1st  February 2017

Surreality

 

I am interested in the way that objects make up a life.

I am interested in insidious words; the way that branding and packaging and advertisements get inside of our brains without permission and make up our psychologies accidentally, like secondhand smoke.

I am interested in images and patterns and the way that sometimes when you go to sleep at night you see the colours of things flash behind your eyelids; neon kebab shop signs and tea bag boxes.

Some people say that writing should be timeless and therefore should not contain any references to popular culture.

I find this very annoying.

It seems very important to me now to be of my time. I am finding nostalgia annoying and vintage annoying and I know it is a coping mechanism especially in times like these but it seems so divorced from reality.

Does that matter?

Here in Ireland there is less visual clutter. In London you are constantly bombarded with words and images and adverts; posters and fliers and self-service machines, snippets of other people’s conversations.

Here there are no billboards, or adverts, or anything like that. The only words that I put into my brain are the ones I seek out, the ones I choose to put in there. I wonder if this is why I feel calmer. In London I can’t concentrate on anything for very long at all.

The internet is an exception to this. When I look at my phone I am bombarded by words and images day and night; an incessant chattering. This seems particularly potent at the moment. The world is on fire and my only connection to it is through my phone. I am so removed from everything and yet I can feel it physically in my body, the weight of it pressing into the middle of my chest.

I complained to a friend that here I am ‘removed from reality’ which is a blessing and a curse, but is reality a subjective, individual thing or is there some kind of wider reality, a common reality that we all participate in?

World events are becoming increasingly surreal. Does that mean more real or less real?

How does the layout of the internet affect our brains? We call our computer screens our ‘desktops’ and we stick files and documents on there as though we are shuffling sheaves of paper on a wooden desk but it doesn’t feel like that at all. Would the desk be more real or less real? Is reality something you can touch?I get frustrated a lot because you can’t touch writing or hold it in your hand, but then there are lots of important things that you cannot touch.

I teach English via Skype to kids in Shanghai, which is real and not real and surreal all at once. Due to the time difference I teach early in the mornings and my students have usually finished their days. Sometimes their parents are in the background making dinner in different languages. I am very far removed from their reality. We communicate via electronic documents and words typed in pixels and yet all of this is real. 

A friend from Sunderland living in London wrote me a letter and he said he was feeling homesick, that he wanted to go back to the North-East, to reality, where the words felt like wet stones in his mouth.

I think that stones feel like the most real things, sometimes.

In my English class this morning we read a passage about heat shimmering. My pupil had never seen heat shimmer before. She didn’t understand what I was talking about. I tried to show her a picture on Google Images but I couldn’t find one – you can’t photograph heat shimmering. Somehow that seemed like the most real thing of all.

 

 

 

13th December 2016

The Shape of Things

 

My house is by a small fishing port that used to be very busy but now it is mostly abandoned. My favourite place to walk is down by the old fish factories. There are warehouses that were once filled with pools and crates and conveyor belts sitting empty, and rusty boats and water tanks and piles of junk rotting by the water. There is a huge metal container covered in orange rust and when the light shines onto it, it seems as though it is flaked in gold.

As I walk down by the rocks and the water, I realise that one of the reasons that my thoughts feel thick and heavy in London is the lack of abandoned spaces. Everything belongs to someone and everything is monetized. There is not much ruin or desolation or places that feel forgotten or on the fringes of things. Everything is fast and shiny and new or being knocked down and renovated and built up again. The public spaces are shaped by someone else’s vision. Even the ancient buildings have a certain kind of shine

Some of my favourite parts of London are the tower blocks by Burgess Park, the railway bridge over Lower Marsh leading to Waterloo Station, the gas holder on the canal by Broadway Market and the swimming ponds on Hampstead Heath. These are all places where it feels as though life is allowed to happen on its own terms.

The sense of abandonment by the fish factories made me realise that it is good to be in these kinds of spaces in order for my thoughts to wander in an organic way. The places we inhabit affect our psychologies, and here among the sea daises and the discarded lobster pots and the forgotten bits of metal, I have space to grow into my own shape.

It is important that your thoughts are allowed to take their natural course; to evolve or decay in a way that feels organic. Cities are places of constant renewal which is perhaps why sometimes when I am inside of them it feels difficult to follow a thread all of the way to the end.

 

I have also realised how rooted my feelings are in places. I think in times and places and associate feelings and people and periods with the streets and plants and buildings that I am living in. I feel the pull of particular places inexplicably; a physical ache somewhere in my stomach that cannot be satiated until I put myself in a specific geographic location.

I thought that everyone thought like this until recently. This is interesting in itself; the different languages we choose to map our worlds. Some people root their feelings in people. Others root their feelings in words, or sounds, or particular smells or ideas. I am realizing more and more that people who shape the same words with their mouths still operate in many different languages.

I am a words person, a mind person, an image person, a places person and that is how I make sense of things. I want to be more of a body person; someone who experiences the world through their skin in a more immediate way than I do.

 

I want to inhabit my body fully and allow her to have the things that she desires.

 

I think that one of the first steps is abandonment; to relinquish control and allow things to take their course, to allow your thoughts to meander and your body to want and just watch and observe and to learn the edges of your most natural shape.

 

I often walk down by the fish factories as the sun begins to set. I think that winter sunsets are the best kind. The water is so still and the clouds are streaked with pinks and oranges so sweet they make my teeth ache. I like looking at the piles of junk; the smelly old ropes and the rotten nets and the hulks of rust and metal. I like the juxtaposition of heavy, dirty, industrial things with the fragile sky. I like things that aren’t supposed to go together.

 

I am living in my grandfather's old house and this morning when I put on my socks I remembered the way he used to put them on for me when I was a child. He always turned them inside out then matched my toes with the toes and then rolled them up onto my feet.

Maybe you have to turn something inside out before you can begin stand the right way up.

 

 

27th October 2016

The Weight of Things

 

The scientific definition of weight is that it is a force on an object due to gravity.

The scientific explanation of gravity is that it is the curvature of space.

It is as though space is a parachute, the kind you played with in the school hall when you were a child. Everyone in your class would hold an edge of the parachute and the teacher would put a ball on the top. The ball was heavy and would make a dent or a dip in the parachute, pulling the rest of the parachute towards it.

Gravity is like that.

It attracts particles and pieces of matter towards each other, which is how planets and stars and moons are formed.

The existence of large bodies of matter creates gravity and gravity creates large bodies of matter.

Everything depends on everything else.

 

We use the measure of weight to define our world.

We buy fruit in weight and flour in weight and we even buy extra weight at airports, so that we can carry the objects that define our lives and identities with us when we travel, so that we don’t have to leave the necessary parts of ourselves behind.

Weight is linked to existence.

The weight of a stone in your hand is comforting. It reminds you that there are real, solid objects in the world and anchors you to things when your thoughts seem to fill rooms and hallways and expensive storage containers. Once I felt small and inconsequential. I weighed very little and when the train doors opened and the hot air blew into the carriage I used to hold onto the bars until my knuckles turned white, because I thought I might blow out through the gap and onto the tracks like a stray sheet of paper. Later, I decided I that I wanted to occupy space after all and pull stars and planets towards me and see my actions affect people and objects and build things and break things and move things.

I think that is why we do reckless things sometimes; to test our own agency.

To see what kind of weight we actually hold in the world.

 

One of the things I find difficult about writing is that it has no physical weight. I loved an architect and the way his ideas materialised in solid, tangible, incredible structures used to hurt me. The things I cared about were weightless and invisible and at the time it felt like they didn’t exist. One of the best things about writing is that it has no physical weight. You can carry all of those dreams and ideas and facts and lives and languages around in your head.

Physical weight and psychological weight are not the same thing.

Some of the heaviest things in the world are invisible, intangible, have no mass, occupy no space. Perhaps they need to be weightless in order for everything to survive.

Imagine how heavy the universe would be if light had weight. Everything would collapse. Huge holes would be torn in the sky and we wouldn’t be able to turn our bedside lamps on because the weight of it would crush our lungs.

 

Imagine if love had a weight.

 

Love does have a weight.

 

I’m sure you have felt it.

 

In language, we talk about serious things, or things that deserve our attention as ‘heavy’ and having ‘gravity’ or having ‘weight’ and it makes sense. Serious concepts really do feel big and heavy when you think about them. But light things are heavy, too.

 

Laughter is heavy. It is fat and round and blubbery. It is so dense and so slippery that it is impossible to hold in your hands.

Holidays are heavy, filled with sand and grit and wet swimming costumes and the frantic urge to bottle your short days in jars so that you can store them somewhere at home and get them out and look at them when the weight of other things is pressing down on your spine.

Loss is a raw sort of heaviness like skin peeled away, smothering itself over everything, bruising your vision with the force of its weight. 

If loss is absence and absence is a lack of existence, why does loss feel so heavy?

 

When I go swimming I feel weightless. I know that it is to do with density and buoyancy and all of those other things. But is the lightness and calmness of swimming in my mind heavier than the weight of my body in the water?

 

How can we ever really know the weight of anything?

 

 

 

14th October 2016

 

I went to Dublin, to Newcastle to London then to Durham and Newcastle and Dublin again,  

and then back to here.

 

I think that it is necessary to leave a place and then return to it if you are ever really going to see the shape of it.

 

The seasons changed while I was gone and now everything feels different.

 

There is a chill in the air and it is tangy and sweet.

It is the feeling of cold air on bare legs;

playing out in the street as a child as the night closes in.

Breathing in the dusk like smoke,

knowing that at any moment your mum will shout your name from the doorway, calling you home for the night.

Secretly wanting her to;

that safe, yellow space of bedtimes and steamy kitchens.

 

When the sun sets here now the clouds are edged in brown,

as though they are fruit that has been left out for too long.

 

I think that if love was a colour then it would be brown.

 

Brown is the colour of rust and rot and decay,

of avocadoes spoiled by the passing of time and of dirt and age and things that have been forgotten.

It is the colour of tobacco and coffee,

of soil and chocolate and whiskey;

things that are delicious

in a heavy, cloying sort of way.

 

When the tide is out here and all the rocks are exposed everything is brown.

The seaweed rotting in the air, the mulchy sea bed, the sky and the sea and the sand.

It is a bruised, violent kind of beauty

and it seems to me that maybe that’s what love is like,

in its purest form.

 

Maybe it is no coincidence that blood stains are brown. 

That dried-up, flaky residue

that leaks from the heart.

 

 

 

 

 

 

27th September 2016

 

Storms outside so trapped inside with lots to be done and nowhere to be. Are we the products of the things we put into our bodies and our minds? If I only read the best books does that mean I can write one? If I only eat avocadoes and oat cakes will I become pure and bland? Cardboardy. Do we all have our own small sprig of weirdness inside? Nick Cave over and over on repeat, Ben Lerner, Lucia Berlin, Basquiat and Zadie’s warm and trustworthy voice and Patti, always Patti; a confusing combination. Running and breathing air and water and my sweat smells like the sea and peat-smoke. I am becoming made from these things. Is that why we feel the pull of particular places? The very atoms of them burrow their way under our skin and literally, not just metaphorically. Mingling with our neutrons and electrons and all of those other tiny, complicated things. I am straw-coloured grass and delicate ferns and purplish heather and bogs and bracken and sea-salt and peat-smoke and yet that isn’t all of me for I am so many other things, too.

 

Red wine and apples and oats and chickpeas, spinach, raisins, porridge with honey, strawberry flavoured shower gel feeling like plastic, red candle wax on the floor and long, hot showers. I would like to taste industrial, like metal and dirt and dampness. Cracked chelsea boots and the smell of the oil burner. Wet grass and cool stars and satsuma scented kitchen cleaner. Ash-piles and brush bristles and dustpans and a crochet blanket bought on a sad day in Canterbury. I was made of fields then too, but a different variety, fields with spider webs and silver frost and not burning, not like here. Stray dogs and donkeys and sheep and goats on leads, small rocks in my shoes and washing lacy knickers in the sink and the sun setting gold and shards of autumn in the sky, crisp and smelling of cardigans. Candle-light and sleepless nights twisted under cold sheets the black bottoms of my feet and bits of firelighter under my fingernails smelling of petrol and coffee and milk. Long blonde hairs caught everywhere and lists of themes of books of ideas and diagrams, don’t forget toothpaste and bleach and museli or maybe tomatoes. I am trying to capture the essence. What is the essence? What is my essence? What kinds of tiny, complicated things are you made from?

 

 

 

15th September 2016

 

Barely even September and caught in a flurry of hailstones. Hair damp like old ropes on shoulders and dungarees soaked through. Soggy and grey. Frowning and trying to write. Doubting myself. It is hard to sit in a room on your own and just make things up.

 

*   *   *

 

A cycle home through rusty hills and clear skies. A pit of calm in the evening; silver and pebble-shaped. I buy a beer this time. I always feel transgressive when I drink straight from the bottle. Again, the woman at the check out gives me a sympathetic smile.

‘Are you eighteen, wee’un?’

I flash my ID and she squints at my face. I laugh somewhere inside. Can’t she feel the ancient in my bones?

 

*   *   *

 

I hand-wash my striped t-shirts and my socks and they steam and wrinkle on the washing line in the dusk. The sun slips and drips down the sky, leaks red across the clouds. I think of wombs and warmth and feel safe.

 

*   *   *

 

The next day the sky is finally blue. It seems as though the lid has been taken off the world. There is so much space; to breathe and think and move and wander. Cycling is easy and I enjoy the feeling of fire in my thighs. An old man on the Main Street sits outside of his front door with his ear pressed to his radio, ignoring everyone.

 

*   *   *

 

I go to the library, which is in an old church, surrounded by a graveyard. I drink a cup of coffee on a bench outside. A man in a dirty shirt walks towards me, purposefully sucking on a cigarette.

            ‘Grave situation this, isn’t it? He raises an eyebrow. I laugh.

            ‘Where you from?’ He grunts. I still don’t really know the answer to this question.

            ‘England.’ I say, after a pause.

            ‘Ah, England.’ He says. ‘Nice country. Spent a lot of time in London, National Theatre, you know. War Horse, Steven Spielberg. Films. Theatre. Southbank. London.’

            ‘Oh, yes.’ I reply. ‘National Theatre. Southbank.’ Pause. ‘What do you do?’

            ‘Steven Spielberg. War Horse. Best director to work with.’

            I persist. ‘What is your job?’

            ‘Actor.’ He croaks. ‘Past tense. Ruined my bloody career, been arrested by the guards fifteen times.’ I raise my eyebrows.

            ‘I’m a criminal.’ He says, looking around. ‘Might as well steal that bike over there.’ He nods in the direction of my bike, unlocked against the wall.

            ‘That’s my bike.’

            ‘Sorry.’ He laughs. ‘I threw a plastic plant at a bank. Can you believe it?’

            ‘That’s how they get you.’ I say, solemnly. ‘Those banks.’ He looks at me properly for the first time.

            ‘Aye. They always get you.’

A woman with a clipboard and a stack of papers walks towards us. It turns out that every second Tuesday of the month, the church stops being a library and becomes a courtroom.

            ‘There you are!’ She says. ‘Always flirting with the girls.’ He winks at me.

            ‘Are you from here?’ I ask him.

            ‘No! No. Fucking hate the place.’ He moves towards the woman, stopping half-way to turn around and blow me a kiss.

 

*   *   *

 

The day seems too bright to waste. This light, bright lid-off feeling doesn’t happen too often in Donegal. I cycle a few miles to the beach all along the coast and the sea and sky reflect each other in such a gentle way that I begin to sink into them, unable to tell which way is up. I cycle through fields, past ferns and lakes and cows and donkeys who stare at me with serious eyes. There are houses here built out on the rocks with enormous windows. I fantasise about a day when I might have a glass studio somewhere like this, just pure light and space and air and room to breathe. An empty desk; dust motes.

 

*   *   *

 

I run down to the beach and take off my boots. There is only me, and the sky and the sea and an old man swimming though the waves, his pink body bobbing up and down. I splash right in and get my dress all wet, but it doesn’t matter. I feel the weight of the water crashing against my thighs, all blue and white and my leg hairs all gold in the sun and I laugh, in spite of being alone. The seaweed glitters on the shore and I lie in the sand and breathe space and air and sky and sea and feel the feeling of being one small body on the edge of the world.

 

 

10th September 2016

I have survived my first week in isolation.

It has been a strange week and most of the time I don’t really know what I’m doing.

A misunderstanding led to a farmer delivering me an extortionate amount of turf to burn on the fire, for an extortionate amount of money, more than I will ever use. After he left, I climbed up on top of the turf pile and lay on it and sobbed, because there was so much, and it was so heavy, and felt like some kind of symbol of all of the nights I will have to spend here alone. After a while I started to laugh that I am suddenly worried about coal and turf and wood and exactly how I’m going to cycle through the mountains in gales with a heavy bottle of whiskey in my backpack.

I have been writing and I have been not writing.

I have been reading a lot, and re-reading a lot, and learning the structure of things.

I have been looking at Instagram a lot on my phone and then feeling guilty, as if that is cheating.

I’m not sure if it is a good thing to completely cut myself off.

I’m not sure about much.

I have cycled through the hills in the pouring rain and been blown into the middle of the road on my bike.

I have learned that sunsets here are a dull gold colour, and the fields are brown and the sky is brown and the sea is brown and I never thought that brown was beautiful before, but it is.

It always smells like burning.

I bought a bottle of wine from the supermarket and the boy at the till said,

            ‘Are you eighteen?’.

Sometimes I feel like a weird old man in a young woman’s body.

Maybe I spent too many years reading weird old men.

I have been charged £80 by the bank in overdraft fees.

Sometimes everything feels impossible.

I can see the Milky Way very clearly from my garden.

I am afraid to go to the beach because it will make me feel smaller.

I am making a mess.

I am trying to spread myself out more.

I have started drawing pictures of cities.

 I am fighting the impulse in myself to always be thinking about the future instead of the present.

I spent an hour dancing on my own to Etta James in the living room by candlelight.

I scalded my mouth on hot lentils and singed my fingers in the fire.

I keep forgetting how to spell words.

I am trying to learn German.

I am finding it difficult to fall asleep, but when I do I am sleeping long, hot, heavy, complicated sleeps.

I am learning that sometimes it is important to be on the edges of things.