Sunday, 17 August 2014

Writing in the heat

Dear all,

Question:        How do you write a blog that makes people hate you?
Answer:          Read this, I fear it will provide a good example…

It’s the middle of August in southern Spain. It’s coming up to 2am. I am wide-awake but feel too tired to write properly. I’m sweating sitting still because it’s so hot and humid. I don’t have air conditioning and I have to be careful opening the door in case cockroaches and other little terrors join me. I didn’t want to write this blog post in order to sound ungrateful for this break I’m having, or to sound spoilt by making a big deal over a small issue. However, this blog is all about my experiences with writing and I don’t want to pretend that what I am going through at the moment is not an issue for me, so here’s the annoying truth: I am having trouble writing in such nice weather. Don’t hate me.

The reason this is the case is that even though it is two in the morning, I’m wide-awake so I should be able to get up, sit at my desk and write. But I can’t. The heat has really screwed my thinking process up. In fact, I can’t write anymore, even this little paragraph has got my eyes making circles trying to focus, so I’m going to have to finish this tomorrow. As much as I want to write all I am coming out with is dribble. I’m awake in that I can’t sleep and feel alert but I’m not awake in that my mind is working as it should. After weeks of awful sleep I’m semi-seeing things, I’m semi-hearing things and my concentration span is that of seconds. I will watch a film or something…

Hi again. It’s the following afternoon, 12.30. I drifted off around 5.30 am and my alarm sounded at 8 am – which I swiftly struck as hard as I dared without risking it break – I fell asleep for another hour and then very hazily stumbled out of bed and made myself a cup of coffee. (It’s a pattern. Things have gone on like this for coming on a month.) I now feel foggy but better for the coffee although I know I won’t be totally clear for another hour at least by which point I will settle down to check emails…and feel upset because over half the day has passed. Perhaps I should just realign my schedule. Go to bed much, much later, be like some of the locals who only even think about going out for dinner after 10 pm and sometimes not even starting until midnight. Then I could go to bed say 3 or 4 and settle in to the schedule that my body seems desperate to adapt to anyway.

The problem is, I love mornings. I really enjoy being up early to see the sky lighten and the emptiness of the roads. If you are up early you can get so much done, it feels like you can attack the day and make the most of the precious time we have. So when I don’t even get going until midday I get pretty depressed. I hate missing mornings. I really do. One trick I had was to go to the gym early, however for me it is an hour walk away, therefore an hour walk back, and if I thought it was hot before in June and July, in August it’s dangerous. I mean I would get dizzy sometimes walking back in the 11am or midday sun. As much as it felt great to exercise and I think that is vitally important for a healthy state of mind, I have decided to stop during August and wait until it cools slightly in mid September. So in terms of having to get up in order to be somewhere, I’m out of options, my Spanish/English exchange lessons are around 6pm and that’s it for commitments, it’s all on me.

The heat at night is ruthless. As I said I do not have air conditioning, which I fully accepted when booking my apartment, it was a matter of costs and I felt I could do without it. In the main it’s been fine, I am on the ground floor so have a nice terrace to use and open up the doors to get a breeze during the day. During the night however I can’t leave anything open for risk of the bugs making themselves at home as I said, and there isn’t much breeze regardless. So I find it very harsh, I’m simply not used to this kind of heat, the air feels thick and heavy, hard to breathe in (I am a lifelong asthma sufferer which is fully under control but probably doesn’t help much, my lungs have always been pretty useless) and it sits like a circular weight on my chest as I lay. I have two electric fans that I have on full blast, they are not of professional standard though (what a moaner I am today) so as much as they help they do not solve. My skin feels clammy, my muscles tire easily, I can get very itchy for no reason all over my legs and arms, I sweat so much I am always thirsty and I just feel uncomfortable in general. A typical evening.

Barnes & Noble

The sun is irresistible. Part of the reason I came to this part of Spain is to be somewhere hot and quiet, and it certainly is that. It is a beautiful area with a wonderfully mixed environment, sea and beaches against mountains and hills, seclusion and tourist (mostly Spanish) offerings. So I don’t want to feel guilty about sitting out in the sun for a few hours most days because what was the point of coming here otherwise? No matter how many times I tell myself that I still feel guilty for not writing, it is the most important thing to me and yet I’m happily avoiding it for the sake of a tan I’m not even getting. The relaxation from sunbathing (with a bit of reading, bit of listening to music) is fantastic though and that is also the reason I came here, I needed to try and make myself feel better by having time to myself to think. I know it’s obvious but being in the sun really does make me feel better, I feel healthier, stronger and I get a sense of vitality about getting on with things. I love to think while out in the open air. However, the guilt of failing to write doesn’t disappear...

Once night falls around the 10 pm mark the problems begin, it’s already hot and it’s already stuffy but it gets to the point where I am sitting still and it’s impossible to prevent the sweating, my forearms and hands drip over the laptop keyboard and I have to move the fans directly behind me to keep me cool enough to write and to also keep the laptop cool enough as it heats up to a finger burning level.

Barnes & Noble

As the night goes on the heat plays with my mind, I feel drowsy, I can’t think of the words I’m after, I can’t see a way forward in the story, etc. It’s a real problem. I try and read a bit to refresh my mind but that’s even harder in the heat, my eyes glaze over and my chin drops to hit my chest and I feel like I will drift off to sleep – which would actually be welcome if I did sleep! I could use reading as a way to go to bed, but the second I admit defeat to the tired eyes and switch off the Kindle and lay my head on the pillow, my mental inner workings start playing games and suddenly want to start a night shift of mental aerobics. If I try and get up again to write or to read my body feels like it’s wearing a three tonne suit of armour and I can hardly take a pace forward without wanting to drop back into bed again. I have tried pills from the chemist, teas, meditation, etc. Nothing can combat the heat and the impact it has on me so I know I have to just relax and accept I got more than I bargained for with the summer sun and I’ll just have to see August through and reduce the output for now. Which is fine, but again, that guilty feeling never goes away, even if you have a solid reason, it’s just one of those things. In a way, it’s good that I know. We all have fantasies (sorry to speak on behalf of the whole world here) of the Ian Fleming style writer, sitting in his Jamaican retreat ( ) but perhaps that isn’t for me, perhaps I’m more the Karl Marx sitting inside the British Library all day. Over the years I have studied many writer’s working environments and they vary hugely, and there is nothing to say that they don’t change over time, perhaps one day I will long for the hot sun again and be in a place in my life where I can make it work, for now, thinking about so many situations I have read about and my own experiences back at home, I feel content that the temperate (ha, cold) climate of London will do for me.

One of the worst guilty feelings is that of what others would be doing… what would a professional writer do with the time I have? I chastise myself, ‘How dare I waste so much time in the sun when others would be a third way into a novel by now’…and many versions of. So if I can’t write then I at least try to do a bit of research. Being too fidgety, restless and uncomfortable to write doesn’t mean I can’t watch documentaries, develop characters, develop settings; I can look at websites for various items that characters may own, save images and take notes, I can research time periods for clothing and decoration, etc. That is worthwhile and essential but it is still not the same as actually putting words down on to paper so you feel like you have progressed, never the less, it certainly is necessary. So I have found that instead of switching my entire day around like I mentioned above, bed later, wake later, I am just switching the times I do writing connected activities, I write during the day if I can, and then I develop and research the ideas at night. At least it makes me feel like I haven’t wasted the day.

Barnes & Noble

Wow, that all sounds like complaining about winning the lottery doesn’t it. Well, sorry about that. Apologies for this slightly selfish blog post but I thought it worth sharing my thoughts on this, as after all, it is a genuine issue that influences my writing. I am experiencing life in another country and this is one of the drawbacks that I did not expect. If I had air conditioning, maybe it would be entirely different. If I lived on the top floor of a building maybe it would be different. If, if, if…and let’s not even pretend to be rich and have some sort of five star deluxe river view apartment that has the best of both worlds…this is my journey, no one else’s and I want to share the good and the bad.

Besides, it’s only a blip, in a month’s time things will be get better as the temperature drops but people who want to write have a way of making themselves feel terrible about not working hard enough (every single day) so do forgive the terrible dilemma I am in of enjoying a long hot year away and resist the urge to slap me. I am having a fantastic time, I really am. I would not change it for the world and I am very glad I made the decision to come here. As much as I will never have this time to myself again for writing, I will never have this time to myself again anyway in the sense that you cannot get time back, regardless of how you are living, in the sun or otherwise.

It’s now the next day. I left this draft overnight so that I could re-read before posting. Now would you believe it, the clouds crept over the sky this morning, the winds kicked up and there has been a distinct drop in temperature. So I took that as a reason to go out for a walk with my camera and take a few shots so that I could intersperse the text with some images of the area. This is to show you that I think the place is great and the conflict of wanting to stay inside to write while all of this is open to explore can twist your mind around in knots. I know for sure that next year back in London I’ll be crying out for sunny days and wishing I had this time again to laze under the rays, but I also know, that without this heat I won’t mind staying inside the coffee shops, the libraries and pubs all day writing because I won’t have that instinctive gut reaction of missing out. So the heat in a way has taught me a lesson, I know more about what circumstances I can work under and what I can’t. Always try and take a positive out of a negative if you can, not always easy I know.

How old my ideas feel...

So, I’ve managed to finish this now, my forehead is dripping and my hands clammy, there is a sheen across my shoulders and back and I’m sure that my laptop is hot enough to fry an egg off. The sun is out now. I think I’ll enjoy it for a bit.

Take care all,

P.S: You don’t have to tell me I am a terrible photographer, I know it! So I thought I would provide two links to public groups on Facebook that have a photo section that hosts photos from the local community, they are far, far better than my half dazed attempt:


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