One Week’s Words Washes Up on the Shore of Now

Rain falls in a vast sweep and the lightning is a sheet across the night sky. This is an enormity in the flash of the now.

Here, this now, is the calm between storms. Words tumble down and down to reach the bottom of the week: liquid amalgamations in the long thin tube, where a yard of ale might also run. Here is a puddle deepening. I think: when Phoebe offers me that smile, the one that’s lush in empathy, there’s a touch of sadness in her eyes. This is a moment of now. Night washes away.

Here we are in some stillness. Words spread out like sodden leaves. I am woken with a memory of someone I almost forgot; yes, ‘What a dream I had, pressed in organdy, clothed in crinoline of smoky burgundy; softer than the rain’*; except you were smoother still than this. Memory and dream conspire and we can often forget where we are. I am woken, deeply down in time still, coming up, coming up for air. Time washes round me.

Here is some me: once, one twenty years gone by, here he still is. He’s a ghost naïve. Words swill in pictures and sense arrangements, as ‘then’ merges with the ‘now’. Strangely in the city of my greener self, all the monuments and the toothpaste streets, his city, spread around me. There are ghosts in every crack and on every corner, where the air still circulates in endless orbits, where the light is sepia sluiced. Ghosts wash along the pavements and the roads.

Here is an always me: the children sit on the doorstep next to me. We consider the clouds. There are moments of perfection which words can’t always catch. Words try to settle on this now; yet all is too rare, as in light, yet just so. This form of rarity cycles over and around. The children know, the children feel the moment, and they have the wisdom of quietness in it all. Clouds, which have some such words somehow, wash over us.

Here is some love I have known for what could be always: be present, my dearest friend. So, I see the shifting colours of the tree in the sun to shade: white-blonde lime to dark black-green in an instant; the frosted spray of pines, perhaps; the presence, coming forwards in front of the urban world, of trees. Words fall in: I write in my mind’s eye. The now is fragile and yet remarkable. Everything is succinct. Everything is clear. The world-moment washes in.

Here is one now: this is the calm between storms. Words are present, washing over, now.
* (lyric: Paul Simon, Simon and Garfunkel)


A Sharpness of Words Abroad

Often, following a step abroad, it is precisely the usualities we sought to escape that embrace us with the greatest warmth: the customs, routines, rituals and the slightest nuances of all that surrounds us, and which we’ve known from the earliest of ages without ever seeming to have been taught them, have their innate beauties returned to us. Words, of course, are a seminal factor in all of this. They press on us, in our homelands, in speech we hear on public transport (and which we pay little attention to), fizzing from television screens, in conversations we willingly engage in, on street signs, posturing from adverts, on the roads themselves, in newspapers and magazines and books: all of this and more. I have come home from stepping abroad and I feel embraced.

Out there, out on the European continental mainland, something of my own words coalesced though. (I write it like this because the island-nationer that I am can feel protective of his curious idiosyncrasy, as the mainlanders often see him and his kin as). Out there, the words in public transport hubs, fizzing from television screens, in intensely concentrated-upon conversations in foreign tongues, on street signs and their roads, in adverts and newspapers, magazines and books, all conspired to a point verging on being overwhelming. I can hold the odd and short foreign language conversation, understand a little more of what I’m merely passive to, read some articles in newspapers, depending on their length and depth, unconsciously recognise the gist of some information blurted out at airports, but it leaves a writer feeling somewhat disconnected. Where can he go then but into the texture of the words he knows?

I choose to go abroad to see the people who I know, to experience the irregularity of my sudden place in the world, to be someplace else, to escape and to return. I know this, and so retreating to my island home can never be a permanent fixture. Yet, my island home finds me sometimes, when I leave it. When stepping abroad, this time, this writer disconnected found that something of his home words coalesced. As a means of finishing a book, I now find, stepping outside one’s own words and customs, routines and rituals can have a cauterising effect. I had six stories to write to complete the first draft of my latest offering. I took with me the outline of where I’d reached, folded into the back of my notebook, and I hoped I’d find the words. They found me.

Immersed within the need to consider ideas, gaps within the words, rhythm, flow, the feel of the moments and the whole, I came home with all six of these. They nursed me, out there, when I was overwhelmed by the immensity of the continental mainland and all its ways. They came following, a few days after my departure, caught up with me and settled onto my fingers.

Writing on paper, with a biro, in a foreign land and surrounded by a blur of otherworldliness (albeit an otherworldliness I’ve visited many times before), this time, served as a kind of sterilising of words which came to be. At school, many years ago, I was advised, I remember, never to be concerned about crossing out words and replacing them. This isn’t to say that those words crossed out are wrong, as such: this is to say, now, that there is a richness of words to consider. Writing, out there, I found that the continual re-reading, crossing out, adding, replacing and re-instating of words had a cathartic effect. The result is something I’m pleased with on several levels: the process, the product as it currently is in the clean version transcribed to the file on the screen, the product in all its glorious additions and removals in the paper pages of my notebook. In the latter, the original thought still shines through, beneath the lines, and this only adds to the palimpsest of the whole. On the screen, in the final book, this can’t ever be seen.

On returning home, island me, after stepping abroad this time, I headed straight to the newsagent to buy a paper. I’d missed a while of the real world whilst immersed in other realms, and of course I needed to catch up, but any words in my own language, other than those I’d spoken, conversed in, or written myself, were what I needed most. Then the customs, routines, rituals and the like of my own world flooded in and I felt embraced. My notebook sits on my desk: it is, I feel, loved the more for the punctured precision of its newest words, sharpened by a brief significance of stepping abroad.

A Crafting of Some Appreciation

The bookshop called me in. I didn’t intend to go in there: it just insisted. I would have preferred it if the sudden inclination had taken me when I was upstream (that is, uptown), where the little side-alley independent place is, but the inclination took me as I walked past the big plate-glass windows of the brand name. It was a bookshop though, at least. I had no thought in my head about looking for anyone on the shelves in particular. New books have an almost irresistible feel to them though (almost: I did resist because the prices were so exorbitant). New books have a crispness, a quality that suggests that anyone who just walks in off the street is the first person ever to have opened that book in all its life.

I was drawn like a magnet, and before my conscious self had had time to know it, to Gabriel García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude (which I know I need to read). Its first line drew me in: ‘Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.’ This is one of those books I know I should already have read but haven’t. I’m already a friend to the words of Márquez, and sometimes we can stand in bookshops for long periods of time trying to justify spending exorbitant amounts of money on crisp new books we know we should have read. I will read it, but later. Writers like Márquez know this is fine because he knows he already has me on his side.

Writers unlike Márquez rely on other friends. So it is I can say I’m truly privileged for the support of people like Kirsty at Bees Make Honey Creative Community, in this case on several counts: (i) for her continued support of my work; (ii) for agreeing to take on copies of Disintegration and Other Stories at the Memories of the Future event in Nottingham this October; (iii) for agreeing to take in a non-Nottingham southerner’s work (that’ll be me!). By way of reciprocal support, if you’re in the area, I trust you can get there (see links above for details).

This support for the independent, the small amongst the megalithic corporates (even though we too are sometimes obliged to make use of the latter to get words out there), the craftspeople of the world, as I see it, is very much appreciated. Of course, in the modern world we know there’s a place for those monsters of industry (we can, perhaps, all be consumers of convenience, and we can like it), but knowing that there are groups of people out there who are focused on the minutiae of it all is inspiring and heartening.

So, in coming back to my own reading, I walk into a corporate-branded bookshop and I find I need Márquez, but I find he can wait. There are still plenty of crisp newnesses to discover in other, yet to be known places first.