24
Sep
10

What isn’t written down

I should be clear now and admit that this is a bit of a stream of consciousness and for that I apologise. I often get times where I feel as though I have something to express, but where it’s too nebulous a thing for me to put words to. As I write this I feel determined to write, in fact it’s almost a physical pressure in my chest. I am sure that sounds odd at first reading but I view it as being the same as any other creative urge. Some people have to grab their guitar, others throw paint against canvas, and I write.

It’s not art; I don’t think writing is art. I acknowledge my own minor ability to string a sentence together but rest assured I’m not under the illusion that I’m some tortured artiste who does or could produce works of outstanding quality. Nor am I being disrespectful to the most highly talented authors. It’s not disrespectful if I say that writing is not art. Things can be interesting, entertaining, moving, worthy or even profound without them necessarily being a work of art. There are so many books I have read which have changed my life.

I love books and I always have. When I was younger I would constantly seek out something (anything) to read. If deprived of an actual book I would resort to reading cereal packets, or bits of packaging. I don’t pretend that’s not a bit weird. Books though were mostly where I lived when I wasn’t playing outside. There were so many I remember from those days… The Wind in the Willows, A Toad for Tuesday, The Hardy Boys, The Famous Five… I grew up to these things.

Even now I can remember how some of them would make me feel. I would feel sad at a certain point in A Toad for Tuesday (I won’t be specific, so as to avoid spoilers). In The Wind in the Willows, when Ratty and Mole were in the Wild Woods looking to meet Badger I always felt that sense of danger and could practically feel the chill of the wind and the rain in the darkness. If you want to feel cozy on a dark winter’s evening with sheets of rain being driven against your window, read the chapter The Wild Wood.

As the years went by so the range of books I read expanded. I remember initially resisting Goosebumps because I felt (perhaps snobbishly) that they were a little simplistic, though I did cave in about a year after they first became meteorically popular. They weren’t scary even for me then, mostly because they were absurd. I’ve never been scared of the fantastic; describe to me the worst monster your imagination can create and I’ll still find scarier human beings.

When I was younger I used to have recurring nightmares about a man in the shed at the bottom of our garden. It would be the end of an autumnal afternoon. The hawthorn at the bottom of the garden would have shed its leaves and be standing in silhouette against the grey-white sky. The field which lay beyond the waist-high red brick wall at the garden’s boundary had always been ploughed, though in reality it was a playing field for my school. Thick sheets of dark black earth, sodden, perhaps frozen, were piled haphazardly around. I would walk towards the shed door, that door with flaking mint-green paint, standing sentry between the seven-year old me and whatever it was in that darkness I could see in the cracks in the door.

I always knew. I could always see the man’s eyes. I always knew what was behind the door. I didn’t have a choice though, that wasn’t the point of this. The point was to open the door. I passed the lilies and their leaves; those green leaves transmuted by autumn into a palette of sickly yellows, I remember them brushing against my leg. Now I stood in front of the door. I could hear breathing. What was that breathing I could hear? Who was making that noise? That rasping, sucking, wrenching breathing. What was it? I knew what it was. Who it was.

Ah, a little hole. I didn’t have to open the door to see inside, to see what was making that breathing noise in the shed at the bottom of my garden. If I stood on my tip toes I could probably reach that little hole and look through it. No, I didn’t want to look through it, but that wasn’t the point of the dream. And so I stretched up on my seven-year old legs and pushed my face against the mint-green paint of the door, embroidered as it was by tiny spider webs that clung to my cheeks as I made contact with the door. I peered in through that little hole, and I saw the eye.

Wide open, completely open, staring and wild. Desperate. Bloodshot. The eye looked at me and I looked at the eye in a moment which when I remember it lasted forever but which as I dreamed it was just an instant. I was so afraid of that eye, still am so afraid of that eye. My stomach lurched with terror. Run. Run!

Silly little boy should’ve ignored the shed at the bottom of the garden, silly little boy made a mistake. Silly little boy better run now. Seven year old me did run, he ran like the silly little boy he was. I vaulted over the little red-brick wall at the bottom of the garden and through a gap in the hawthorn trees between the garden and the field. Run. Run!

He’s coming now. As I run I look around and I see his face. He has yellow teeth, all smashed up like broken glass. And stubble. I remember his stubble, it’s thick and black. His face is dirty too, what has he been doing? He’s angry but he doesn’t say anything, he’s just chasing after me. Uh oh, silly little boy has stopped running.

Run. Run! RUN!

I would wake up in absolute terror. That was fear. Gribbly monsters with face prongs or hand mouths couldn’t touch that.

When literature began to be life changing rather than simply a constant in my life I couldn’t be entirely specific about, but I would say that it was approximately when I was twelve or thirteen. Things which then I couldn’t easily comprehend (like my sexuality) I was able to explore through fiction. That’s what’s so valuable about prose, and what means that it’s still valuable in spite of not being art. It is a loss which ought really be keenly felt by those young people who are growing up without books, but you cannot miss something you haven’t had and so I suppose they don’t miss it. I think they would if they only knew the places they could take themselves with a good novel.

I don’t know what my conclusion is, but that slightly breathless need to write has now receded and I have written at length and so normally here’s where I’d wrap things up. Having not had a specific point to make I can only hope that one emerged as I wrote. My feeling is that I ended up writing about the kind of experience which informs me as a writer.

Negativity is an easy thing for me to draw on when I put digital pen to digital paper. That’s not a bad thing, but it can be tiresome for anyone reading my work. I know I struggle when writing about happiness, joy and kittens; it’s something I need to work on. I’m not bad at it because I’m unhappy, quite the contrary. I think perhaps that writing about happy events is something I find a little bit embarrassing; it awakens that little voice in the back of my head that sometimes clears its throat pointedly when I’m being joyful. That tiny cough that asks “what do other people think? Tone it down a notch.”

Even if you respond by deciding (quite rightly) that you don’t really care, it still has an effect. When I can learn to ignore that little insidious cough in my writing as well as I now ignore it in my life, I’ll be better able to express the full range of things I want to write about. I don’t know how long it will take, maybe I’ll even master it tomorrow.

What’s that, little cough? I’m foolish to be so hopeful? Well sorry, but I am a bit of a dreamer.

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