Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Writing horror graphically

Since on New Year’s day, at Topping and Company (in an as yet unburned hemisphere of the world), I was not tall enough to pull down I Remain in Darkness from where it sat squashed in next to its twin between Happening and The Years in the Biography section – and the rest of us were still dispersed among the rooms upstairs (except for Nela, who was folded over a book of what looked to be modified Garfield cartoons, and shorter than me anyway), I stood there waiting around in my habitually numbed out state for one of the two taller people in our group to come downstairs to help me out. And while I was half looking at the other books on the lower shelves, I could hear someone behind me talking continuously and energetically about what had to have been books and their authors, although at that stage I still wasn’t interested enough to follow what he was saying. Evidently, I had assumed there had been a conversation going on – although really one of those conversations in which two like minds carry on with each other in parallel, half to be overheard and half for self-comfort – but when I heard the main voice say that X (i.e. the person he’d just named) writes horror graphically, and in such an enthusiastic and thoroughly Scottish enjoyment of its own emphasis, I became curious enough to turn around and so got to see the teetering back of an unusually square, short balding man in a long, very rumpled beige coat, which made the deep brown, wiry U-shape of his remaining hair all the more striking – an eccentric if ever there was, I remember thinking then – perhaps even one that was occasionally homelessness or at least without friends – someone who needs to go into a bookshop or some other wide open, vulnerable location – that is, vulnerable to its denizens being harangued by people who are driven by the need to harangue. And so I began to look with some interest, now, at this small situation as it was stirring on this side of the counter, with the man still moving from one foot to another as he waited for the other to respond, and I couldn’t help but note, in contrast, the overly smooth because perhaps also startled expression on the face of his interlocuter on the other side, which is to say on the face of the younger and paler of the two men behind the counter (the other had his head down and shoulders forwards – clearly busy), who must not have been saying anything but a yes or a no the entire time the supposed customer had been speaking. This, as it turned out later, was the very same bookseller who, after I had bought my books from him with a card, flinched when I asked him for a paper bag and then turned his whole body to the wall where the bags were displayed to point them out – the 5p one and the larger one with handles for 20p – as if he were expecting me to blast him with my scorn. Of course – to be fair – even before I had bought my books, I had already been asking this younger bookseller about book vouchers, and he had told me, in what might only have been his usual quiet, stop-start, tremulous voice, that the vouchers were not delivered by post to the person unless they were separately paid for – and the whole time he had spoken then – which is to say, the whole time I had stayed in my place at the counter and, necessarily, responded to what he was saying – I myself had become increasingly nervous and hesitant in everything I was saying too, which in turn might have only made him more and more nervous, or rather, nervous straight out (whereas, before, he had only been gentle and quiet). All in all – as I remember thinking very obscurely at the time – even if it is the same old story of the bookish kid who persists in his dream of working in a bookshop despite its many awkwardly venal and uncomfortable social realities, this is still a very cooked up, complicated process of becoming nervous. And I can only say that, since I left the shop that day, I have been thinking somewhat differently about the short square man with the U-shaped head of hair, who might only have been trying to be encouraging to this younger recruit to the Topping and Co world, in his own similarly confused and confusing way.

Friday, September 22, 2017

The distortive rage of Osborne Cox

When she asked me why I hadn't said anything to John Malkovich the time I got into a lift with him (and his companion) from the rooftop terrace of the Hotel Monopol -- I said that he was pointedly ignoring me, of course, and that the whole time between when the lift started moving and when he (and his companion) got out at level four, he was looking up and away from me and towards the place where illuminated numbers might have been sliding from the right to the left. I also said that when I had been standing, waiting for the lift on the roof, I had been aware, merely, that a couple of older people had stepped up behind me to wait as well -- an utterly silent couple -- you know (I said) the sort of couple who might have just spent the whole of the afternoon sitting, as I had done, by an air-conditioning duct in the wind as they drank their pale, and probably equally tasteless coffees, while they worked or read or had just sat staring -- this couple who, once they stepped into the lift after me, had stood as far away from each other as possible -- and so when I turned and noticed that indeed it was he, the famous actor, standing towards the front of the lift as his companion stood towards the back, all I could think of was the meaningless mantra of Being John Malkovich -- that and the distortive rage of Osborne Cox -- but when I said all this, her face had pleated with an immense irritation. Because she would have said something to him. She wouldn't have let such a moment pass. In fact, it was only the previous week that she had addressed a gathering of gravediggers at Rookwood Cemetery and had heard, afterwards, that her breakfast meeting talk had been the most interesting one they had ever heard.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Between random relatives

Travelling with a sister in a city that neither of us lives in -- a city which draws in me long ropes of memory, happiness, mystery -- a city which means nothing to this sister, since when we were children here, on our regular visits, we were always being dragged around, as she tells me, between random relatives -- this sister who is continually being taken for my twin.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Invisible writing

You've been thinking that writing, the more you do it — the more that you love to do it, or at least love what can happen on the giddying occasions when you do it and it works — is no easier than it used to be when you still considered your self an abject beginner. Far from it. Okay, you write even more than you used to write — you write and you write and you think about writing for most of the day (in the shower, in the train, in front of the class you are teaching) — and you seem, too, as a result of this writing, so much more aware of when the wrong notes sound, but this only means that half or even more than half of the time that you are writing you are either deleting what you’ve only just written or once more re-writing. More deleting and rewriting than writing in the first degree. But then all of it is writing, still, surely. You tell your self that the best of the writing will come when you’re no longer waiting for it, since the more that you write without caring — or thinking or looking (even though all of it is done while caring) — there will soon come a moment when something comes alive in the dredges of the letters — a stirring of serifs and virgules — a rippling along the bumpy length of its horrible spine — and then the whole of the writing gets done in a single gesture, a single move. Yes, this is why you write, you say when it happens in front of you. When you whoop and jig around in your room in your socks. So, you write and you write, since you are always susceptible to the memory of this whooping — after all, it’s nothing more than an addiction to writing — a chasing of the writing — a seeking after the whoop that has come and gone or misfired in the past, but could well come again.

All you have to do, you know, is keep paying for that writing. You don’t go out or wash up because you are writing; you don’t answer the phone or make that call or sweep the stairs because you have to write. Of course, the smutty smears that follow from your writing will be visible, as you know — everyone must see it — the addict of writing, they are always saying, at least to themselves — the pathetic addict of terrible writing. It’s embarrassing, too, the way you set up for the writing: three fat pillows, one on top of the other on a bed in a hotel room. You go down for the free coffee and tea from a machine every hour or so, when the staff at their standing desk with its pyramid of apples turn around to look at you as you emerge like a sucked dry thief from the fire escape. What kind of person turns her back on the Synagogue of Wrocław so that she might keep on writing? What kind of person writes and writes and knows that for the most part it is lifeless, pre-known, a dry little sponge?

You begin to suspect that, at its best, writing might just be some sort of useless labour: the heaving of a pile of boulders from the front of a house to the back — which is to say that every one around you is laughing as they watch you at it. Better to pay an expert, surely, and get it right from the start. And yet, really, although the writing that you do is wasteful, you still work at it doggedly, stupidly — spending the whole day labouring over a single section — writing and writing, like someone who has not the least idea of how to write but who still keeps on writing in spite of it all. Because there will always be something, as you say to your self as you work — an ephemerally, flipping something — and this you will curl around your finger so you can wear it out in the evenings afterwards — when you listen with a smug distain to the talk of your friends who have been doing nothing all day but making decisions.

The sometimes pride of your invisible writing.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

A fakery of a fakery of a fakery

I only go this way home, west through the park and up the hill towards The Great Hall when I can't bear to go the other way round -- today walking up the stairway from the pond and the bridge and onto the landing by the entrance to the oldest university in the city behind a group of middle-aged Chinese tourists as if I were one of them only: a middle-aged tourist too.

This is the direction home which always takes me past the spot on the landing where I once saw a woman standing with her feet apart and arms akimbo in front of a bollard. It's no longer there, this bollard, but its absence still reminds me of the way this woman had been looking up towards The Great Hall -- standing with her back to a man who was squatting with one knee on the concrete at the top of the stairs so that he might take a photo of this grand moment -- since, with the afternoon sun on her hair, all of her life seemed to have been ignited by a profound connection to all that is beautiful and old (if fake, since the colonial Gothic is so much a fakery of a fakery of a fakery, as I'm always thinking).

It had seemed to be one of those moments of blissful oblivion that you see everywhere in these kinds of places, I was remembering yet again, and so hence my surprise when, as I went on to pass the woman, I had looked back to see that her face was tight and closed, which made the way that her friend was still kneeling behind her, with his phone held out just a little and forwards -- the phone-cum-camera in the place of some delicate and hopeful offering -- too painful to look at.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Crashing and circling

A few weeks ago, as I opened my bag up in the train and a pantry moth escaped, I dashed it against my trousers. And so why the regret -- why the pain when, after moving to the door so that I could get out at the next station, I turned back to see it circling the spot that I'd left -- crashing and circling and crashing? All the way walking past the stationary people on the escalator -- all the way in the queue at the exit gates -- pushing through the crowd at the corner of the street so that I might jay walk when I wanted to -- all the way walking into the lift when the lift doors opened and riding in silence to the second top floor, I kept thinking of that circling moth in the empty spot that I'd left, but also trying not to think about it, because who wants to think about one of those tiny pesky moths for hours and hours or even days?