Four o’clock of a Saturday afternoon, and the dog must be walked.

And he knew it.

I was busying myself with changing the bedclothes on our bed when he arrived and sat employing the triangular ears technique. He stared fixedly, employing his doggy mind melding brainwaves to bend my will to his.

It worked. He noted the very moment of resignation and flew into a frenzy of anticipation.

A little dog like that anticipates not only with his mind but physically, with every inch of his wiry little body. It is as if those strong, sturdy muscles remember the last time they were stretched in a full-out run, haring across the forest bracken.

He trembles in delighted anticipation.

There’s a scientific law: the law of conservation of energy. It’s one of my favourites because it describes my dog exactly. It goes like this: energy does not just disappear. So once you have stretched a spring, even though nothing is happening now, the energy is stored in it. It’s called potential energy.

The moment that the spring is released, it turns into something different: kinetic energy. The energy is let go, the spirit freed.

It’s like a roller coaster. It goes up a steep incline: when it reaches the top it balances, the very epitome of potential energy, a plummet waiting to happen.

And then it plunges down the hill, kinetic to its last molecule.

The dog’s the same, though scientists would tut at the metaphor. His muscles are so full of unrealised energy he can barely contain himself. Wickedly, one of my favourite sights is watching Felix trying patiently to attach the lead to a moving target: a revolving dog, simply unable to stay still as he glimpses release.

Stored energy: the very epitome of anticipation.

Could it be, by this definition, that our traditional clocks are powered by anticipation?

Before the advent of quartz watches we used to wind a lot of our watches and clocks. This would power them for some time, because inside the casing was a little store of energy called the mainspring.

It’s a strip of metal coiled in a spiral. A mine of potential energy. By winding the clock you make that spiral ever tighter, full of energy just bursting to be released.

Of course, it should just come undone immediately: but it doesn’t because of an ingenious little thing called a ratchet, a toothed governor which ekes out the energy in the spiral, hour after hour.

Macaulay just anticipates his walks; whereas, pent-up in that mainspring in any silver pocketwatch is the very heart of all possibility: time.

Maybe the clock doesn’t just measure time: maybe it stores up the possibility of hours and days and minutes and seconds in its mainspring. It anticipates time itself.

That delicious storing up of temporal energy: it is something we all love. But we would recognise it as something different: as suspense in a story.

Where shall I go first? To those classic moments in novels which stop time in its tracks so that our hearts might almost follow suit?

To Dickens’ Christmas Carol, as Jacob Marley’s chains can be heard scraping up stairs and remorselessly towards the door behind which Ebenezer Scrooge is still denying he needs to light a candle? Or to a low, demonic laugh which echoes round a great country house, haunting the young bride-to-be of Mr Rochester?

Then again, there’s Henry James’s Turn Of The Screw, whose entire book has one’s synapses crackling with anticipation as uneasy signs materialise and fade away leaving only dread behind.

Surely every good writer has a mainspring. A way of trapping time in a spiral of words.

The energy in their story cannot disappear. The very fabric of the universe forbids it.

No: expertly, they wind the mainspring within their tale, building energy which is taut, anticipatory, which has no way out, only a ratchet- remember that toothed cog? – to imprison it.

And the ratchet, to a writer, is also system for virtuoso release.

Dickens shows Scrooge his own funeral, his body encased in a coffin: Rochester’s wedding becomes a ritual viewing of a monstrous lunatic in an attic; James’s heroine governess tries to fight the spirits around her and concludes with a boy’s lifeless body in her arms.

The energy comes tumbling out, time gushes forth in a great torrent.No measured coil now, but a headlong rush.

As writers we tap into an ancient underground river in the reader’s psyche: the one which actually feels that physical storing up of energy in a story, and its release.

Enough of this. The dog’s muscles are anticipatory, and require a little kinetic release.

Not to speak of his bowels.

Off to the forest.

Written in response to Side View’s theme: Anticipation. If you want to go you have until midnight Sunday: you can find her here


49 thoughts on “Anticipation

  1. From where does that energy come? It’s the one thing that I really envy about a dog. I’d love to have that much ‘get up and go’ in the morning πŸ™‚

  2. What an ingenius comparison! I love it when dogs are that exciteable. I also love the idea of writers having a mainspring. What a great visualisation. πŸ™‚

    1. I had never related suspense to the passing of time (duh!) until I was thinking about the mainsrping, Heather πŸ™‚ That’s what Sidey’s themes do for me: make me think hard about stuff I wouldn’t have given a second thought to earlier in the week!

  3. We all need that ratchet to keep our springs uncoiling in a controlled manner!

    Excellent piece, Kate. Visual, novel and compelling.

  4. How timely!

    We set the clocks back an hour last night . . . storing the unused energy until spring arrives (amid great anticipation) and time springs forward once again. πŸ˜€

    Macauley is a lucky pup to be able to spring forward and fall back on his regular jaunts through the forest.

  5. Will you NEVER stop astounding me? God, I hope not! We have an extraordinary pastor at our church who is an uncommonly good preacher as well. Every Sunday, Ashley and I are dumbfounded that he has managed to spend about 1/2 hour speaking on a topic we know well, and yet deliver a sermon with stunning power and packed with new insights that had never occurred to either of us. Each Sunday after church we say, “Good grief! He has done it again! He has topped himself. He’ll never be able to outdo that one.” And the next Sunday he does. Just like you and your blog. How do you two do it?

    Time and energy. Einstein puzzled on it, and you have as well – and in an eminently readable fashion. Did I say I am in awe of your talents? Who in GB or the world can I send your work to and encourage to mine the gold that springs from your computer keyboard every day? They would be doing themselves an enormous favor, to say nothing about everyone who wpuld have the privilege to read you every day. I am serious. I could be your agent if I only knew where to go to ply this trade. And I wouldn’t even demand 10%! (Maybe 8 or 9.5, but never 10! πŸ˜† )

    Don’t ever stop, Kate. There are times I wonder why I bother writing myself, when there are people such as yourself out there creating such treasures every day. And then I think, of course I will keep writing, if only to have the pleasure of receiving your comments on my blog!

    Now, have I been obsequious, and pandered to your skills enough to merit a few tips on HOW TO WRITE LIKE A GODDESS?

    (I’m in a good mood. . .can you tell? You know why? The clocks are back to STANDARD TIME!!!!! Hurrah! Hurray! Oh happy day!)

    1. Paula, thank you, wonderful words which I will treasure. I think all of us in our little blogging community would prefer to write for a living: but the vision can get very distant at times. You have brought it a little closer today.

    1. What was Rochester thinking? I suppose it is not easy to find someone to fill the post of looking after Bertha Rochester. And you’re right, because of her little lapses the anticipation built to fever pitch πŸ™‚ Thanks for commenting, Belle!

  6. Love the dive into potential and kinetic energies and your examples of both. Einstein is one of my heroes. His theory of Relativity helped my understanding of creativity and infinity…however that is another subject.

    As far as creativity goes, I want Macauly’s warning devices. I’d love to be consistently hit by his brand of powerful and reliable anticipatory signals that say, “Write now. Nothing else matters!”

    Many thanks for such clarity within complexity.

    1. Thank you Amy πŸ™‚ Mac is blessed, isn’t he: his senses simplify things and his muscles just say run-at full pelt- now…..oh, to have that imperative without complication!

  7. My long ago gone yellow lab. Just a certain look and she knew it was go outside and catch the frisbee or retrieve the shoe time and if I said “grandpa” it meant a ride in the car and she knew the difference.

  8. The thought of the potential energy in the bowel awaiting transformation into kinetic has quite spoilt this piece for me! πŸ™‚

    Lovely take on anticipation, nonetheless.

    1. Hmmm…to be honest that was a throwaway line and I hadn’t thought about the science bit πŸ˜€ Apologies, Col, and I pray that mealtimes were far away as you read this..

  9. I’d say more, but I think even the comments previously made are quite brilliant! My goodness, Kate. I don’t know where this all comes from…but this was truly wonderful. Now I’m going to read the Trackbacks. I think I will be in for a treat. Very special! Debra

  10. I always find it amazing that an animal with no verbal language can communicate effectively and insistently exactly what he wants. My dog mithers me to death if it’s a minute past walk time. He’s such a nag.

  11. Kate, I love to follow the spiral of your thoughts – the beautifully wound and expertly released energy of your creative spring! This was just delicious!

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