“Although, to restless and ardent minds, morning may be the fitting season for exertion and activity, it is not always at that time that hope is strongest or the spirit most sanguine and buoyant.”
Reasons why I can’t write in the morning –
“In trying and doubtful positions, youth, custom, a steady contemplation of the difficulties which surround us, and a familiarity with them, imperceptibly diminish our apprehensions and beget comparative indifference, if not a vague and reckless confidence in some relief, the means or nature of which we care not to foresee.”
– all day yesterday I’d been overcoming the little doubts (and the larger ones) so that by evening I was energised, and I believed I could do anything I put my mind to –
“But when we come, fresh, upon such things in the morning, with that dark and silent gap between us and yesterday; with every link in the brittle chain of hope, to rivet afresh; our hot enthusiasm subdued, and cool calm reason substituted in its stead; doubt and misgiving revive.”
– “that dark and silent gap” of sleep – and when I wake in the glaring light of day I see my work of self-reassurance is undone and I’m too weary and afraid in this moment to try to put any of last night’s ideas into written form. And the process of forging the “brittle chain” begins again, until finally I begin to work, sluggishly, throughout the day.
“As the traveller sees farthest by day, and becomes aware of rugged mountains and trackless plains which the friendly darkness had shrouded from his sight and mind together, so, the wayfarer in the toilsome path of human life sees, with each returning sun, some new obstacle to surmount, some new height to be attained.”
The light shifts as the day goes on while I try to work in this small room. From the soft morning light to the stark midday sun to the glare of the afternoon sun as it shines directly through my wide open window, and onto my monitor so I have to pull the curtains closed in order to see what I’ve written, darkness beginning to return to this room now even though the sun still shines behind the curtains . . . And then the darkness of night, and my mind is alive again, but my body is tired and the room is hot and I must try to sleep . . .
Dickens is insightful and philosophical and vivid. Full of observations that make you see things more clearly. Another example: the moment Madeline Bray walks into the room and interrupts the plotting between her father, Ralph Nickleby, and Arthur Gride. Mr Bray starts up and “there was a gleam of conscience in the shame and terror of this hasty action, which, in one short moment, tore the thin covering of sophistry from his cruel design . . .” The designs of the father are uncovered, betrayed by human nature, the natural shame a father must feel in betraying his daughter. If not natural goodness in the man, then at least a fundamental naturalness that allows the truth of his position to shine through. Dickens makes this shine for us.
“Distances stretch out before him which, last night, were scarcely taken into account, and the light which gilds all nature with its cheerful beams, seems but to shine upon the weary obstacles that yet lie strewn between him and the grave.”
Dickens shines his light on the things he observes. Or reflects the light he finds in things, which is the same thing. He shows us life with all its beautiful and ugly details and with all the large and small obstacles that can beset us. This is why I find it so difficult to write when I’ve been reading Dickens. I see all the obstacles he describes. How complex and full of trials life is. Not least, I see the greatness of Dickens himself, the value of work like this, and the futility of trying to produce real writing of my own. Real work: that not only tells us something about life, but shines a light on life, and gives to us a light, which we can carry on our own journey, to see what life is for ourselves.
“That dark and silent gap” – sleep – and my mind runs free in dreams, building sensations and faces and stories that can only make sense in the darkness of sleep, and that dissolve with the softest hint of morning light through my open window.
Now it’s evening again and there’s little light, and here in the dark with my own thoughts perhaps before I sleep I’ll be brave enough to put something new onto the page. Keeping out of the light for now.
(Quotations are from Nicholas Nickleby by Charles Dickens)