The Space Beyond the Far Word of the Book

It was the gap between words, between books. It was a time of waiting and a time of holding one’s breath. There comes a point when such acquiescence becomes almost fully stretched: waiting becomes taut. It was this: I was busy in other unnecessary pursuits: pursuits not becoming of the fabric in which words will lay themselves. Perhaps it’s this to cause a draught, and words that might settle are floated away (by my own hand at its other tasks). Tenses start to overlap.

I sat because the time for sitting had just touched me. Here, other unnecessary pursuits can wait, and time in sitting is taut. It has been some fair while now, days since you — dear words — have been here. I have finished writing your sibling down: now, where will you rest with me? I sat stretched, though I sat upright.

Out by night, I find, observing, tells words that I am ready for them. Come find me, I suggest. I take my notebook just in case. Sometimes I’m accosted by wordless people who talk and talk at me. They have words unbecoming of the words I wish to settle on me. They are draughts to waft those words in dust and half-light. I don’t open my notebook here: words won’t land.

One night, that night when the fire blazed and I was left largely to my own devices, I knew the stretch of days was nearly at its end. Words landed of their own accord, just notes but words, on my pages. I closed the covers and, for the hours still to come, I left them wriggling.

It is the evening after the gap between words. With the last book finished, the morning ached. Here she is, this first new piece, at last. I call it ‘she’, though this is just a passing reference. It is no longer the gap between words, between the end of one book and the start of the next: now is the gathering of possibilities. It is the moment after the jump, after the fall, after the start. Here we are, and now the gap is no longer a gap: it is a space in which particles start to swim and swill.

It is the space beyond the farthest word of one book . . .

Of the Shallow Breaths of Unfinished Stories

Pay attention. This isn’t a comment aimed at you, the reader, though you may also take note. This is a public note to self. Pay attention to all the unfinished pieces that lie deep down in the dusty archive of the laptop’s innards, or in between the pages of notebooks. What could these pieces become, if only they’re paid attention to?

Writing something straight out, there and then, as it comes, has its advantages. There’s no time for it to settle into the page, to sink in, to let the pause of several days take affect on your writing emotions. Writing something straight out, then leaving it to settle, is often the better way to do it.

In the pause, in the gap that ideas and words fall into, in the space where no words scroll down the waking screen of our day to days, we can fall into states not conducive to words: apathy, doubt, that inner editor’s eye. Later still, other ideas form and supersede the unfinished ones.

I would like to know how many unfinished pieces other writers have; or, if they’re like me, how many pieces do others think they have? Estimations are useful for large numbers.

Why do we stop writing, leaving such pieces hanging?

I stop because I pause to think, close my notebook for a short while, and get distracted by necessary unnecessaries; I wait too long for the moment of that particular writing flow to wash over me again; I re-read when I should just be writing; I doubt the characters or the scene, momentarily; I just don’t focus on writing through it; I forget to write the characters the way they tell me they should be written, trying instead to write them how I perceive other readers want them to be.

When it comes together, it’s because I’m focused, true to what I’m writing, going with the flow I find myself in. More often than not, when I re-read writing later, after its settling, the words that have been placed down in such focused ways are the ones I feel more comfortable with.

However, there is hope for the unfinished piece. Occasionally we can find our way back to that place of flow, where that particular piece was born; we can see enough of the original shine to be able to recreate it, clone the mood we were in; we can reconnect with the style we had, that day, that week, once, if that style is something we still carry within us. There is small hope, though ideally we should not have let the piece get away from us to start with.

I think of the poor unfinished things, those limp creatures pressed away somewhere dark or deep; I think of the shine they once must have had for them to reach the point of ink or pixels on the screen. What will become of them? Will they ever receive love enough, small hope, to complete them? They’re like half-formed experiments, breathing shallowly, waiting.

So, a public note to self (which others may also make note of): pay attention — stories breathe.

Jump, Fall In

I wrote so deep into the uncontrolled darkness I didn’t know if I was a word or a page or a period at the end of a sentence.

Natalie Goldberg, Wild Mind (1991)
I sit and read because words are lost to me. Once, I wrote. It’s December and, although the sky is that pearl of eggshell blue and the sun is weak over the winter day, words won’t just come just because it isn’t grey outside. I sit and read. Now, and only now, can some semblance of ‘writer’ form. Some days, of course, we’re floating. No amount of mock raising of the spirits, shaking awake the muse — dead to the world — can bring about a single written word. We just wait. Procrastinate and all will end well?

You see, jumping right in is all very well, but jumping in involves first standing on the edge. We are gradual creatures: we work in slow degrees. We function in mechanical operations, even if we don’t know this; yet, today the sky is eggshell blue, now I read, over there is the possibility of an edge, now jump. What if we were to bring the mountain to Mohammed? Once, on returning to the beach, a child said, ‘Why has the hole I dug moved away from the water?’ (or words like these). Let’s bring the edge of the hole to the place where we are, and jump. What can words now be? Jump in and write.

Falling is fierce. We feel the wind on our faces. We sit up straight in our chairs. I sit up straight in my chair. Here I am. I fall. I look around at the words that start to scroll: the rock has colours I couldn’t see from above. Here I am, sliding into the earth. I don’t have concerns for pretensions. Here I am. Here is now. Dark yellows and deep greens, red on burnt white and brown. What is down here? In the hollow of a mind resides all sorts of insects. When I land I want to loft the stone to see. Underneath may be cockroaches and striplings of baby adders too: it’s not all the rosy shine of eggshell, down below.

Look deeper in the fall. When we land in words what do we feel? Do our bodies know we’ve landed at all? Here is sand, and here is dirt, or there’s nothing but love in subterranea: the hands of a thousand ghosts coil like soft clean smoke, smoothing over the possible scratches on skin. The body-soma doesn’t feel under the mind-touch of words: words like smoke like oxygen, pure and simple, like white dry ice or liquid nitrogen, permafrost. What the words do here is smother all otherness, here at the bottom of the hole. Perhaps there’s more . . .

Go deeper. Dig down till you reach the centre of the world. Here is the magma to make words rotate. Here is carbon in long straight ways. Open up and open up, let it in. Words won’t hurt. Dig deeper, dig farther: out into the clear night on the other side of the planet. Here are stars hiding on the lip of the horizon. Fall through and away . . .

Today the sky is a pearl of eggshell blue, as I look up and see, just as the door downstairs opens and the house fills up with noise: co-incidence or the universe at work? I can’t tell.

Jump in yourself, and see the way that words are.