ON BUTTERFLIES AND WRITER’S BLOCK
Hypnotized by the wings of the butterfly, and awed by the discovery of a terrible possibility in life, she sat for some time longer. When the butterfly flew away, she rose, and with her two books beneath her arm returned again, much as a soldier prepares for battle.
Virginia Would, The Voyage Out
I am experiencing writer’s block and am only forcing myself to put words down, one after another, in a vain hope that something will ‘happen’. It strikes me the trouble might be that a leading actor is the last category of human to be the central character in a novel: if engaged in theatre, he comes alive for two or three hours eight times a week as the same vivid character in the same plot, or in repertoire perhaps as two or three characters in two or three plots, all no doubt fascinating creations. He might be rehearsing as well. At any rate, he must achieve an off-stage balancing act, having to conserve his energy for curtain-up, at the same time as filling the rest of his day fruitfully with something to engage his mind and spirit and keep his body in trim. Hardly the stuff of drama though stuffed full of it.
I suppose one can imagine a farce involving such relentless repetitive routine, dedication and discipline, intruded upon by the logistics demanded by the secret arrangements of an illicit love affair. We might have read at least one kiss and tell autobiography and know that such a story line would not be farfetched and might even lend itself to Grand-Guignol or even tragedy. Such stuff is not the sort of thing I have set out to do, even if I could. So what sort of thing?
I am sitting under a sunshade on our south-facing terrace; there is a cool westerly breeze wafting up the Ouse Valley and the nearby border of lavender is being visited by butterflies. Just now there seemed to be a dead cabbage white lying motionless on the boards of the terrace with a second cabbage white taking an unhealthy interest, until the prone one stirred, they both fluttered close together for a second or two, and then flew off in opposite directions – the plot of many a novel in miniature, minus angst? One could write a sonnet about it.
This morning’s Radio 4 news had a feature about the attempt of a computer to write a sonnet: it had been fed with countless examples, which it no doubt counted in milliseconds. It got the iambics and the rhyme scheme correct but clearly did not ‘know’ what it was sonneteering about. I have always been impressed that computers can beat grand masters at chess – a game, because I am no strategist, I can’t play – though I can write a sonnet to beat a computer, and even on a good day bring tears to human eyes. l feel better about my brain since this morning’s news, bad as so much of it was. For all this talk of butterflies, I’m still blocked …
A sonnet now in praise of butterflies: