I’ve had my head down working hard for the last week or so. It’s the time of year when I have to produce a financial statement for ‘the Honey Pot’ – the second-hand book venture which runs from my garage once a week. Now, you’d think that it is straight-forward: money in: money out. Aha – it is not! I really, really meant to keep my records better this year, but, yes, you guess it – I failed. Trying to make out squiggles of notes to self which made perfect sense last February, but now cannot be deciphered… trying to work out how to include the value of the Fairtrade stall when I only have a record of sale prices … dropping the ‘copper bee hive’ (a big pile of 2p pieces – counting copper money is horrid dirty work) and then trying to work out what side of the calculations figures should go – not to mention adding the same list of money three times and getting different totals each time (and then discovering a pot of money I didn’t know existed and trying to fit that into the picture). Arrrggghhh!
OV waded in and gently removed the muddled sheets of calculations and carefully scribed ‘notes to self’ all of which meant nothing to him. (I didn’t let him see the three waste baskets full of rough paper, screwed up and tossed into it by a desperate hand!)
Ahhhhhhhhhhhhh – ’tis done. I can relax… well, for a few hours before setting to, to write the annual report!
So, why call this post ‘method writing’?
I take the analogy from Method Acting: getting into a part by living it. One famous actress (sorry, I forget who) always wanted to get the shoes right – and would wear them whilst preparing the part she was to play. There’s a lot in shoes, if you think about it – all of us tend to put on the right pair for the occasion – women especially. They can be every bit as important and mood-altering as a new hair-do.
I rose stiffly from poring over my books and papers, walked to the kitchen and made a coffee. I was desperate. I had spent much of the day before trying to sort out the muddle and I was three hours into the next foray into the world of cheques and balances. How could I go on? How could I not go on? How would I sort out this sorry mess?
I took an hour off the calculations and waste-basket-emptying and opened up the file for 1861, to continue writing my book. And there it was, staring me in the face – my main character taking last and desperate throws to sort out the books and avoid financial disaster.
I sat there for a while, staring into history and an imaginary hand reached out across the years to take mine. And I heard, in my mind’s ear, a weary voice say: “For you this is a passing irritation, but for me….”
The words hung in the air between us and I realised that my minor struggles had brought me nearer to him – this man into whose mind I have nibbled and inched my way for the last 16 months.
Now, as I pass his portrait on the stairs, I feel I can look him in the eye. We have come to a new understanding. He was better at figures than I am – yet worse – for he applied his skill inappropriately. There are no losses in my books – merely problems of description (no money is missing). And I can turn to OV (a mathematical man) to help me.
The man in the portrait had no-one to turn to.
Sobering thought. We all need someone when the times get tough. If we have placed ourselves beyond that point – put ourselves where we cannot trust another to help us – then I guess that’s the loneliest place you can be.