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.


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