The Forge

The last time I wrote here I talked about finishing college and going out into the real world. There was a gate on the edge of town, and passing through it I went out into the fields beyond. I haven’t a notion where the road goes, but it goes somewhere after all doesn’t it, and that’s all the comfort I need for now.

There’s something about a journey starting in the summer that gives you vigour. The evenings are long and lazy, and even the night that draws in has a sort of freshness about it. The days are all yellow and blue and the sunset is that soft orange glow that fades on the horizon. Insects are droning in the grasses, water is trickling over hot stones and I’m humming some idle tune. Yes, summer is a great time to get started.

Another day on the road passes, and weary from travel I stray from the path to find refuge. It’s twilight, when the sky is that sort of confused blue half way between the sun and starlight. Nothing is stirring really, but far off in the woods I hear a quiet ring trying to rise over the treetop. And then, peering deep into the black in front of me, I see the smallest flecks of red. I creep closer, and now the clash of sight and sound register with me. I’ve seen such a place before, and though I thought I’d set aside the life I’d had there, perhaps this is where the road was leading me. The last of the daylight falters, I shake off the dust from the trail and shielding my eyes I enter the forge.

I’ve been back writing about 3 years now. It all started in June of 2013, when an idea I’d abandoned when I was 17 started weighing on my mind again. You see, in the summer after fifth year I had decided to take up writing again. It was after all a huge part of my childhood, when I would sit for hours on my bedroom floor filling copybook after copybook with stories of heroes, wars and kingdoms. This was the net effect of the release of The Lord of the Rings movie trilogy and years spent in front of the TV soaking up documentaries about romans, greeks etc. That’s not to say I thought what I was writing was any good. Hardly. But an active imagination yearns to be channeled into something, and it doesn’t exactly demand that the result is anything other than my own personal satisfaction.

School was the great dampener on all of that. I had to weigh the joy I got out of my own stories against the grades they were likely to garner. I even started secondary school submitting essays like the tales you could have pulled out of those copybooks, but it was very quickly apparent they weren’t going to cut it at that level.

When I was 17, like I said, I tried to wire up my imagination to a defibrillator and jump-start the process again. But then, before I’d even got it stable, the leaving cert rolled around and knocked it right back into flat-line again.

And so when I picked up the proverbial paddles in the summer of 2013 one more time, I was resigned to the fact this next resuscitation might fail too. I started what has become a sprawling plan for what you might, in layman’s terms, call a book. The idea I had when I was 17 survived as a single file on an old laptop, which when I discovered at midnight on a quiet summer’s night I nearly fainted. It had survived, buried somewhere I never remembered dumping it in the first place. But it was there. It was old, it was rusted, but it was a start. And so then, I went to the forge.

The art of the blacksmith is a tricky one. They know after all, what they consider good steel. But at the end of the it all, when the furnaces stop roaring, somebody has to find that steel worthwhile. So worthy they’d pay good money for it. Writing fiction feels kind of the same. Here on my blog I write for me, and if the content doesn’t measure up then the work of this smithy keeps going. When you are hoping to one day submit fiction to an agent or a publisher, it’s a different crafting process.

The steel I’m making now has to be good enough. If it isn’t, then one day the lights in the furnace go out, and never come on again. And so every belt of the hammer has to find the mark. The anvil has to hold firm, and the fires have to burn like their lives depended on it, because they do depend on it. That’s a scary way to write really.

But that is the way of it now. Tonight, like I said, I stepped from the road and found myself back in the heat of the forge. It may have been months since I last gripped steel, but when the bellows start blowing and the steam comes rising from that fiery kiss I have to pray there’ll be something inside me to control it.

If there’s steel to be made, I want it to be hard and unrelenting. And so I must be too.

 

 

The gate on the edge of town

“You’re in the great game now, and the great game is terrifying”- Tyrion Lannister

In life, we are all members of the great audience. Every single person reading this has at one time or another acted as a witness. We don’t acknowledge it of course, not really, but it’s still happening every second of the day.

A first kiss, a failed exam, an accident on the road: all are part of the ongoing show. And of course, it’s actually quite easy to imagine your role in the audience. What is perhaps slightly less clear is where you fit in the overall spectacle. Who has seen you at your worst? Who has watched you at your best? More importantly, could they tell the difference?

Memories are a funny thing, constantly changing depending on how we feel, and never sitting still for long enough to be truly appreciated. We all remember, let’s say, opening our Leaving Cert results. But do we really? To me, everything that was ever anything is in many ways a serving of blur with a little dash of clarity.

Both of these concepts, witnesses and memories, have been whirling around in my head since I finished college. There was after all a moment where suddenly it all ended, and overwhelmed by emotion I doubt I was thinking “take a breath and appreciate this little snapshot; it’s a picture you’ll only take once.” But that is the truth of it nonetheless. This was the end, and I can’t just go back and ask for a little more time there now.

Putting my pen down, closing the exam booklet and walking out of that last exam are all part of my story, but who knows who was secretly watching? Those who care, those who don’t, or those indifferent. My story, but their spectacle.

Trapped in the little bubble of college, not sharp to the world moving around me, I don’t think I’ve ever really thought much about being in the spectacle. In a crowded library you can be lost in your own notes, but looking up now and again you realise everything is getting on without you. Now, there are no more notes, and it’s time to join the ranks of those making the world go round.

In that respect college is a bit like your bedroom. There are an infinite number of things you can accomplish there, but outside those walls other things are in motion the scale of which you can’t start to imagine cooked up in there. It’s not that you’re out of touch, more so you’re kept within the confines of something measurable. It’s all happening in a lecture theatre, in a library, on campus etc.

And so now that I’m leaving, the outside world feels a little alien again. It’s very much in the title of this blog. There’s a gate at the edge of town, and inside it you know everything and everyone. You’ve been to the gate of course. I mean, you can even tell me what it’s made of and what it feels like to run your hand over. But you’ve never been outside it. Sometimes at dusk, you’ve sat on it for hours and thought about the fields beyond or the next town over. And never once did you really believe that the day was coming when you’d finally pass through it. That was a dream-a notion. Notions weren’t tolerated in this town.

And yet, that day does come. You feel about a stone lighter, and rather than skip up to the gate like you usually do you sort of wander there half in a haze of your own thoughts and emotions. The sun is going down in the west but there’s enough light to see the first few steps on the road. And then quite suddenly there is the moment, and before you’ve even thought to mark it you’re on the other side. And then there’s a panic and the sudden want to turn round. It isn’t a desire to go back, and even if it is you’ve long resigned yourself to the fact that that isn’t happening. You just realise you wanted it to be memorable though, and a part of you isn’t sure that it was.

Should’t there have been someone there to say goodbye, or give a little cheer as you passed over the threshold?

And yet maybe there was, and not turning to see their face you press on with your journey.

After all, they are the witness, and right there and then you were at either your best or worst. Perhaps they know the difference.