A wild slim alien


Imagining lemons

Imagine that I’m a recovering alcoholic.  Imagine that I have issues and torments, the kind that need a troubled cure for a troubled mind.  Imagine that I’ve gathered with seven other self-flagellating substance misusers to try and effect some small changes in my life which may just set me on the road to recovery.  This is not so much therapy as self-help, with serious doses of woe and misfortune from all corners and sides.  It’s about stepping out of the mindset which allows us down and outs to proceed on autopilot, so that we can repurpose our rote behaviours away from what we don’t want, and towards what we do.  To press pause, before we press play again.

At least, that’s the theory.

Having relaxed in our seats and closed our eyes, we are asked by a gentle guiding soul to imagine a lemon on a pure white plate.  As we are mentally picking up the lemon and putting it to our respective noses, the silence – which we have been made aware is not in fact silence simply by having it drawn to our attention (the whirr of fans, talking from the next meeting room along, the cries of seagulls) – is broken by the entry of a grey-haired man with a similarly-coloured moustache and tattoos on his muscular forearms; an apparently random entity.  We open our eyes, surprised, but our guiding soul decides to ignore him and proceed with the visualisation, trying to maintain the spell, to keep us in the palm of her hand, and the lemon on the plate from vanishing.  So, in the stranger’s presence, we are asked to take a knife and cut our lemons in half, observing how the fruit feels, its colour, the smell as the serrated edge bites through its skin.  ‘Cut a slice from the lemon, and eat it.’  I eat mine with the rind on, pips’n’all, wincing at the sourness in front of Miles Davis, to see if the sight of lemon being eaten renders him incapable of playing, as the urban myth suggests is true of trumpeters, and so that a lemon tree begins to grow inside of me, the fruits emerging in a matter of minutes in place of fingers and toes and ears and nose and – no, I’ll stop my imagination and yours short of there.  The guiding soul has said that all this might seem surreal or weird to us, but to me, it’s what I do, imagining lemons, or rather, what is not, what is elsewhere, what might be, to the extent that sometimes I find it hard to be present in the actual moment, which this visualisation of the non-actual is confusingly proceeding from.

Having eaten some lemon, we come back into the room and open our eyes again.  The interloper is still there and I ask him which meeting he’s expecting this to be.  ‘School governors?’ he says, and we tell him, no, and he leaves, having witnessed something which must have seemed infinitely more surreal and weird out of context than in.

We are asked to volunteer an aspect of our behaviour that we would like to change.  When it comes to my turn, I look around the room, as if to make doubly sure that none of the people with whom I work directly are there to hear what I’m about to say, and then talk about burning the candle at both ends, and how my – ahem – ‘creative pursuits’ (a phrase which occasions some fnarr fnarring, so that I’m obliged to say ‘oi, stop it!’) keep me up till all hours and minimise the amount of time I have in which to sleep, until inevitably I end up feeling exhausted, falling into a daily afternoon slump that inevitably affects my work.  The guiding soul teases out how I feel about this.  I am conflicted.  I wish there were twice as many hours in a day, but there aren’t, and if I want to keep imagining lemons while also attending a place of gainful employment at which I am on occasion invited to imagine a lemon, then my behaviour has to change.

To finish, and without sharing, we commit to a task; mine has to be to go to bed earlier.  I already know this – had in fact resolved upon that course of action the previous day – but sharing something of myself with people to whom I rarely if ever open up gives my commitment an edge.  And last night, I did indeed go to bed early, or at least, earlier.  One harvested lemon doesn’t make a summer, and I can’t say that I feel entirely refreshed on the back of it, but I believe that will come, in time.


Spring rain

We’re having the shower room done. For reasons too enervating to detail, it’s taking forever, and I’ve been forced to wallow in baths while the work is completed. I don’t especially like baths. They belong to childhood, to a freezing cold house with no shower. Shivering, I would scorch my feet in too-hot water upon testing it; after long immersion, my skin emerged as wrinkled as a prune. These days when I’m scurrying to get to work, baths take too long. Most of all, I don’t write well in them. They’re too soporific; don’t clear my head and induce a trance-like state as showering does. As I wash myself from tip to toe, ideas magically descend; ‘coming down like love, falling at my feet, just like spring rain.’ (Yes, I often sing too. Be glad you can’t hear.) Showers open my writing mind, allowing me to muse poetical and make connections from which a tumble of words will follow, once I sit down naked to rat-a-tat-tat them into the laptop.

So I’d been missing showering, until a holiday last week allowed me to write under water again, and dream this up. Of course ideas and sentences do come to me at other times in other ways and places, but running aside, none is more likely to birth new linguistic lifeforms than ten minutes in the shower.

The old shower at home had an abrasive power. With the pump that drove it decommissioned (health and safety), I’d been worrying that the new one might not do the trick. The holiday reminded me that such anxiety must seem mere minutiae to anyone who isn’t a writer. It’s a given that the new will work just as well as the old, and further sets of 300 words will begin life in the shower.

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300 words on not writing more than 300 words

Recently WordPress suggested that posts be tagged ‘longform’ to enable readers drawn to weightier fare to find it more easily.  What an ugly word.  I’m not doing that, even supposing it did mean losing countless visits.  But with all the competing verbiage around, I have wondered how well-read my longer posts are.  So I’ve decided to try writing shortform.  I learnt the discipline of working to word limits while writing reviews for a listings magazine.  If I remember correctly, I was paid £14 for 300 words.  Didn’t seem a fortune at the time.  Now it feels generous, for what it was.  Imagine if I got £14 for 300 words here!  My U alone would be worth £56.

Everything I’ve ever written has been thoroughly considered.  I need to force myself to give in to the here and now.  Any finessing will come in attempting to squeeze what I have to say into exactly 300 words.

Only me being me, I’m going do it 300 times.  Over time, to no particular deadline.  300 x 300 = 90,000.  By the end, I’ll have a book.  I can’t help thinking in terms of books.  They’re what I was bred on, what I always aspired to write.  So much of what I’ve written has been in the form of parts of something larger, a book to contain it all.  The web has changed everything.  Like water through all but the most watertight system, words find a way to their readers.  In comparison, a writer can start to believe that what books do is hide words away.  But I am still in love with the book, and I want one all of my own, like the Clash wanted a riot.

300 words.  That’s all.  No other prescription.  Anything as a subject.  How hard can it


Written in the dark

I’m not sure what woke me; it’s too deep in the night for it to be early morning dreams.  Perhaps the territorial screeches of battling wildlife.  Oh, but then as I shift position, a twinge inside my rib cage – the acid of reflux.  It’s snapped me awake.  I can tell I’m going to struggle to get back under.  An avalanche of images, thoughts and concerns is triggered by the noise of my mind coming to life.  Gradually I whittle these away until there remains the essence of an idea; a netsuke that I will set aside time to carve in miniaturist detail, if only I can remember its essence tomorrow.  I don’t want to disturb my partner sleeping next to me, so I have only two options; to repeat a concatenation of reminder words mantra-like before I fall asleep in the hope that I’ll remember them tomorrow, or to better ensure I do so by writing blind in pencil on a clean page at the back of the notebook I keep on my bedside table.  As you can imagine, this is a hit and miss affair.  I restrict myself to those key words that I hope will convey to me the idea as a whole when I look at them the following day.  But sometimes I struggle to read notes to myself written in full daylight; written in the dark my letters will loop crazily, while ‘t’s will be missing their cross bars, and ‘i’s their dots.  Words and lines will overlap.

The following morning I am improvising or even riffing in the car as my subconscious drives me to work.  My mind is trying to find something on which to latch and around which to gather.  I am thinking of the infinite variation of repetitive journeys, because early on in this one, someone ran across the dual carriageway between the two petrol stations on either side of the road, hurdling the barrier in the middle.  This has never happened before.  The man is wearing the kind of fluorescent protective clothing a fire-fighter might; perhaps he’s a petrol tanker driver.  Automatically I hit the brakes, because naturally I don’t want this real life game of Frogger to come to a sticky end.  The proximity of death shakes me, though admittedly in not quite the same way as when I put my own self in the way of vehicular harm.  I could continue on in this vein, noting all the variations from the norm of the drive there and back – the different birds I sight, the endlessly changing landscape and skies, the faces and bodies and clothing of the pedestrians I let cross at the roundabout.  In so doing I could show that there is some kind of variety in the rote of routine, if you choose to look for it.  But these thoughts are elbowed to one side, by not one but two new netsuke.  The first is the resumption of last night’s musing on writing in the dark.  The second is an entirely novel idea; as I glimpse it come into being I see also how it may move my writing forward, in a new direction.  The essence of the idea is contained in about six to eight words.  Now I know I need to get to the car park double quick and write those words down before I lose them forever.  Because if that happens, I won’t be as sanguine about it as Yuri is in Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago:

‘So many new thoughts come into your head when your hands are busy with hard physical work, when your mind has set you a task which can be achieved by physical effort and which brings its reward in joy and success, when for six hours on end you dig or hammer, scorched by the life-giving breath of the sky.  And it isn’t a loss but a gain that these transient thoughts, intuitions, analogies, are not put down on paper but forgotten.  The town hermit, whipping up his nerves and his imagination with strong black coffee and tobacco, doesn’t know the strongest drug of all – good health and real need.’

Inevitably my attention is diverted by the flashing lights of a slow moving vehicle, and by other slightly less slow moving vehicles moving into my lane to overtake them.  When I settle back into driving on autopilot and resume my conscious attempts to turn ideas and feelings into words, I find that while I can remember the writing in the dark idea, the novel netsuke is gone.  I try to smoke it out as methodically as a private detective might uncover the address or no fixed abode of a missing person.  I rewind, scroll back, follow the links that form the chain of my thoughts, handling each one in turn.  I jump to the start of the journey, and even beyond that to my shower before setting off (it’s another place where ideas come to me).  But the chain is broken and the missing link refuses to be brought back into sight.  I turn off the music – Dead in the boot, appropriately enough – in order to let my mind run free, because I know now that I’m straining too hard to remember.  If I just let myself drift into the drifting mood I was in before the slow moving vehicle blocked the way, before the anxious seeking took hold, I’ll surely remember.

But the netsuke is gone.  It may never now be carved.  As in the night-time, I wish I had an inky pipe going out of my brain onto a page which I could look at the next day, or perhaps a chip with something akin to a telepathic recording facility wirelessly connected to a laptop.  Maybe there will be such things in twenty or fifty or a hundred years’ time.   (You may be thinking, but the technical solution already exists – the note-taking app on your phone!  Unfortunately in the dark my eyes can’t cope with the glare from its screen.)  I can still feel that it was a novel thought.  But perhaps that’s why it didn’t stick, because it was brand new, and not a familiar theme or notion circling overhead, frequently visible in the past but never yet butterfly-netted.

These written in the dark thoughts are of that kind – so much easier to pull into the shape of words than that fleetingly glimpsed hint of new connections which ultimately proved not quite strong enough to live.  Still, I am full of frustration, mourning its loss; is this what dementia will be like, only with the connections that connect each item in the ordinary store of memory severed?

At the turning for Rowlands Castle, under my breath and as so many times before, I sing ‘Through the last light on the plain / Roland to the dark tower came’.