I watch him, me, from the sloth-saturated comfort of my bed. His bed. I did not want nor wish to rise this morning, but he, ever the curious drudge, awoke and avowed at once to climb into the moving world and scour its highways and higher-in-the-sky-ways and shipping lanes for answers. For information that he might seize and then repurpose to some vast and intricate design for life, which, somehow, he’s succeeded in long-time shielding from me.
I watch him, me, disappear from the room, from his posture-wrecking spinny-chair beside the faux-pine desk, at periodic intervals, only to return each time with that dark elemental luxury, an Americano, milk withheld. As he sips at that, revivifying, I remain on steep-pitched bank of sleep, threatening to doze, on verge of saying to him Wake me if you find owt good, but otherwise keep shtum.
Even if I did say that, he would ignore me. He’s a tragic bastard when it comes to communicating with the real, mundane, the everyday. Deaf as rock to dynamite that seeks to shatter it away. He does not seem to register even slightest seismographic hint that the days of his being like this are on the dwindle, in sharp and sure demise.
He is a figure – in his spinny-chair – plucked from oil paint, from unaware or unacknowledged misery of portraits of the feckless rich – ersatz Victorian, or earlier. His eyes set tight, unbudging, upon that screen – day in, day out – as though a mystic from a simpler, better time, divining riddles and solutions from the star-map of the world-wide-web. No clue within that map and none as well within that web about what really might be coming.
If I had ever learnt the art, and was not hamstrung by all my lazy now, I would, from mercy, oil-paint him once more, lock him up in gilded frame in last-ditch try to safeguard him from all the ravages of our age. From economic awareness. From dole queue. From interviews. From ninetofive or ninetosix or nightshifts or far-too-early-morning starts. From coming home too tired to sit in that chair, to even think of making coffee, of holding back the luscious, soothing milk, to even think of philosophizing on the nature of existence, of attempting to distill and deconstruct then reconstruct and celebrate the core of human being in words.
Because that soon-to-be-bitter wretch opted, naïve, to take and place upon himself the mantle of that esteemed profession, Writer, and did so at a time when there’s scarce a cent in that. He has convinced himself that he can stand the pennilessness, the lagging-behind his peers in house-ownership and social climbing, that he can work and work upon his ‘art’ – he says that, sometimes, proud – with no time limit, can plug and plug away at it until he has a scribbled legacy that he can leave behind upon his passing. A legacy that perhaps some young chap or chapette in the future will encounter and from there take on the mantle, with selfsame eagerness, as their own.
He leaves the room, on prowl for yet another refill, and, as soon as door is closed behind him, I find the energy to twist my head, my face, into the pillow, half to laugh and half to weep. I am a coward, and a vicious one at that. I cannot bear, I have decided, for him to see the things that weigh upon and battering-ram my mind, and so will leave him out of the loop – for his own protection – until the latest possible hour, when someone else, I hope, will spring the news upon him.
When he hears, and breaks down, I will be forced to take advantage, to rise, belatedly, and take his place upon this back-sapping spinny-chair. To stare into the screen, looking not for answers, riddles, ways to chart the skies anew. Looking, instead, for jobs, in sectors unrelated to those in which my fascinations lie.
My bedridden-ness is born from slow anticipation of that moment. Is rehearsal for the way that I will feel once I begin.
His sprightliness, his joie-de-vivre, the trainline rattle of his fingers on the keys, is born from present-tense denial of that moment turning up.
I watch him, he, and try to find comfort in knowing that at least this mess will clue him in about the nature of existence. I try, put more effort into that trying than into anything I’ve done for months, but that only tires me out further. I roll over, shut my eyes, and daydream about sleep.
To stave off the long-windedness, I’ll stick to things I’ve read or re-read recently. First up, John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row – people often talk about his politics, especially in times of economic hardship, but rarely do I hear anyone rhapsodise about Steinbeck’s style and his formidable command of the medium. This ends now. To read this book (and others, such as The Pearl) is to be safe in the presence of a genuine master. The opening line alone (‘Cannery Row in Monterey in California is a poem, a stink, a grating noise, a quality of light, a tone, a habit, a nostalgia, a dream.’) is gold.
Next, anything by Michael Ondaatje, particularly In The Skin of a Lion and its follow-up, The English Patient. Both are as wildly explorative, Byzantine and experimental as they are subtle, tender and quietly wistful. They are faded photographs of now-vanished eras, but set in fresh frames and seen with still-young, still-sharp, and still-evolving eyes.
The Unbearable Lightness of Being, and Identity, by Milan Kundera. Both are essential reading for those wishing to step out of their mental comfort zones, looking for something that may well challenge the way they think about themselves and their connections with the world. The Art of the Novel is also an enlightening work.
Geoff Dyer’s Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi, not so much for the first part, which, although well-written and exquisitely and honestly erotic, simply pales in comparison to the second, a first-person trawl through the grim and glorious aspects of the titular Indian city.
Finally, Bukowski and Hemingway and Fitzgerald and Woody Allen and Roald Dahl’s short stories. Because I really do dig the whole brevity thing.
I’m a writer, painter, and proud (though financially-challenged) owner of a Masters Degree in English Literature. There’s a selection of my shorter fiction and poetry available online here (http://smalltimebooks.blogspot.co.uk/), a selection of my writing on cinema here (http://cinemaesthetica.blogspot.co.uk/), and some of my work has also appeared in Ink, Sweat and Tears, BULL: Men’s Fiction, and Birdville magazines. I live in Yorkshire, looking out.