For some time now I have been working on a book about how humans relate to each other. Last July, I had three chapters in draft form. They were partly memoir and partly my reflections on human communication. More unusually, each chapter was inspired by a work of literature - respectively, Kafka’s The Castle, Camus’ The Guest and Michael Ende’s classic children’s book Momo.
Everything was going fine until a handful of conversations and email exchanges in August left me wondering whether I was asking my book to do too much.
While I was pondering what to do about this, I stumbled across Alison Jones’s “Business Book Proposal Challenge”, which entails writing a book proposal in just two weeks (with Alison’s expert help). I joined the relevant Facebook group, more or less kept up with the daily tasks, and regularly shared my progress with other authors doing the same challenge. Alison is an experienced publisher and a coach, and the process was both rigorous and instructive. At the end, Alison liked my book idea but wondered whether there was really an ‘acutely felt need’ for my book.
To me it was and is absolutely clear that paying more attention to relationships is essential if we are to live peacefully and sustainably together on this planet. But I also understand that publishers want to see a specific need or niche, so they can feel sure they can sell your book. I am still pondering what exactly that need might be. But meanwhile I will continue to write about what really matters to me, and hope that it engages my readers.
In this brand new blog, I intend to explore what I call ‘interpersonal moments’ or 'meaningful moments'. These typically arise in everyday conversations, or spring from something I have read or witnessed. Sometimes recent experiences, sometimes more distant memories.
My aim then, in the words of my friend and onetime doctoral supervisor, Patricia Shaw, is "to reflect on our concrete, actual lived experience". Ultimately I want to show that social patterns (e.g. power, bullying, racism, organisational culture, as well as trust, cooperation, defiance) have no real existence outside specific human exchanges. Without paying attention to the human encounters in which they emerge, we cannot fully understand them.
The flipside is that I do not want to write a grand theory of communication or a book offering unsubstantiated opinions and generalisations. That wouldn’t be me. For some reason, I have always wanted to understand things in sufficient detail, and from different perspectives, before I was willing to reach even a provisional point of view. But this will not be my last word on this matter - I am already exploring what it means to 'make a judgement'.
As a writer, I am all too familiar with the temptation to produce an artefact that is unified and comprehensive. One way for me to resist that urge is to stick to reflecting on meaningful moments. To quote Hannah Arendt "...to stop and think; to pause and reflect; to allow yourself the alertness to be struck, surprised, and to respond without too much presupposition or prejudgement." *
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* Why Arendt matters by Elisabeth Young-Bruehl (2006) p.16