Sunday, 21 March 2010

100. Endinging

There’s no such thing as a happy ending.

But that’s only because nothing ever really ends. Every dying breath breathes life into something new and unexpected, and that’s the joy of living.

That means nothing ever really lasts forever. The state of things is constant flux: nothing is fixed in place, not the good times and not the bad times. The dark of the moon swells as the light shrinks to a sliver, but the moon endures and the light side will return. A flower is only beautiful because it dies and feelings are only precious because they pass. And that’s the point, and that’s why it’s worth doing the things that make the feelings happen.

And so I laid back and filled my lungs with warm summer's air, perfumed with the clean, sweet scent of newly-cut grass. It’s still the single most delicious thing I have ever smelled.

It was now late in the evening. Childhood's final summer was drawing to an end. I couldn’t remember a moment so perfectly bittersweet. I’d never felt so happy and I’d never felt so sad; a single point of sheer bliss so close to the end of so many things. Nothing would be the same after this and nothing would ever be so good. And when it was gone, it would be gone forever. I found myself looking forward to looking back on it, feeling my older self encouraging me to make the most of this moment of music and friends. And I promised him that I would.

There’s no such thing as a happy ending.

But sometimes, just sometimes, life grants you a few quiet minutes to yourself, to stand to one side and look around, to appreciate what’s gone before and not worry about what will come next. Sometimes what’s next isn’t just over the page or in the next chapter but in a whole new book, a book that’s yet to be written and one that you will get to write yourself.

They pass in an instant, like sparks above a fire, but they’re there. And these are the moments that make the rest of life worth living; a series of shining, precious points stitched across your days, like stars in a night sky.

There's no such thing as a happy ending. But just sometimes there are tiny, fleeting moments to look around and think, “Yes, let’s stop things here – ”

99. Overture

Ninety-nine different beginnings, crudely sewn together.

Hwaet! Who’s there? You are about to begin reading Italo Calvino's new novel, If on a winter's night a traveller. You will rejoice to hear that no disaster has accompanied the commencement of an enterprise which you have regarded with such evil forebodings.

I write this sitting in the kitchen sink. I have never begun a novel with more misgiving. As the manager of the performance sits before the curtain on the boards, and looks into the fair, a feeling of profound melancholy comes over him. Ours is essentially a tragic age, so we refuse to take it tragically. This is the saddest story I have ever heard, of man's disobedience, and the fruit of that forbidden tree, whose mortal taste brought death into the world, and all our woe. It is the saddest night for I am leaving and I am not coming back.

I began this disorderly and almost endless collection of scattered thoughts and observations in order to gratify a good mother who knows how to think. How these papers have been placed in sequence will be made manifest in the reading of them. Why should I not publish my diary? To pity people in distress is a human quality every man and woman should posses. I hope you will be ready to own publicly, whenever you shall be called to it, that by your great and frequent urgency you prevailed on me to publish a very loose and uncorrect account of my travels.

It started as a mistake. A story has no beginning or end; arbitrarily one chooses that moment of experience from which to look back or from which to look ahead. In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth in the name of God, Most Gracious, Most Merciful, the Cherisher and Sustainer of the Worlds. “To be born again,” sang Gibreel Farishta tumbling from the heavens, “first you have to die.” You better not never tell nobody but God.

Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show. If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you'll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don't feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth. The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there. As a proof of my readiness to accept autobiographical convention, let me at once record my two earliest memories:

1. I wish either my father or my mother, or indeed both of them, as they were in duty both equally bound to it, had minded what they were about when they begot me.

2. Once upon a time and a very good time it was there was a moocow coming down along the road and this moocow that was coming down along the road met a nicens little boy named baby tuckoo.

Call me Ishmael. I am an invisible man. I, Tiberius Claudius Drusus Nero Germanicus This-that-and-the-other. You don't know about me without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; but that ain't no matter.

I was born in the Year 1632, in the City of York, of a good Family, tho' not of that Country, my Father being a Foreigner of Bremen, who settled first at Hull.

In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I've been turning over in my mind ever since. “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife” – he was an old man who fished alone in a skiff in the Gulf Stream. He was born with a gift of laughter and a sense that the world was mad. He was an inch, perhaps two, under six feet, powerfully built, and he advanced straight at you with a slight stoop of the shoulders, head forward, and a fixed from-under stare which made you think of a charging bull.

Like most people I lived for a long time with my mother and father. My father liked to watch the wrestling, my mother liked to wrestle; it didn't matter what. Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. But all children, except one, grow up.

To begin at the beginning: It is spring, moonless night in the small town, starless and bible-black. It was a bright cold day in April and the clocks were striking thirteen, when that April with his sweet showers has the dryness of March pierced to the root. April is the cruellest month. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. The sun shone, having no alternative, on the nothing new.

Midway along the journey of our life, I woke to find myself in a dark wood, for I had wandered off from the straight path. It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn't know what I was doing in New York. There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it. That is no country for old men.

On an exceptionally hot evening early in July a young man came out of the garret in which he lodged in S. Place and walked slowly, as though in hesitation, towards K. Bridge. Someone must have slandered Josef K., for one morning, without having done anything truly wrong, he was arrested. Vaughan died yesterday in his last car-crash. They say when trouble comes close ranks, and so the white people did.

It was a wrong number that started it, the telephone ringing three times in the dead of night, and the voice on the other end asking for someone he was not. It was a dark and stormy night. Through the fence, between the curling flower spaces, I could see them hitting. It was 7 minutes to midnight. The dog was lying on the grass in the middle of the lawn in front of Mrs Shears' house. Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed. He—for there could be no doubt of his sex, though the fashion of the time did something to disguise it—was in the act of slicing at the head of a Moor which swung from the rafters.

In the late summer of that year we lived in a house in a village that looked across the river and the plain to the mountains. A squat, grey building of only thirty-four storeys.

We were somewhere around Barstow, on the edge of the desert, when the drugs began to take hold. The drought had lasted now for ten million years, and the reign of the terrible lizards had long since ended. Under certain circumstances there are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea. Alice was beginning to get very tired of sitting by her sister on the bank, and of having nothing to do.

"What's it going to be then, eh?"

“Nothing to be done.”

We are in a camp five miles behind the line. Yesterday, our relief arrived; now our bellies are full of bully beef and beans. A screaming comes across the sky. I can feel the heat closing in. After the siege and assault was ceased at Troy, the burgh destroyed and burnt to beams and ashes, the man who hatched treacherous plots of treason was there tried for his treachery, the truest on earth. It was a pleasure to burn.

Mother died today. They shot the white woman first. It was about eleven o'clock in the morning, mid October, with the sun not shining and a look of hard wet rain in the clearness of the foothills. It was the day my grandmother exploded. We are as clouds that veil the midnight moon.

I am a sick man. My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains my sense. If I should die, think only this of me: That there's some corner of a foreign field that is forever England.

For a long time, I went to bed early. Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again. In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. It was the afternoon of my eighty-first birthday, and I was in bed with my catamite when Ali announced that the archbishop had come to see me. When Gregor Samsa awoke from troubled dreams one morning, he found that he had been transformed into an enormous bug.

Somewhere in la Mancha, in a place whose name I do not care to remember, a gentleman lived not long ago, one of those who has a lance and ancient shield on a shelf and keeps a skinny nag and a greyhound for racing. Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice. The story had held us, around the fire. The studio was filled with the rich odour of roses. Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself.

Most really pretty girls have pretty ugly feet. Miss Brooke had that kind of beauty which seems to be thrown into relief by poor dress. It was love at first sight. Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins.

Sing to me of the man. riverrun, past Eve and Adam's, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation back to Howth Castle and Environs.

All this happened, more or less.

Christmas won't be Christmas without any presents.

98. Frogs, snails, etc

Gary was the kind of boy who pulled the legs off spiders and immolated ants with a magnifying glass.

He owned a penknife, wore an earring, and had Nightmare on Elm Street on VHS. Thanks to him, I got my first scar, saw my first pornographic magazine and learned my first swearword.

I remember that day well. It was a revelation. It was as if he had showed me another world hidden behind the drab one I’d known for the previous seven years of my life, a world more exciting, dangerous and adult. The Prelapsarian tabula rasa of my little brain – if ever a small boy’s head can ever be described like that – was no more. It would gain further stains before the end of that summer, becoming as grimey as my face usually was (and still is, for that matter). But for the time being I felt like I had been initiated into a secret brotherhood; one of the elite, some sort of profane Rosicrucian or a sweary Illuminati – not that I knew what any of those words meant.

I had danced home from school with devilish glee, dying for an opportunity to use my newfound knowledge.

Happily, my little brother stepped up, as he so often did. He showed our mother some picture he’d drawn at school. I took a deep breath.

“That’s crap, that.”

For a second I assumed the sky had fallen. Then I realised it my mother’s hand (the right one, backhand).

With perfect timing, Gary chose that moment to come in through the kitchen door. He never knocked and he ever used the front door.

“Hullo, Mrs Ball,” he said brightly.

“Hello, Gary,” mum replied, suspiciously. Gary was the one of my friends who wasn’t allowed to come round for tea.

He wiped his nose on the back of his hand (I remember his nose was always running, even in the middle of summer. How was that even possible?) and turned to me. “Robert, you gay, you will not believe what I found in the Woods,” he said, his eyes burning with delight.

He was right; I wouldn’t. And it would turn out that I was right not to believe, because what Gary had found was a world away from what he thought it was.

97. Undertow

Her eyes were cold , grey and beautiful as the iron sea by his home. Looking into them, he remembered standing on cold beaches, watching the surf for hours, scoffing at scuffed metal signs warning of rip tides and dangerous undercurrents.

Why fight it? He felt like a harpoon had come out of the spray and plunged deep into his heart, pulling him in, the sound of sirens in his ears. He could barely keep his head above water. He gave himself up to the undertow.

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

96. Alpha to Omega

Alphabetising actual acts and adventures
Catharsis and composition to the chaos and cacophony of the
Disparate, desperate deeds of those dismal days.

Everything that
Follows flows from finding
Guile and guilt and greed for gold in God’s
Holy house.

I am irreligious but if invoking
Jesus in judging others,
Know kindred
Law will be levered by me, the laity, to be levelled at you; a litmus test for the legitimacy of your
Mendacious minister’s morals.

Not now -
Other openings, onerous
Parts of this piercingly painful parable, position themselves as priorities, priest.

Quite quickly, it is
Shown that I should
Rein in my rage, bring regulation to my record, ready myself to relate my recollections of your regime.

The truth I
Unearthed is currently untold, but it will, ultimately, be uncovered as this unfolds.
Veils, vituperation and violence – my
Writing won’t waiver, whatever you wish.

Your yoke is yanked away

95. Darkness visible

Let us not begin at the beginning; let us begin a little before then.

Let us begin a few seconds before the beginning of everything.

What follows may obfuscate more than it illuminates.

94. Nighthawks

No one noticed them sitting together at the counter. No one asked why they were still there, when it was so late. No one saw that their coffees were cold and undrunk. No one noticed their hands, so close and yet still not touching. No one heard them speak. And no one noticed when they were gone.