Sunday, 15 June 2014

Geocache is Go

success! with Helen Varley Jamieson and Michelle Green
Last Monday I was introduced to geocaching. It sounded vaguely interesting: a game that involves searching for hidden containers called geocaches, with the help of a hint or clue and a loose location. These are presented within a geocache app. There are Muggles - people who aren't geocaching, who need to remain oblivious of what you're doing - adding an extra element of tension/secrecy/suspense.

So far so so interesting. I was learning about them because I'm one of a team of artists and writers making a treasure trail of story parts for Manchester Literature Festival in October: Tales of the Towpath, which uses geocaches as one element of its story for people to find and piece together during the festival.

Helen, the geocacher and digital artist of the team, decided the best way for us newbies to really get it was to search for one. I was happy enough to go along with the plan, although I was really anticipating what the piece of print we'd be making would end up being. However, that afternoon we were mucking about with digital aspects.

Through the app we selected one nearest to us in Manchester (there are millions of these things scattered throughout 185 countries) and were directed to a tree with a bird house in a park. Around which we walked and walked, all of us peering into tree branches, behind bushes, scuffing the grass, looking around a statue, poking at mounds, until I spied something that looked not quite right but not quite out of place either.* Found it!

In the thrill of finding the cache we forgot about Muggles and ooo'd and arhhh'd loudly, attracting the attention of the only other park visitor as we unraveled the log slip to add our names to finders list. But it was tremendously exciting. It was code breaking, physical exploration and highly tuned instinct all rolled together.

Suddenly the use of these as part of our story trail became vivid. In the hunt for caches, the canal and various venues in Manchester would rise into our story, into the imaginations of the trail hunters. We could leave items ('tradeables') in the cache, offer a three dimensional, physical as well as digital, experience, and hopefully recreate that excitement of discovery, of solving clues in the caches while the story unraveled for people on the trail.

What also appealed to me about the hunt was being sent somewhere I may not know and given a reason to scour it, to explore it with sharp eyes and a hunger. Regardless as to whether there is a tradeable in the cache (which is probably a tiny trinket), the thrill rests on the hunt; the search rather than the find; the process rather than the end. It's like the best of journeys - the getting there is as important as the eventual end point. Which is, after all, what stories are all about.

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*In the interests of geocaching etiquette I can't tell you any more than this in case I spoil it for someone...

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

The Hare and the Short Story

This is not a great photo. But it is a photo of a leveret (why it's a little blurred: they run haphazardly on the road). Which makes it a good photo in the sense of it being hopeful and capturing something positive.

I started writing a short story yesterday. It has been burbling away for a few months, getting in the way of any poem writing, and this week was the week where I had enough time to get a first draft down. The idea for the story popped into my head, back in February, like an old memory. I instantly liked it and tinkered with how it could develop and shape over several weeks. Yesterday was the day I'd set aside to begin. I had already scribbled key points in my notebook but decided to sketch out a timeline of the plot before starting. Then to read a couple of Chekhov stories and perhaps some new prose poems from Ian Seed just to get me in the zone. Then there were the nasturtiums to sow before it was too late. Etc etc.

I'm not generally one for procrastinating. So it was an odd experience, especially as I was aware - after the Chekhov - of my aversion and kept asking myself why? It's over twenty years since I've written a short story. I didn't really expect to write another one, although they are my first love - both as reader and writer. I was aware, as I found some more plants to water, of being scared of all those words that would be needed to write the story. And how I was going to keep them taut and moving forward.

I did finally settle down and start - just as it was beginning to feel as though it was too late in the day to get anything useful down. That final threat of it not happening was probably enough to motivate me to write the first sentence and then the next. The bigger fear of it not being written.

Is it fear that motivates all my writing?

The leveret's run isn't so much haphazard as a tactic to avoid being caught by a predator. Fears that impel me to not write then to write are of failure and of responsibility or of incomprehension, respectively, (I write to work out my thinking much of the time - made obvious through this blog). Many of my past students wrote out of a fear of mortality. Then there is the fear of being invisible countered by the fear of shame or embarrassment in revelation. So it goes, until the piece is written and rewritten and the fear is forgotten in the love of language and accuracy of expression. Which is when the leveret jinks into the field and is off, away, blending into the environment, its physicality lost to muscle memory and exuberance of existence.