000 words a day since the new year. I really should have finished this chapter by the end of March. There were two ways to approach my new found freedom and my desire to finish this novel: either to work on the novel and do nothing else until it’s finished, or to take things relatively easy and try and develop other initiatives or projects. I seem to be taking the former path, in which case I should be making more of an effort to get on with it. Perhaps in retrospect it will seem that I’ve worked well on it, but, on a daily basis, it does feel like that because I’m not doing anything else, nothing at all (except watching television, and reading a bit). I’m not even going up to London for the day like I used to, or going to volleyball, or pursuing any other interests. It’s as though I haven’t got time; and yet, even on a good day, I only actually write for about 5-6 hours. I really do wish I could enjoy the overall process a bit more; and, at the same time, engage in other activities.
After a difficult second week, the third week is going better for the coalition forces - at least in terms of taking over Basra and starting to taking over Baghdad. Adam remains staunchly anti-war.
12 April 2003
‘Parsifal’ live from the New York Met is playing on Radio Three - a stirring introduction. I can’t say I’ve ever listened to it before, nor will I do so much this evening.
Late Saturday afternoon. Apart from a swift trip to Godalming early this morning to do shopping and check out the auction, I’ve not been out today. It’s been a day of tinkering. Looking at houses on the internet, scanning into the computer a few slides, and thinking how best to plan for my domain, internet access and service provider over the next few years. I’m wondering if I should stick with ecinform.demon.co.uk; or whether I should I have a new personal site - I was thinking about the name pikle or packle.co.uk. Both I know are available, for around £30 a year I think. I’m not sure how renting a domain works, in terms of an ISP hosting it. I came to the first name because it means nothing, and yet had my initials embedded within in it; and Adam came up with the second one, which has both our initials within. If I did choose and rent a domain name I’d want it to be suitably neutral, but also one, perhaps I could use for a publishing company in the future. Packle seems as good as anything else. Paul@packle.co.uk.
Tomorrow, I’ll be back to work on Kip Fenn (and I may do a little sorting out in the garage). I’ve gone back over the last three chapters, and I’ve tried to rationalise my notes about what needs to be revised across the whole set of seven chapters to keep the plot and characters in trim. Now I must press on to chapter eight. I must make a big decision before starting: whether to have a planetary crisis such as a meteor hit or a major volcano eruption which blackens the sky for several years. If I don’t, there won’t be too much to write about in the last chapters; and if I do, I might not be up to the business of thinking it through and writing it.
Russet House was advertised in the Surrey Advertiser yesterday, but I’ve not had anyone come to look at it yet. The floor plan was done on Friday, and I would expect the house details to be finalised in the next few days. By the Easter weekend, I would expect to have a few interested people round, and within a further week, I may be able to gauge whether £550,000 is way beyond all possible expectations. As I told the estate agents, the price is quite important, and I would be willing to move into rented accommodation in July if I got a good price.
I have been trying to think through as deeply as possible what will happen in the autumn. There are two main factors to consider: whether I sell or don’t sell; and whether Kip Fenn finds an agent and/or publisher. If I sell then I will need to give myself a good three months extra before considering any major project or looking for a job - i.e. October-ish. And I certainly won’t know before then whether agents/publishers will be interested in Kip Fenn. Clearly, if I do find a publisher for Kip Fenn (what are the chances? what do I honestly think? unfortunately the ‘I’ here is not a solid immovable machine with a fixed output - I could say four to one against, but one bit of the ‘I’ finds the idea of being published so laughable, so extraordinary that it would never give such high odds; and another part of the I thinks Kip Fenn is already a great novel, and should only get better with revision and editing, and, therefore, how can any publisher resist it) . . . Clearly, if I do find a publisher for Kip Fenn, this will involve my time, and will take time to publish. In which case, I might be content to work on other writing projects until it was published and I got some feedback (I mean if it failed to excite any interest, I could then head for obscurity in a PR job somewhere). But whatever happens, I won’t want to give up trying until well into 2004 - so I can’t see myself looking for a job until early winter.
I’m getting a headache here - it’s crazy even trying to think this stuff through.
Mum rang yesterday to tell me Julian has gone to China again - this time because some crisis has hit the office: hairdryers supplied to Avon have burst into flames. Oddly, his mobile rang me while he was on the way to the airport, and I listened in to the conversation for 15 minutes, without him ever realising.
15 April 2003
I’ve made a start on chapter eight, but I’m far from convinced I’ve planned it well enough, and although I can invent reasonably acceptable personal story lines, I’m not at all sure I can write about the Second Jihad War, the Wave and the Grey Years with enough detail or conviction, let alone imagining how things will look technologically/socially/politically 70 years from now.
This morning, early, I watched last night’s ‘West Wing’ episode. It was so good, and I still think the series is head and shoulders better than anything else on TV. In its dealing with complex political issues and procedures, it makes no concessions to a lazy audience. This one was one of those episodes in which the author Aaron Sorkin links up, so effectively, the past with the present, not in a soap opera-ish way, but in a complex satisfying way.
Genny came to visit this afternoon, so I could show her how to set up a website for her group of illustrators called Runningfish. We also talked about dating companies. She paid £100 for four introductions with a firm called Avenue, but I suggested she should use Loveandfriends. She’s so much less picky than I (I could tell by the way she talked about the four contacts she met through Avenue), that I’d put money on her finding a mate within a couple of months (if she signs up).
Easter Sunday 20 April 2003
Not very Easter Sundayish for me. I’ve spent the morning writing the short annex to chapter seven which I’d lazily left unwritten - a couple of letters, Jonathan’s last letter to Kip, and Kip’s letter to Anna after Jonathan’s death. I didn’t find either of them easy. And yesterday, after a Good writing Friday, I didn’t do any writing at all - I’d got stuck at a point where I didn’t feel I knew enough about the characters, especially Lizette’s family, or what I was doing with the chapter (even though I had, as usual, a rough plan). I may do some writing this evening, but my head is feeling a bit thick, so I may not restart until tomorrow morning.
I took a stroll around the board walks on the Common this afternoon to clear my head after a little post-lunch doze, and found myself thinking about thinking again. I haven’t done any thinking about thinking for a while. I may have been inspired by the Reith lectures this year, called ‘The emerging mind’, being given by a neuroscientist called V.S. Ramachandran. He’s very keen on showing how the brain has definite functional areas, but that the way these areas work is very complex. Mostly he draws on clinical experience of patients who have developed extraordinary abilities or inabilities as a result of damage to some part of the brain (similar territory to that covered by Oliver Sacks in his well known books, although Sacks does not study how the mind works in general from the specific individuals he describes, in the way Ramachandran does). In the first lecture, he talked about phantom limbs a lot, and in the second he talked about a few patients with paralysed limbs who would continue to deny their limb is paralysed. But this only happens with those who have damage in the right hemisphere (paralysed on the left side). He says there is a major difference between the left hemisphere and the right, in that the left hemisphere tends to confabulate, to smooth over discrepancies, but that the right hemisphere is highly sensitive to anomalies. Which is one point. But then he goes on to describe how some of these patients with right hemisphere damage will also absolutely deny that another paralysed person in a wheelchair is paralysed. When the second paralysed person is asked to move his arm and cannot, the first one, with this strange condition, says he believes the paralysed arm is in fact moving. Ramachandran links this up with other neuroscientific studies on monkeys. These have monitored the neurones that fire when a monkey reaches out to pick up a peanut, and that some of these same neurones fire, when the monkey watches another monkey pick up a peanut. A scientist called Rizzolatti has named these particular neurones as ‘mirror neurones’, and Ramachandran believes that it might these neurones that are damaged in those patients of his that cannot recognise their own or anyone’s left side paralysis. He also believes these same mirror neurones might have played an important role in human evolution. Culture, he says, which is a hallmark of our species, depends on imitation of complex procedures, and it may be that these mirror neurones became sufficiently sophisticated about 50,000 years ago that there was an explosion of this ability to mime complex actions, leading to complex cultures. We are promised more in his next lecture on Wednesday.
I’ve been much persuaded by Pinker, by other books with remnants of information in my brain, by some of the things Ramachandran is saying, by my own personal knowledge of watching Adam develop, that the brain is very significantly pre-programmed. I mean we know this so clearly any way (at least I think we do), because there are definite parts of the brain which carry out the same general function in every human being (one of my problems with writing about these things, is that I’ve never learned the geography and terminology of the brain); but what we are learning now - from those with injury - is about the many different types/styles of functions the brain can do. These are complex functions not easily pinned down into boxes that we can define, but scientists are trying. The fact that some few people lose their ability to name objects, for example, appears to indicate that there is some neuronal circuitry that controls simply the names of things, not what they do, what they are, how they work, but their names only. Because in the world that we inhabit and talk about the name of something seems its least important attribute, the separation of the name from what it is, appears ludicrous.
But what I was thinking about on my walk - I see I’ve finally got here - was that one of the reasons why we might find it so difficult to think of our brain having many baskets of functions that appear not to relate to the way world is as we know it, is that we can’t imagine our brains putting together the information we need for thinking/talking/being when it is made up of such disparate bits. But then I thought about the internet, and how large complex amounts of information are transmitted almost instantly from across the world, so there’s good reason why our brains couldn’t think, for example, or talk neuronal activity following a kind of flow chart, passing by lots of brain areas, testing whether the information stored there is necessary, and proceeding onwards to conclude the thought. And, of course, now I think about it, the actual name of something would need to be divorced from much else information because it’s language based, and might have it’s complex set of boxes and compartments in the brain - and these may differ from person to person.
And then I was thinking about double consciousness! (I did a search on google, and found that an American used this term in the early part of the 19th century in the context of racism, I think, being black and being American; but I also did a domain site search, and www.doubleconscious.co.uk is still available.) I was thinking about these mirror neurones, and what would happen if the mirror neurones themselves had mirror neurones. I’ve been trying to explain, for a long time, why I feel different from so many other people; and it comes down to something to do with self-consciousness, a hyper-awareness of myself in the world around; an affliction perhaps that evolved through too much self-reflection and diary writing.
One of the things I think about, when I think about the future and what I might do after the summer (even in my wildest dreams of Kip Fenn being publishable it would never happen until next year at the earliest, and I’m going to need to do something else) is to go to back to study, maybe doing a pHd, or even learning to teach. I always used to say I’ve spent my life trying to avoid becoming a teacher; yet now I wonder if I wouldn’t find teaching rewarding, whether it might give me a more satisfyingly busy lifestyle.
Ads and I went to see Mum yesterday. She cooked a lovely rack of lamb. Conversation, as usual, focused on my siblings. Today Ads is at B’s, at the house in Guildford. B has had a couple of prospective buyers visit Yalta, but she didn’t feel they were very interested.
It’s gone very quiet on the invasion front now that the US/UK appear to have won a relatively easy military victory. As everyone knew the peace is going to be harder to organise with civil disorder, religious factions, a vacuum of power.
A bully or violent man is standing by me, forcing me to try and hold a large slimy fish between my fingers above the head of an old woman lying on the ground. The fish keeps slipping out of my fingers, and I have to keep trying to hold it again. The woman appears to be dying or dead. Then I notice her face is distorted and blood is streaming out of her mouth. The juxtaposition of the blood spattered face and the slimy fish that I keep trying to hold above it, suddenly make me puke. But I don’t bend down to puke, my head is horizontal and a huge spray of vomit ejects from my mouth.
That woke me up. I can’t remember having such a truly nasty nightmare before.
The garden looks lovely in spring, the new growth covering over the untidiness left by winter, and blossom bringing colour, where for months there has been none. As I glance through the window next to this table where I write in the lounge, I can see my apple trees are whiterw with blossom than they’ve ever been; next door’s cherry is sumptuously pink; the keria and the quince along the fence are competing yellow to red. The seed potatoes I planted several weeks have started to sprout, and I go out at least twice a day to check on their progress - I love to spot where the leaf growth is just forcing a route through the soil. It’s surprisingly difficult to see since the leaf colour is dark and heavily camouflaged. I haven’t planted anything else this year, but maybe I’ll go to the garden centre this morning - I was hoping/expecting I might be able to move before or by the summer, but so far I’ve not had a single person come to look at the house. I shall have to call the estate agent tomorrow and ask what’s happening.
Chapter eight is coming along; I’ve cracked the back of it, I hope. I know what I have to write today, and tomorrow I’ll do the letters for the annex. I lie awake in bed sometimes thinking of all the things the book is not. Just in the last few days, for example, I’ve worried that there’s not enough science fictiony stuff vis-a-vis the war; that the style of the writing in these latter chapters has changed from the early ones; that there’s not enough demonstration of how Kip loves his partners or why they love him; and that there’s not enough inter-weaving of the stuff in these final chapters with the earlier ones (which is not surprising since I charted the basic territory for the early chapters, and now I’m charting as I go along).
Paul K Lyons
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