I've not blogged in months - too busy and too tired. But lately I'm emerging from bonkers levels of work and have the time and energy to read the papers. Even the review sections! This blog post is triggered by an interview with M John Harrison by Richard Lea in Saturday's Guardian. I like science fiction in a casual and (I'm afraid) ignorant way, including Margaret Attwood's speculative fiction set in eco-dystopias and Philip Pulman's theological atheist fantasy parallel universes. But I'm afraid I don't know M John Harrison's work.
What really struck me - and the reason I read the article - was the quote pulled out to headline it:
"A good rule of writing in any genre is: start with a form, then ask what it's afraid of."
In touch with fear
Some people are in touch with their anger, others with their guilt, a lucky few with their joy and exuberance. I'm very aware of my fear - although I don't always spot what's causing it at the beginning. (As a tangent: it may not be fear at all. In the same edition, Oliver Burkeman writes about physical symptoms being (mis)labelled as particular emotions.)
So I'm wondering about my own practice, and if it might be liberating to consider the form - the genre- and the fear that Harrison claims can exist outside the individual practitioner and in the form itself.
As a trainer and facilitator, and as a consultant, what are the genres I work in? And what are those genres afraid of? What are they trying to hide?
What's the genre?
First, define your terms. This will get too dull if I try to examine too many. So I'll stick to the designed, facilitated meeting. This is my stock-in-trade. The aims are untangled and combed through until they gleam with clarity, realism and honesty. The meeting is made up of sessions lined up in the optimum sequence. Attention is paid to ensuring a mix of modes (individual, pairs, small groups, whole group; spoken, written, thought, drawn; presented, discussed, explored, agreed and so on). We consider in advance what kind of record is needed, and what needs to be recorded in the room to make sure this happens. I could go on - at some length.
What is this form afraid of?
I think there are two principal fears. It's afraid of wasting people's time and it's afraid of people hiding things which - when shared - are important for mutual understanding and progress. These seem like right and proper things to want to avoid.
There may be some other fears, which are worth examining and asking - in Harrison's words - "what it's trying to hide".
What's it trying to hide?
The genre of the planned facilitated meetings may be trying to hide things about itself, or about the people involved in making it happen. I'll return to this question in due course, but find myself stumped for the moment!