Given enough time, nature will take back the land it’s lost. I lived in a house like that, once. In Birmingham when I was a student there, not the second time I lived there. That second time was when I was working and training in what became my profession, and meeting people who would become integral to my life then and later on, and now. In that house being taken back by nature we had at least one mouse. A plant, I can’t remember, a tree?, grew in between bathroom tiles. Leaves sprouted from the wall. We didn’t use all of the bedrooms. There was one spare room, caught in stasis. We never cleaned it. The air was clogged with the smell of dust. R and I watched the next door neighbours in their back garden through the window of that room. We didn’t use our back garden. In London a back garden is a privilege. In Birmingham we squandered it. Our landlord used a handyman to do up the house while we were away over a summer. The man re-painted the wooden window frames at the front of the house. He only got halfway through. We didn’t meet him. We know he got halfway through because he had set out to do the job vertically – so each window from the top to the bottom of the house was half-painted, from top to bottom. None of them were completely painted. I think he painted the windows shut. That could be a different house. When we came back to the house in the autumn R couldn’t find one of her pans. Later the pan was found in the garden, flung. It had been used to mix paint. I think it stayed there. Eventually the landlord put poison down. I found the house mouse twitching in the middle of the living room floor, spasming on the thin wiry carpet. I felt so sorry. I carried him outside to the garden, and then I had a spasm myself, of human-rodent disgust. I flung the mouse into the garden. Then I thought that a cat might eat it and become sick. But it was too late. I don’t know where the mouse landed. I couldn’t find him in the uncared for morass of flora.
For a long time I felt that I didn’t feel at home anywhere, and that feeling like that, free range, was a good thing. Nowadays I welcome the love of more and more places, but the sea still moves restless. I’ve moved house twice this year, this calendar year, three times in eighteen months. I’m about to move house again, to a flat on a street along which Orthodox Jewish parents walk their children to school. My room has two windows, each facing different compass points. There is no garden, but there are shared green spaces. I don’t know if it has a mouse. I don’t think it will, the last time I went to look at it there was no evidence of nature pulling the spaces back down to earth, but there’s always time.
I move around a fair bit. It gets me in trouble sometimes: ‘You’re never here.’ It doesn’t really feel like I can help it. Once or twice I have tried to stay put and inertia silted up my gills, making breathing difficult. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve woken up gasping, not knowing where I am.
There was the time last summer when I’d stranded myself in east London, before I lived round that way. I’d organised this thing and forgotten to arrange anywhere to stay over at after the thing ended. Anxious phone calls to a friend led to me following a blue dot in circles around a google map to a flat somewhere where a stranger lived, a nice stranger who offered me a drink and gave me a bed to sleep in overnight. The bed was one of those that’s high up in the ceiling with space for a desk underneath, except in this room there was no desk underneath. I’ll admit right now I’d drunk a few gulps of free whiskey that night so it was an effort, both slightly comedic and shakily dangerous, to climb into the bunk. The next morning I woke up gasping. My heart beat almost broke a rib. I knew I was alone in the room and I knew that I wasn’t in any danger but I couldn’t remember where I was. I know this makes me sound feckless; it’s not that bad, I knew that I wouldn’t have stayed somewhere dodgy. I had to say out loud, ‘Where am I?’ and I had to peer out of the top of the window next to the bed. Even with these memory jolting measures it still took a handful of long minutes before I remembered where I was.
I think it was a few weeks ago I made a new friend in a friend of a friend. By the time we’d had a few of his beers and talked and bickered a bit in his kitchen, the temperature had plummeted outdoors. I only live maybe twenty minutes from his house; anyway I didn’t fancy the walk in that cold. I could’ve worn one of his jumpers home but he’d already lent his thick jumper to our mutual friend some days or weeks before. So the long and short of it is that I ended up staying at his until daylight warmed things up. I woke up with a Big Gasp but, remembering quite quickly this time where I was and embarrassed to have possibly woken the other person in the room with my Big Gasp, I ended up giggling myself back to a more restful napping. Feeling less dramatic than the night before, I got up after the nap and walked the short distance back home under cheerful blue north London sky.
The other day I woke up in a room in Birmingham, my head between the legs of a rocking chair. I gasped, but without even looking out from the opening of my sleeping bag I could tell that my friends were sleeping in the same room. The remembrance of where I was came back into view. Later on when two of my friends went out I got in their bed, so that day I woke up twice in unfamiliar places. Look at the picture. No one would worry waking up in such a beautiful room.
In the past weekend I’ve woken in three different beds, the last of which was my own. I woke up feeling the familiar confusion, the not knowing where I am muscle spasm, before I remembered. My books and my reading light and my desk and the paperchains along my wall came into morning focus. I remember saying, ‘Oh yes, yes. It’s you, oh good,’ I fell back asleep, patting my pillow in the way you pat an old companion’s back when it’s been a while.
I guess it’s a bit like when you want to say something but you don’t know how to say it, and then you manage to say it or you start writing and eventually the something unravels itself. Or when you have so much to do that it’s all nagging at the back of your mind and you don’t know where you’re going to begin or how you’ll manage it all, and contrasted to that how it feels when a chink of maybe enters your reasoning and you begin to see a way out. It’s a bit like that, tugging on a string that leads you back to knowing where you are.
… oh pants – I’ve just remembered that it’s dead cheesy to write about waking up. Too late now. Sorry, I’m sorry.
My bessie mate and I went on holiday, ooh a good few years ago now. We went to this Greek island. When we were there we went on a boat trip to a nearby island where the tree that Hippocrates lectured under (he must have been pretty short) still grew (is propped up) and where the shops sold soft porn playing cards.
I think we found the deal on Ceefax. We got to the island and it’s pretty sleepy. Lots of sun sun sun sun sun sun sun sun sun.
We were the youngest people on the island. I noticed that for some of the other people who spend time next to a swimming pool (did we gatecrash this swimming pool? Our rented apartment place didn’t have a pool) well, they’re older than us and well, their main conversation was what ailed them. What illnesses they’ve had and what diseases people of their acquaintance have survived. I could be exaggerating. They weren’t talking to us. I was eavesdropping. It was kind of interesting as well as massively dull. I remember my bessie and I promising, with a terror born of the foreshadowing of our future selves, that we wouldn’t do that when we were older. Just compare illnesses. What had led these people to this crevasse of rhetoric? There’s nothing left to say to one another but a passively aggressive semi-competitive comparison of how your body is succumbing incrementally to death?
I suppose now I think, well, maybe those people I eavesdropped on didn’t like each other much, didn’t have much in common or what have you, and were forced to spend time together. And also there’s no reason to suppose that based on the evidence of one overheard discourse that that’s how all all older people converse. I mean. It’s not like this whole blog post I’m currently typing has anything to do with the fact that I have been using all social networks and opportunities to complain about having a head cold. I haven’t. I haven’t.
I have, haven’t I.
I’m old*. And sick. Save yourselves while you still can young ones. Take echinacea before it’s too late for you too. And whatever you do, do not say out loud or even in your own head, “Huh, I don’t even remember what being sick feels like.” That’s just what the universe is waiting for. Pesky universe and its sense of just desserts.
*older than I used to be.
One of the reasons my old boyfriend gave, at the time that he was becoming my ex-boyfriend, for breaking up with me was: ‘You know who you are and I’m still trying to figure it out.’
I mean, I was a bit wrong-footed: does anyone know who they are… ever? But anyway, I suppose part of his self discovering was to off-load me. He’s had a lot of awesome experiences since then, me too. Doors closing, windows opening, blasts of fresh air blowing in, sun rising in the east setting in the west and riding high in an arc over your life in between the compass points of its cycle of birth and death.
So one of the things I did while continuing to attempt to know who I am was find out about a job, obsess about said job, apply for it and then go for an interview. The obsessing was pretty comprehensive. I got ideas in the shower for this job and almost scrubbed my hair right off my head with the ferocity of my thinking. I really didn’t think I’d get an interview. I didn’t have perfect experience for it. Perhaps the obsessing transferred some nervous energy into the application form that travelled up into the brain of the short-listers through their ocular nerves as they read my feverish words.
I had an interview! The interview was in London, I lived in Birmingham. We scheduled a late slot and I sorted out my train journey down. I don’t clearly remember all of the consequent events. Maybe I planned out my route from Kings X/ Euston to East London. Maybe I just assumed (time for question mark, exclamation mark, question mark) that, in my first solo visit to London, it really would only take ten minutes or so to learn how to navigate the underground, get a ticket, get across London, find the place where the interview was. Etc.
About halfway from Birmingham to London, and about three years or more before I got a smartphone, I realise that my timings are Whack. Panic ‘phone calls to my Maman: help help go on the internet HELP!
Slip, slide, fall
Flying out of Aldgate East tube stop. It’s begun to rain. I can’t see this place, where I’m supposed to be. I have 5 minutes to my interview time. I prefer to be early to these things than just being on time. If I can’t find it, this place where I have to be in 5 minutes, then all of my obsessing will’ve been for nothing. Well: for an expensive train ticket, a rain-drenching and the resultant frizzy hair. I’m running along the street, scanning both sides of the road with increasing levels of adrenaline and anger. It’s pretty rainy. It’s slippy. I see the place I need to get to and make a quick direction change, spinning on my heel. I fall, sliding on the wet pavement; the pavement is slick with more than rain. I get covered in what my brain rationalises at the time as bird poop but later it is more or less obvious it is dog poop. Luckily – LUCKILY – I am wearing a coat over my suit and have pockets full of tissues. I don’t have time for this. I take my coat off an hide the poop in the way I fold it. I stagger into the interview place. I have two minutes to sit, and seethe, before I’m called in.
I – am – buzzing – on adrenaline. I talk faster than light travels through space. Thousands of years from now scientists use the fading resonance of the soundwaves my words made then to chart the encroachment of history into the present. It’s known as ‘red-drift‘. So I’m jabbering away. I can see the interviewers glance nervous eyes at the clock over my head, and then shaky-eye back to me. I’m sitting sideways onto them to hide the poop traces on my shirt sleeve. I’m sitting sideways onto them and gibbering and gesticulating passionately with my free hand. I have to give a presentation. I try to load the slides from my memory stick. It doesn’t work. I try to load them from my back up CD. It doesn’t work. Actually I can’t remember if they were slides, I think it was images and sound files. I have to describe to the terrified interviewers what they would have been seeing/ hearing. Finally we’re done. We all slump: me inwardly, them outwardly. Me with resignation, them I guess with relief. At some points I was halfway crawled across the desk, such was the power of the points I was trying to make.
I get a ‘phone call. The job is mine.
When I move on from the job, at my leaving drinks, one of the men who interviewed me is now my outgoing boss, I tell him the story of the poop. He said it all made sense: the smell of me had been so bad they had to open the window after I’d left.
I have a job interview on Monday. I really want the job.
Don’t you wonder sometimes about sound and vision?
About people and places and things that inspire you? About moments that you half-comprehend and are unsure if you understand, about those moments?
About times when you could have gone one or even two of a multitude of ways – but you could only see the diverging choices in retrospect?
About ifs? About happiness and sadness and differences and friendships?
[sound] last weekend some of my friends and I held a Zaireeka party in a restored house in a village in France. It was better than I expected from a concept that Wayne Coyne had named from a word collision between ‘Zaire’ and ‘Eureka’. I think beforehand I had kind of misunderstood the concept of the four cds playing simultaneously. They have different parts of each song on them and, seemingly deliberately, phase in and out of sync with one another. Stamping and shape-making around the room we became infused with the chaos of the music surrounding us.
[people, places, things, moments] We drove to France. At the ferry terminal at this end we pulled up just as the early (all things are relative) moved off out of the dock. Spotting a sign that might sell us wine, beer or coffee we got out of the car. One of us made a huge leap in the air, her fists and legs went in any direction. It was an expression of joy. I’ve never seen her jump that high before.
[diverging choices, ifs] I was introduced to this video while we were in France. One of the lyrics got stuck in my mind, as well as a screenshot of the man looking gutted.
[happiness, sadness, differences, friendships] How many words do you know? Some of my friends know every two letter word that is permissible in scrabble. This never happened when we played it as kids. To me it’s a bit vulgar to use words whose meaning you don’t know, but after a while I did it as well. I used words that I couldn’t put in a sentence. Other times I used words I knew were definitely in the language and I was disbelieved. Our vocabulary telescoping to internet, not book, literacy. I want to start a book-scrabble club. We’d read the same book and then play scrabble only using words that had occurred in that book, and discuss the book while we play.
It’s 2012! Everyone party! Oh – we did that already? Now we have to go to work? This is going to be a year full of lots of exciting adventures, escapades and hard hard work of hardness? Oh. Okay…
There’s enough of the mutter mutter ah aha ye… yeh! reflect reflect think about the past and remark on my progress in pretty much all of my journal writing from 2011 that I think that, you know, it surfeits. The appetite for it if not dead is sickening and so this here new year blog post will be all hello future what do you hold instead. I have a few sentences in my head about the last year, what I’ve learned and all that so I’m sure I’ll write about it again at some point, but hopefully not.
There is so much potential in this new year. Although its unseasonable warmth is currently making me a bit nervous. But then I think: surely the world doesn’t end in a misplaced autumn? Surely not. So then I calm down.
My new year’s resolutions for the past two years have been these:
It makes a lot of sense yes?
I write this from the incredible space of my friend and fellow writer Sara Caba‘s amazing flat. Sara and her husband have been travelling around Vietnam and Cambodia for the end/beginning of 2011/2012 and let me stay in their really quite indescribably lovely home for a few weeks. It’s been… medicinal is the word I keep typing and deleting. I mean it’s been like being at a meditation retreat, or how I would imagine that to be. I’ve eaten a lot of brown rice, wholemeal noodles, organic live yoghurt. I’ve typed and written. I’ve stayed out late with my friends. Maybe there’ll be more of this kind of behaviour in 2012. I hope so.
I haven’t posted in my livejournal (now evolved into this journal) since August. Since before I became employed again. I think I was busy. And holding my breath. And arching my foot so that the other shoe would not drop. But life is continuing. And I am feeling a core of happiness. Which is worrying: I still wait for that shoe to fall from my foot. The happiness is growing.
I read this interview with PJ Harvey about her record ‘Let England Shake’. She says
…I think it’s very normal to any human being that you reach these certain markers in your life and you think, ‘is this still right or is there something else I could be doing with my life that would be more beneficial to me and to others?’
My life feels like, in retrospect, a patchwork stitched with those moments she describes.
Do I feel that I’m getting closer to answering that question of myself honestly. Or, in any case, more selfishly.
That was what I wanted to do: do the thing that I feel most compelled to do, and take very seriously. I want to give something back of worth, I want to make something worthwhile and meaningful.
In the past those moments she describes have led me towards vegetarianism, veganism, working with communities, staying in one place. I’ve been looking for something I want for me, just me, as well. I’ve chosen in the past my profession, my sport. There’s always been an element of fear and backing off from the point of when something matters so much that losing it would…
Ha! I’m not quite sure where I’ll go next. It takes quite some time for me to work out what feels right. All I do know is I won’t be doing the same thing again. I’ve also enjoyed discovering this new way of writing and I would like to continue that more.
I guess I have to make some decisions, as not everything or everyone fits into my life as it is right now. I am exploring, and discovering. And now, finally, creating with a gradual confidence. My purpose developing in the way that a photograph does: revealing an image that was there already but un-viewable.
Lovesong, The Cure.