Cats and Books

Thursday, 29 September 2016

Head Elsewhere

Wherever I am, my head is often elsewhere – a book I'm reading, a film I've just watched, and most often completely else and a story I might try to write. This particular train of thought started when I was digging a hole – not metaphorically, but literally, with a spade, moving dirt from A to B, flat ground transformed to lump and matching dip. The aim of the hole digging was planting a tree, but for most of the time my head was elsewhere – not entirely healthy with a sharp-edged tool so close to my toes, and at some point it occurred to me that not only was my attention elsewhere but that this is almost my default state. Doing the laundry, loading the dishwasher, brushing my teeth, or planting a a few hundred meters of hedgerow – it doesn't matter where I am, it's where my head is that matters.

You are never really alone when your head is elsewhere. Whole worlds open up, wondrous characters drop by for a chat or, on a bad day, the most fantastical bore leans on the door frame to talk you into hell. This does beg the chicken-and-egg question – which came first, a solitary nature leading to a wandering head or a tendency for my head to be elsewhere because I'm on my own and bored? I have no answer, but this elsewhere business has been going on since at least my early teens, so I feel sure there is a cause and effect.

However, I am not alone in being not alone when I'm on my own... Let me rephrase: I am convinced that I have worked with similar people over the years. There is a certain look and feel to them – the lights are on, someone is in, but you don't knock on the door because you just know they are in conference with the aliens, or translating Mum's recipes from the original goblin, or so strung out on differential calculus that anything could happen. This is only speculation, mind you, because I've never dared approach one of these potentially kindred voyagers and pop the question: excuse me, but is that your head, or is it elsewhere?

Why not? The thing about my head being elsewhere is that it's my fake reality. I like it there and I don't take guests. The whole aspiring author thing means I might write about the places my head has been, either carefully sanitised (cleaned for general consumption, or with the really nutty bits removed) or in toe-curling detail, but no-one ever sees the full scope of my journey.

A few years back, on a drive home from Plymouth, in the dark (my wife was driving) I had an idea. It wasn't much, but night driving needs concentration and with no conversation, my head went elsewhere. I kicked the idea around, decided that it was growing on me, and wrote a story, told it to myself while I was elsewhere, edited it in my head, told it again, ran it by a receptive sitka spruce... The trouble with having your head elsewhere is that even the worst drivel can sound good, but the next day I wrote it down as well as I could recall, toned down the crazy and won first place in a writing competition. Yay for me, but don't think for one moment that the published story is really what happened when my head went wandering.

It's a private business being elsewhere, full of technicolour wonder and companionship, so absorbing you can get lost for hours, only summoned back by those unstoppable forces of nature such as the cry in the distance the cat is eating your lunch, or the old-fashioned dial-up line back to reality that sends the occasional alert such as move your foot now.

Elsewhere. You can't beat it, and there is so much to tell...

Sorry. Have to go. Reality calling. It's time to put the chickens away.

My head will probably be in some other elsewhere by the time I get back.