I’m supposed to be moving house this week, but it has been delayed again. Luckily, the coming weeks look slightly more relaxed, slightly freer, that they did at the beginning of the week.
I should be moving this week. I don’t think I’m ready, or maybe I am ready and I’m just stuck in the same weird limbo that the rest of the country is stuck in. I have at least sorted out my books.
That is to say, I’ve taken all my books off the shelf, looked at them, and worked out whether I should keep them. I’ve taken a lot of textbooks down. Some of them are from people I don’t know any more; broken-off conversations that I’m not able to finish. Some of them are promises from myself, once upon a time, that I’ve not cleaved to.
I miss that guy, sometimes. He was surer. He had more time. He didn’t have a clue where he was going, but he was sure it would continue much as it did then.
I pass my hands over books of magic and illusion; mentalism; decks of cards. He wasn’t so sure of himself though: he constructed the persona of the magician, the Man Who Did Magic because he thought the way to friendship was being valuable. There’s still elements of that fellow. I’m still desperately keen to be in the spotlight. I’m still showing off, and I’m still so interested in performance – particularly from the perspective that everything1including this! Question it! is, to a certain extent, a performance. And, of course, for someone who’s terrible at understanding tone and body language a hobby that made me learn it like a science has given me the ability to pass effectively.
Books about the world. A mess of specialisms that cover psychology, physics, geology, politics and computer science. Enough to speak with a little authority on almost everything; enough to understand how people tick. Another book to remind me that all of this is just a means to encourage people to talk about themselves, because differences of opinion are where we learn about who we are and who others are too.
La Fontaine. Proust. Camus. Books I’d struggle to read now written in a language I knew and that has since leaked out of my head. I wrote a dissertation on the nature of secularism in French once; now I struggle to ask for a spoon. Mandarin Chinese; Japanese; Arabic; Russian. A smattering of words in each language cling stubbornly to my tongue but phrases are lost; swallowed or breathed out. Will I have time to find them again? Would I, even if I had such time?
And now the shelves are empty and hollow. Nothing fills them; they await new experiences, new ideas to give them new meaning. What is an emptiness but an invitation to be filled? It is a vacuum that unsettles me when I walk past: a space that should be full, and isn’t. When I lost a tooth, I had this feeling too, and I couldn’t leave it alone. I kept touching it. I kept probing it.
Is it possible to be comfortable with emptiness?
A friend of mine is leaving, and also joining, and the notes of his life are combining in a jazz riff that he’s kind enough to play live and public. I’m lucky beyond measure to have such a friend, and I love him dearly.
I joined his leaving drinks and met fantastically interesting people, and I did it by swallowing my enormous anxiety and asking people what they did when they weren’t here. It was revelatory, friends. I know; I know. I’m 30 years old and I’ve just discovered small talk; forgive me, but I’m going to gush about it. I’m going to talk with glee for the next few hundred words about the fascinating new people I met this week.
I say this week because I also went speed dating on Monday, and I’ve come out with contact details for people who I think I could be friends with. And it’s the same thing. People are interesting, man.
I mean some people aren’t, but man if you let them open up you discover someone radical who studied meteorology at university and keeps a spreadsheet of films they’ve seen, complete with ratings. You meet someone who delivered their own child, at home. You discover school governors and brass band musicians and people who make a habit of buying a £5 Globe ticket and heckling the actors.2I’m genuinely unsure if this is even allowed, but I’m going to go along and find out
In only a few weeks, I’ve started to come to terms with the possibility I could have a conversation with someone without needing to offer them something in return. I might be an interesting person in my own right. And connecting with people – just getting to know a little sliver of their sunshine – is something I think we all secretly like.3I’ve also learned that almost all public servants can play chess, and I’m curious about that fact. So if I see you soon, I may just ask you.
I am fighting with myself.
I get up at 8. I scramble eggs. I put them on toast. I eat and I listen to the radio and I try to shake the horrible pain in my hand, where last night in my dreams a snake sunk its fangs through the fleshy part of my hand. The pain’s still there, mind you, so I sink two ibuprofen and rinse the dishes.
I make coffee and while it cools I shower. I splash and steam and try to remember the plot of whatever I was writing at 6 hours ago, eyes itching closed. There’s so much to keep in my brain, and writing it down makes it look stupid and unconnected. But the water’s washing away the structure, the characters, the plot. I’m losing the plot.
I turn off the water and clamber back up to the bathroom. Dry off; drink coffee; clean teeth. If I didn’t do these little rituals I’d go mad, ah-ha, stuck inside with nobody to talk to except the figments of my imagination I’m forcing into awkward situations to grow their characters. Time to sit down and re-read whatever I wrote last night and shake it until the good idea buried under all the loquacity falls out.
Unless there’s no idea, I think with a sinking heart, as paragraph of vague and self-inserted dross flow past me. Give up in frustration and head into town: today, the Brunel Museum. A sudden explosion of an idea as I watch, out of the corner of my eye, a bartender dripping charisma proffer a card. Inspiration is everywhere, but I don’t need inspiration. I need to sit in front of the desk and write at least a thousand words; I have to get my budding diplomat from where he is to where he needs to be. A mistake that is of my own doing and can’t be undone without rearranging the continent. It’s going to really perplex the sailors, but it can’t be helped; it’s a sort of technical debt and probably a good reason for planning the infrastructure of the thing before putting live people in it.
Going home and I’ve suddenly got the solution and nothing to write on. I sit still and steady, balancing the slope of my brain so it doesn’t slide out my ears on the corners. I rush in the door and write it out; it’s not right, it’s not perfect, but it’s the beginnings of the right shape. I feed the cat. I listen to music with odd rhythms because it forces the story into the same shapes.
Close enough. God, writing is so hard. I wish I could just sit down and write thousands of words; just bash out, in a couple of hours, the kind of thing people would like to read.
Try again tomorrow.