From the In Between

Between worlds, Avia came. Somehow, she slipped in. I have been thinking of the place she inhabits for some time now. Months have passed me by. There is a city sketch, a complex weave, and she is one part of this. There are others somewhere in the cloth, but they have yet to show. I put my head down thinking of time and space and place and what it all could be, here, there; I was woken suddenly, later in the broken light. Avia whispered her name.

The morning before, it was someone else to have infiltrated that space: that breach between the comfortable density and the alertness of the possibility of being hunted. There, some man I didn’t know, someone who assumed a minor greatness of the written world, took a book of mine. With disregard for what that book had seen, for who had touched it, loved it, for the words of delicate love traced inside the cover, the man pushed flat the spine and etched his own inscription there. It woke me suddenly: I couldn’t recover the book as it was before him — untouched since love, tarnished now and forever on.

This gap, this in between, has long since been an attractor of the conscious realm. This is not without its irony: such conscious agitation of the mind about the space between worlds where conscious agitation cannot be. The more we think of it, perhaps, the farther we push it away. Yet, nevertheless, here I am in contemplation of the shape of the shapeless, the breadth and depth of the amorphous, the texture of the inside of something I cannot ever reach, here, now, as I can write or as I can think it.

There are gaps in between sleep states, within and in between woken meditations, in between our woken autotelic states. There are gaps within the automatic functions that we fall through. Within all these, we may find the slight embodiment of words or ideas we laboured through; the deeply buried reaction that we never knew to be there, to conspire to catch us off-guard; the sensation on the skin, half-remembered, half-conjured; the name of someone sought amongst a city, half-formed, half-lit.

I drive, I wash, I stand and watch the day. There is a soporific softness to the urgency of the road, the stacking restlessness of the diary, the gathering darknesses of othernesses that could be done; they’re all attended to by the robot core — ticking, processing, clanking quietly deep down beneath. I drive, I wash, I stand and watch the day. I fall between the cracks of worlds.

This, at least, is how this thinking, writing, conscious agitation of the mind presumes it. I can’t tell for sure because I’m not there, for sure, between the cracks, in the gaps, between worlds. I know I surface with words, though sometimes slight; with reactions I didn’t know were there; with sensations whose memories still play upon the skin; with the names and hints of those entrenched in some half-lit, half-formed city.

Avia stretches out her arms, as I think her now. She’s already receded far and deep down. The shadows of this some place I have been thinking of swallow her, for now. She’s fey on the temple, on the pillow, perhaps. One man broke a book: he defiled the tracings of words and love there. He is the blemish of some underworld of this some other world. Both are in between, somewhere I can’t see for sure here: so I think.
 
 

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.
 
 

In the Times of Paper

I wake slowly . . . my thoughts entangled. Soft grey light seeps round the edges of the shutters into this wide and cluttered space, outlining the shrouded furniture and feeding my struggling consciousness as though it were a growing shoot struggling out of the clinging clay.

Iain Banks, The Bridge (1986)

. . . in the chilly chapel . . . the slick material of the blouse trembling in the light from the translucent panes overhead, black silk hanging in folds of shade from her breasts, quivering.

Iain Banks, The Crow Road (1992)

She was a dull person, but a sensational invitation to make babies. Men looked at her and wanted to fill her up with babies right away.

Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse 5 (1969)
 
 
Twenty years or so ago I collected such offerings as I considered delicate, or striking, though didn’t attribute them to their authors. I kept them in a small notebook bought with my final Deutschmarks in the pre-Euro west of Germany. These snippets would be like pressed flowers, slowly desiccating in between the dark pages. However, they would, I felt sure, retain all their flavour all the more if the author wasn’t marked alongside them. When I creaked open that notebook, I needed to know who had written these flavourings. I had inklings, but I needed to be sure.

We didn’t have the world wondrous web back when notebooks and pens and paper were alive and well. Now we can find what we need instantly. I wasn’t at all surprised to find that Banks had written the former offerings. There is a poetic resonance to these words which, all this time in the dark, I find still taste of something rich and smooth. Vonnegut, on the other hand, struck me from the pages of a recent reading: he wrote in times of paper and how things just were, it seemed.

In the time of paper amazing seeds were being sown, I found: did I have some unconscious attachment to certain ideas inside me all along, or is it just co-incidence to find threads of plots or themes or scraps of thinking from twenty years in the dark manifesting in the more mature writing of now? Either way, I find that a little disconcerting, eerie, spooky. Maybe some writing takes all the time between the necessary closing and the necessary opening of a notebook to be. If we believe in such things, when the notebook urges itself to be opened this is the time when everything is ready . . .

What did the writer of twenty years ago know? Still nascent loves and early wanderings of the world could only fold out into words in ragged ways. What does the writer of now know? Love and form and knowing how to see may well have evolved, but his words are just as ready for the pressing into dark pages as scraps of twenty years ago were. One day, when the time of paper will return for sure, something unknown and unknowable will blink out into the early morning light, slowly, as though it were a growing shoot struggling out of the clinging clay.
 
 

A World Seven Billion Stories Deep, at the Very Least

Stories beget stories. I was group leading on sessions of discussions recently and we touched on subjects such as spaces from our childhoods: places of found sacred, secret and otherwise special significance. I watched as people told their tales of far-off times, of places in the far-off east and hidden oases of desert kingdoms: stories fed into stories, faces changed, bodies shifted. Stories told rooted out the hidden treasures of stories in others, whose tales came blinking out into the light.

When we talk of our individual truths — with the colouring of the exotic otherness each of us holds over any other — we hold all the glitter and the stardust of the universe in our palms. We should treat our tales told, and the tales we hear, with reverence. Each story has its own flavour, texture, rich- and deepness. Each story is unique in the world.

There are seven billion stories in the world, at least; there must be more. I see flickerings of television screen offerings: cities teeming with possibilities of the overlapping stories of all its inhabitants, and more. How many stories does the vessel of each of us hold? How many stories overlap and, in doing so, become coloured, washed, textured differently with each perspective telling? There are seven billion stories in the world at the very, very least. There are more. How many stories have ever been?

The planet is one vast book of tales. The stories we just don’t see . . . I’m intrigued by the smallest things. So when I see and hear a group of tellers digging into their pasts to bring forth the sacred delicacies of their childhood haunts, and the faces on the listeners fall into such moments from afar, even for seconds at a time I see new stories — such as these here — start to unfold.

I took a walk, days later: I saw three children sitting on a doorstep playing cards, reading comics, just the way I did when I was their age. I saw them for a few seconds and I was taken back and back. The stories I’d forgotten, or kept in keepsake corners in my memory, found their way up and in. Today I read back on blog posts and see the tales I’ve told myself, over the years, start to weave their way into the telling of my writing. We’re each of us made of stories, comprised of personal parts of legends and micro-mythologies of time and place. We’re woven with the significances of others who, in that moment of their love and impact, pressed themselves to our skins — and beneath — for ever more.

We may be skin and bones and liquids but our hard and soft material selves regenerate over time; the stories that we’re made of are our elemental permanent selves. That we choose to give them away, strangely, only makes them stronger inside of us. Our stories given out and over have the power to transfix the listening other: such is the gravity they amass in time. Stories beget stories, and they — seven billion or so at the very, very least — fizz in the air around us and in the essences of us all.
 
 

Notes for the Imaginary Biographer

If you could step out of yourself and write a biography of the skin and mind of the writer you’ve just left, what would it include? Someone who reads here told me in person recently that, of course, you can’t collect your own anthology of writings (I was exercising the same ‘out of skin’ thinking process at the time): so I’m not writing here about autobiographies; this is, instead, a question of the research perspective of someone looking in on you.

What are the ‘warts’ in the ‘all’ of your life in art? What are the highs and the life-changing moments? What are the accidental shifts in direction? I can’t write this all here because my autobiography would be selective: you get what I choose you to have.

What would be the research sources for your biographer who chooses to chronicle your life and work, say, one hundred years after your birth and a few years after you’ve gone? I have a stack of pale blue exercise books which have been hidden away in dark places since the age of about seven. They contain some equally dark tales. There are public records of my existence, of my tracing through time; there are photographs and a handful of newspaper clippings, perhaps; there are papers of ill-formed words and letters sent to far-flung friends and other loves; there’s this hard drive blinking away with all my writing secrets precariously contained.

What about the countless emails, and the trail of me left on an equally countless array of websites? I’m an electronic strand of spittle and DNA spread along an invisible imaginary web. What about the countless conversations, and the trail of me left on an equally countless array of other people’s minds? I’m a chemical strand of memory spread along an invisible imaginary neuro-web.

In fewer than a hundred years, my imagined biographer will have a task to unravel me from the anecdotes and memories — some of which may still be true — and from the notebooks, loose leaf papers, emails, websites, social media scraps, photographs, etc. that abound. How can he or she possibly write me accurately?

Yet, if I write ‘me’ myself, I won’t tell all because we only present what we want others to read (no matter how honest we’re claiming to be). ‘Baring all’ is only really baring one perspective, at any one time, of this skin that we’re in.

So, if we’re to be written, we’re written with inaccuracies (or, at least, not absolutely succinctly) or we’re written with selective self-preservation in the onwards projection of our names after we’re gone.

Perhaps I should publish some seven year old’s dark tales: it would help my imaginary biographer, after all.
 
 

Along a Writing String

I do often wonder what this string of writings looks and feels like to you. If we can be said to write for just one reader, as it were, you are that reader. I write here for you. I wonder what this string of writings looks like to you.

I say this because I read it back, and back, and I try to think outside myself. Perhaps a writer does this, because only then can writing happen. I don’t know. It’s the curiosity of thinking about you, here and now, which takes me. How you see is my concern. I don’t write that with any trepidation: I write it with deliberate wonder.

When you wonder here, what do you wonder about how this stack of writings all connects? I mean, do you think — like I sometimes do when I read through the offerings of others’ work — what threads through this all? On the face of it, outside myself, I might write some unfathomable things. Sure I might. I write some experiences of the writerly life; I write some travels, some formed thoughts and some, frankly, thoughts in progress. I wonder if a drift is being caught and flowed along with.

Do you come here because you’re attracted to the title, the tag, the first line or the paragraph? Do you come because you’ve found me by chance arrangement of search engine offerings: flotsam or jetsam washed your way? Are you looking for something specific?

I write these things because, though I write to you, for you, I write for me too. Of course, this whole stream, this body of work, this collection of whatever transpires in the fullness of time, this is what I’m engineering as a window on this writer. My curiosity prods at my ribs: is it deep enough, strong enough, clear enough?; is it focused, de-focused, imprecise? Any or all or more of these?

I’m blog writing, here, about blog writing, which in turn is about writing.

I’ll work backwards because there’s some semblance of shape in doing so: I’m writing here to lay down, to engineer, to find out things that may be of writing worth. I’m writing to form a body of work, a collection, a mass, a form of words. There will be layers, and there will be contradictions: of this I can be fairly confident. I can revisit these and find out more in the process.

I’m writing here to see what’s deep enough, strong enough, clear enough, focused, de-focused, imprecise, and other things, vague as they may be. If I write to you, there’s a chance you may find my message in a bottle washed up your way. There are many ‘you’s I write to, so many bottles. Some will be loved and some will be discarded. The more I write, the more I’ll find out. This ‘you’ may agree with some things I suggest.

I’m curious about you because I’ve written you into this piece. You’re a character here. You tell me some things: you whisper them quietly. You tell me them because I’ve formed you here on the screen. You can’t help but tell me things. A writer needs to step out of himself though. How else can he find out more? So I’m curious about you: I wonder what you read here, how you read here, how you see it all. I step out of me to see you.

There I see how I write some unfathomable things, and some experiences of the writerly life; I write some travels, some formed thoughts and some thoughts in progress. I write some other things.

It’s all a wondering of what this string of writings looks like to you.