Excuses, be gone.

Bamboo by the river, Pyrenees, April 2015

Fresh coffee drifts on the breeze. It’s a bright and sunny spring morning by the river under tall bamboo trees. Their leaves sing in the wind. Flowing and sifting like Tate and Lyle sugar. Stems bend and flex in a dance with the current. It’s a living and breathing wind chime.

Everything is as it should be this morning. Drink in hand, I sit back in a deckchair on the warm red earth terracotta tiled terrace to take in the day and just write. All the parts are in place for the words to flow as one.

This is heaven sent for a writer.

Two years ago midwinter 2013, planting crocus bulbs for spring, I wished for the gift of keys in my hand. The image in mind, with my hands in the soil, was a cabin in the woods, off the road. Pure and unspoilt.

Elemental was my intention. In earth, wind and fire. A river in the mountains. Words would flow over rocks and under roots. They’d crawl out from the trees and the dirt and the woods.

Hidden and secluded, my Writer’s Retreat. No distractions, interruptions. Ultimate Bliss.

Today is that day, in that place just as I pictured. A moment in time. All elements are in place with the keys in my hand to La Mole, a stone shuttered burrow. I’m alone.

This house sits strong and solid, built from limestone and granite rock, as it has done for hundreds of years, over-looking the river Matassa; the source of our water and life. It is April 2015 on a Thursday and the moon is getting smaller in the sky. Beech trees are beginning to burst lime green leaves from their grey winter skeletons. The migration North from Africa of spring birds for the summer fill this European forest with song. Nature is joyful and full of gratitude on this day.

The Mole House is a forest playhouse for this Whitman wild child.

Mine just by asking out loud. This was what I needed in order to write. Conditions in place. All in order.

Sitting down, pen in hand, the calm serenity of this morning that has my bare soled and shoeless feet in the earth and my head in the clouds, begins to fall apart.

Anxiety swells, not fear or great fright just an annoying sense of foreboding. My heart beats. The coffee starts to taste bad and bitter on my tongue. Water rises in my mouth. Watching closely, it isn’t anxiety. It is dread.

I dread sitting down to write.

The starting gives me stage fright, every time. A bungee cord tightly bolted to the back of my head pulls me away from the words. A skull and muscle tug of war in that place between the nape of your neck and those rounded bones behind your ears. That is where the words and my Ego meet on the battleground and it is often a bloody fight. Words often lose.

That place is called the Mastoid Process. I know this because I Googled it just now. This is one of my diversion tactics, you may know it well? I have many others at my disposal. I’m sure there are many more yet to find.

So far I have cut the grass, made coffee, sat by the river, lit a candle, smoked, arranged notebooks and pieces of paper. Ritualistic get me ready for writing activities have been hanging around my mornings for a good few years now. This morning, I have done them all. I even sat on a meditation cushion.

Still for a moment, cigarette in hand, the pain in my right hip goes deep. Another distraction. I get up, try to stretch and consider looking online for a yoga guru on YouTube. Convincing myself that would be good time, well spent. I roll my eyes to myself, for no-one else sees. The only audience I have is myself, two small dogs and the trees.

My black and white dogs bark at things I cannot sense, giving me a fine reason to get up from my chair and stroll to the side of this stone mole house. A security guard on patrol. Every foot step takes me further away from the words. Away from the work.

There is nothing there. Perhaps the dogs were bored of watching me busy in the act of not writing?

The silence of nature is broken again as a neighbour passes by on the track above and calls out Hello!. I invite her to share in the coffee, fresh brewed on the terrace. It seems a shame not to offer it here, hands out stretched, alone in the woods.

We chatter and drink and sit in the sun. Her yellow dog plays with mine and several minutes pass by. We speak of adventures and loved ones. Emotions reveal themselves in laughter and tears. The animals are dirty and covered in last year’s leaves. Parting takes moments as the minutes fly by.

Now that she’s left me, I look at the time on my watch thanks to long ago habits of working the clock. Time is money, you see. If you’re not busy doing, you’re use to no one. The old and broken voice spins round in the back of my head.

Twenty minutes have gone by since the keys on the keyboard last tapped.

“One hundred words.” I was told by a neighbour, who shouted right at me one Monday morning over bread, around ten.

“Cent mots!” he said in his Normandy accent.

“Cent mots par jour!…Jack London!” he blasted through his beard.

His passionate arms held up high and dirty, determined fists in the air.

“Begin with 100 words every day” London said.

My friend ironically explained Jack had little choice, if not, his habits and addictions would take over instead.

He continued in his brown tobacco drawl. When I was young I thought I was Baudelaire, he said dreamily, but now…alas. He sighed, sounding out years of defeat and compliance to his demons.

Shaking his head, his shoulders were slouched as he raised his arm again, slowly this time. Gently helping the cold red wine pass his lips at 10.00 am in winter with frost on the ground.

His words made a difference. A shift in my lens. I saw the path I could take lay ahead, the addicted discontent holed up in the heavens. Eyes that show the pain in my heart, just like his. Alone on a mountaintop with all those words spinning round in my head? The Tortured Artist is alive and well and hiding in the hills; I have seen him. And what next? I thought and I didn’t want that. Because that path I have seen before and I know where it goes. Was any of it worth it for the sake of a small hundred words? Jack did have a choice and he chose to be writing instead.

So with symbols and pictures I made mandalas and totems of sort. I honoured the one hundred words I would start every day — my promise to keep the whining artist inside me at bay.

A created intention, no pressure I thought. Work must not enter this place. This hatred of work in the form of hard labour is a hangover from dancing to another’s beat for so long, I guess. Working like a machine in the land of machines. For food and security and a roof over my head. Work was something I was born to, a choice never made. I never enjoyed it really. It started at nine, I was generally late.

The clock wasn’t ticking now. Time was Art here not Money, sacred and special, within its own time.

The thought of just writing remains indulgent and cruel.

The mantra was as clear to me then as it is now: Writers are clearly self-interested fools. Narcissistic and complicated it gets in my way.

One hundred words just for Art made it easier for me. I could beat out the rhythm of my own tune with my heart.

In my notebooks I quote one from midsummer morning 2011.

She is right when she says I should be writing…so I shall just write and allow my mind to reflect and remember.

I go on with conditions, the if this and if thats. It all gets so boring. I bought a book on it once about War and on Art — recommended by a friend, the same one who sent me another in the same vein. There are many on the shelf. The words of great masters and those who profess how to be and stay creative abound. Some I have read. Others remain unopened.

Don’t be a writer, be writing, one of them said. In writing, you must kill all your darlings.

So I thought, The first thing I need is a place. A room of one’s own to sit down and just write. A space. All alone. The setting for writing needed to be just right. My ideal aesthetic, all present and correct.

Now I know it is all a list of excuses. Excuses reveal themselves when all the conditions are conducive, by design or by fate, and we are faced with the reality that it is all in our head. Make believe and all made up because Now I am here and the sickness still rises.

I am bored with excuses and reasons and resistance.

In spite of it all I salute you, My Excuses. To the friend with her dog and the telephone wrong numbers. To the voices in my head and the camouflaged mushroom hunters. To the pain in my back and the grass that needs mowing. To the washing up and piles of old knickers and socks. To the barking of hounds and the wind in the trees. I salute you and see you and you are not fooling me.

These are the hundred words that turned into a thousand on a Spring sunshine day. They were written in 2015 and published in 2017. Now Excuses, be gone and fuck off out of my way.


Feet in the Earth — a collection of writings and poetry written, in the most part, in the foothills and forests of the French Pyrenees. You can read more here or sign up for the tinyletter here.

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