Notes

I saw that my life was a vast glowing empty page and I could do anything I wanted

Tag Archives: Writing

Running up that hill

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Don’t feel guilty. What most people don’t understand is that they are characters to someone else, that there are layers. We get so caught up in just one, that we don’t allow people to grow and change.  We stick them in boxes immediately, and if you’re not writing it’s fine.  I’ve never had someone discover my blog, although I’m sure if they did, there would be hell to pay.

Keep writing – you could go somewhere

Jane is one of my beautiful forgotten acquaintances, a waif thin blonde poet from Los Angeles who randomly emailed me in 2004. She was an enigma in many ways. I never really knew the girl behind the haze of poetic messages, but we both shared a love of confessional writing. I particularly loved getting emails from her in the small hours. The wonders of millennium technology was still remarkable back in 2004.

Looking back I find it amazing that someone so young could be so warm and insightful about the realities of life. How is this even possible? She was barely even twenty when she wrote this.

I don’t think either of us had had any real sense of each other IRL. We were complete strangers in that respect. Our correspondence was a weird abstract friendship that could only have flourished online.

I don’t recognise myself reading my old emails. I barely write at all now. You run out of things to say, or come to the realisation that everything you want to say has been written by somebody else.

It’s the fear that stops you from writing, the fear of someone you know or might meet will judge you without them realising, there are layers upon layers that make me unrecognisable to that person. That if you ever wrote about them, there would be hell to pay.

Messages

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Venice

I miss being dumbstruck alive by sensual things. I’ve been writing postcards and sending them intermittently to friends across the world. Further away the better. There is something tangible about bad handwriting, stamps and a printed seal, a time capsule of silly scribbles you may never receive.

I especially love buying postcards from galleries and side street shops. Its a teenage habit of mine I’ve never shaken despite considerable pressure to do so. In my late teens, I used to bunk off college/university and spend hours in Aberdeen Art Gallery spinning plastic racks of Marilyn Monroe. Many of these remain on my wall to this day.

I love the faith you have to place in the postal services, the fact you may never get an 0 acknowledgement from the recipient. To actually believe your words will be carried by van, train, plane, aeroplane and finally on foot to a letter box thousands of miles away. That’s amazing isn’t it? Just picking up a pen and feeling wonderfully naive.

Keep it in the ground

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London

I think most people write because they don’t want to sleepwalk through life. Writing is a means of keeping memories alive. If you don’t record, paint or obsessively photograph or film every living moment then why are you even here?

I write to stay alive as you forget what matters otherwise. That’s the one thing that scares me the most. Not being able to remember my stories for better or worse. I also want to keep a record of my changing. I am always changing.

School years are easy to remember if your parents keep hold of your jotters, paintings and teacher reports. Thereafter you have landmark birthdays with complementing photographs, graduation days and long hot summers doing nothing at all. Memories feel more tangible when your everyday life is administered year by year.

Only now I find months and years morph anonymously into a cloudy void. This year doesn’t feel any different than the previous four. I’m sure plenty of things have happened, but for some reason I barely notice the difference. Perhaps amnesia has set in prematurely because I’ve lived in the same flatshare for five years. Working as a freelance copywriter chasing unpaid invoices and ignoring voicemails is a repetitive trade at times.

East London Bedroom

An inconspicuous lifestyle in East London doesn’t provide much visual stimulation either. I’m sure the past few years would have been more memorable if I had gone backpacking in Chile or got married to a blonde jazz singer in Melbourne.

Alas, when I wake up in the morning there is no orchestral soundtrack accompanying my footsteps to the bathroom. My laptop screensaver is the same as the year before. Pulling open my black Primark curtains I see the same tattered plastic bag swinging from the communal birch tree every day.

Grand Central Station

If it wasn’t for my blog then I wouldn’t be able to trace anything at all. Blogging provides a highly subjective recorded history, but a necessary one if you want to join up the dots. For example I can’t honestly remember when I flew over to New York for an OK Cupid date (yes that’s right).

If I scroll back I can remember arriving in Grand Central Station. It was unseasonally hot and I was jet lagged for the first time. Walking around I remember the towering sense of civilisation, meeting Nicole, queuing outside MOMA together and buying Mexican beers in a Harlem grocery store. But the timing of this otherwise memorable trip escapes me. It could have happened anytime in the last three years. Now that’s what you call experiencing life on a big scale.

Notebook

From red ochre cave paintings in southern France to tweeting rubbish about football, there is something incredibly human about keeping a record. Skipped behind my bookcase lies a collection of diaries and notebooks I have curated over the years. With literary quotes squashed in the margins justifying their existence, I keep filling them out and dumping them alongside their older colleagues. A scrapheap of memories no one will ever read.

If I am lucky enough to have a family of my own they’ll eventually be boxed and kept upstairs in an oak wooden loft. Maybe they’ll be sparingly reopened for an old quote or a nostalgic rummage through the past. Only to be put back in their place again, a written bond with a young man that no longer exists.

In addition to my dusty notebook skip, I keep shoeboxes full of old letters, gifts and Valentine’s Day cards underneath my bed. Occasionally I take a look at them, but I haven’t checked them or my ex-girlfriends emails for over a decade. I know I will never look at them again. But I can’t bear the thought of getting rid of them either. A skip or recycle bin makes no difference to me. Deep down I want someone to read my stories when I’m not here.

Aberdeenshire Pictish Symbol

Before I longed for a written legacy I remember being assigned a primary school project to recreate the standing stones of the Picts (an ancient warrior tribe in northern Scotland). The Romans called them the ‘Painted People’ because of their elaborate monstrous tattoos embroidered on their chests. On building Hadrian’s Wall in 128AD, the Romans essentially formed an ideological frontier that stated civilisation lay down south – roads, aqueducts, fortresses.

Northward bound was a land of mist, barbarians and Pictish standing stones. The same stone circles I tried to recreate with my Dad’s chisel. Looking back it was one of my all-time favourite school projects, bashing away at a lump of rock in a bitterly cold garage. I’ve resoundingly failed to experience the same sense of joy in working ever since.

Artifical Intelligence

A large number of Pictish stone circles have survived in Scotland. Whatever messages the Picts were to trying convey I cannot fathom even now, but their recorded history remains accessible even today. Like the Picts we too express our own stories in equally vivid and complex ways, but assuming there will still be an inhabitable planet 2000 years from now, I don’t think any of my A.I descendants will be recreating my stories on an interstellar spaceship.

Electromagnetic Pulse

In some respects my skipped diaries are physical reminders of my narcissistic desire to be exhibited just like the Picts. While stone circles remain visible, our digital archives could easily be wiped out by a nuclear inspired electromagnetic pulse (EMP).

Electrical magnetic storms have the ability to destroy our civilisation just like fire pulped the ancient scrolls of Alexandria Library. A world without Wi-Fi would be nasty, brutish and short if a magnetic dystopia were ever to take place. Don’t try and order a pizza on your iPhone when it happens.

Internet Dsytopia

Bit rot – the slow deterioration of data software such as floppy discs also renders our digital civilisation useless to future historians. Cloud based services are not worth anything if technology moves so fast that you can’t even open them. Unlike calfskin vellums and hardback books accessible in public libraries today, our collective knowledge requires constant software upgrades just to stay alive.

Augmented Reality

My stories are unlikely to be remembered by anyone and that’s assuming I’m fortunate enough to have children or grandchildren interested in genealogy. My WordPress subscription has to surely expire at some point. What happens if the software company goes bust or evolves into an augmented reality server projecting to a visually attuned audience?

Email

While it probably isn’t a tragedy if my ex-girlfriends emails are unable to be read by future generations. I still want to keep them alive somehow. By taking one glance at them you hear the voice of another person, someone still alive but lost forever. Writing to me is one of the greatest human inventions, holding us all together, providing an emotional bond with the dead, living and unborn.

Biblioteca

Change is the one constant on a writer’s journey to the recycle bin. It doesn’t matter how eloquent and grand your thoughts are in the twenty-first century, all it takes is an epic server upgrade and your life stories will become robot.txt. You see that’s the progressive irony of our digital revolution. No amount of technology can save your words, especially anything stored on an electro-powered server.

A memory palace is more likely to be derived from handwritten notebooks than your Facebook archives. If I want to preserve this particular record it would be wiser to print it off and laminate it for safe keeping. But even my words will fail to outlast the stone circles of an ancient Caledonian tribe. That’s real power if you ask me. All this superlative technology spinning in the sky, and ancient rock symbols carved with a chisel in the ground will out last us all.

Notebooks

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Already I am making plans for next year. Get fitter, stronger, healthier and brighter than ever before. I need to consume less sugar and run harder and longer. Make my heart beat even faster. Being marooned in a bitter cold village over Christmas makes you look forward. Travelling backwards is a melancholy street.

I’m already thinking how I can improve my East London flat. I have a new flatmate arriving in January and I want to live somewhere effervescent and colourful. Nobody visits me because I tend to socialise outside, but I want to make it perfect regardless. A glorious new mattress needs to be delivered, small book shelves ordered and freshly chilled wines nicely stacked in the fridge. Make my place look as cheerful as it can possibly be.

We live a visual age and I regret not taking more photographs. Not being in enough photographs. I wish I looked more handsome underneath a flashing bulb. I think my life would be infinitely happier if that was the case. For reasons unknown but to nature, I prefer to hide behind words and look the other way. I want everything to be perfect.

I need to learn when to omit unnecessary words and write more than I did last year. Be more open and honest. There is one love story I have always wanted to write, but I shy away every time. I romanticise far too much and decay with indecision, but I read and watch many plays.

 

Arnold Circus

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Arnold Circus Des BlenkinsoppAuthor’s Note

Life is not supposed to be confined to one place and living in an N1 council estate, I sometimes long to move on and write about something new. If that turns out to be case, then it certainly won’t be in Arnold Circus, Shoreditch but you’ll have to keep reading to find out why. This place I prefer to keep to myself. I do hope this will mean something to someone one day though. Until then I hereby present a re-published story about a fairytale council estate in Shoreditch.

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For most Londoners I know, the term ‘ex-council’ is a pejorative expressed with a wry shrug. Cheek by jowl people move here and live in council estates under the loving supervision of private landlords. It’s a necessity rather than a choice and if you don’t like it, then move to Leeds.

Everyone dreams about their ideal home and as a self-declared dreamer and social climber, I’d love a two-bedroom flat in Arnold Circus. Designed by Victorian philanthropists for the respectful working-classes, Arnold Circus is one of the most beautiful and fascinating council estates in Britain.

Arnold Circus Lady Aga

With its red brick tenements individually named after villages on the River Thames and connected by leafy boulevards that extend from a central communal bandstand, Arnold Circus is like a real-time painting fashioned from the rubble of dismantled slums.

Arnold Circus Andrea Vail

This Victorian model village has a fairytale quality that surpasses anything you may find in London’s richer neighbourhoods. What is really inspiring is how street design and architecture can improve people’s lives. It’s like every footstep you make has been accounted for on a map. Indeed there aren’t many council estates registered by English Heritage for their special historic interest.

Still home to thousands of social tenants and a few private professionals, I will never rent, let alone, own a flat in Arnold Circus. But for while I still live in East London it will remain my favourite conduit – a gateway to better things.

Arnold Circus Bandstand

With the rich green canopies sheltering bourgeois dog walkers and teen gangs, it feels like my footsteps become brush strokes whenever I walk through Arnold Circus. Like I’m subconsciously taking part in someone else’s painting. A snapshot of consciousness amidst the overgrown ferns and rising Plane trees.

Arnold Circus is a bona fide masterpiece in urban planning and all I am is a passing visitor, a solitary figure traversing on foot.

There are no endings

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Flat

I’ve been going over my Tumblr back catalogue and I used to write far more openly in the past. For some reason I failed to keep it up-to-date. I probably stopped writing because nobody was reading and loving my posts. My Tumblr page is offbeat, random and completely anonymous. I have 34 followers and I have no idea who they are.

I don’t use my brand name.

I find it sad how we require metrics to feel like something is worthwhile – readers, hits, likes and stats. Does everything have to be passively read and shared by millions? Tumblr is one of the few places where I am completely honest. It’s completely transcendent.

Everything else I post on the Internet is just for show – including here. A school playground where I conform and pretend to be like everyone else with varying contrarian pretensions.

In the end none of this hustling for attention really matters. I write simply to keep a record of my thoughts, views (which I endlessly revise) and places I have visited.

Sometimes I get weary of the cold light of content beaming from multiple screens. And then occasionally I read something that resonates. Something heart warming with a poetic sensibility.

Writing is about finding empathy with strangers when you least expect it.

I had just dropped out of college.  I had moved back to Los Angeles.  I had moved into my first apartment.  I had bought an amazing couch.  I had taken a picture of myself  holding up Finally Truffaut  to send to my ex-boyfriend.  I realized I was hardly ever photographed.  I wanted to change that.  I was becoming an actress.  I was still a poet. Slowly, I began to post pictures of myself in the morning on Facebook.  It was supposed to be a joke.  Who was really going to care about how I felt when I got up that morning? Then a number of people began to care.  Truthfully, I just wanted to have a record of my changing.  I am still changing.

The Seagull

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The SeagullFriends come and go, but great art stays with you forever. That was the lesson I took from my first ever Chekhov play at the Southwark Playhouse in late 2012. A new version of The Seagull by Anya Reiss. Essentially there is no real narrative: a quixotic young writer loves an actress, who ends up falling for a careerist novelist and the writer is prematurely destroyed by his talent.

A seagull is shot down for no reason and adrift in a chaos of dreams, the symbolism of the dead bird has never left me. I found it incredibly moving how our desire for love, art and fame can be eliminated for no reason. There doesn’t have to be a reason for anything. The poignancy of the show was further heightened when I discovered Anya Reiss was only twenty one.

the seagull southwark playhouse

A sweet envy immediately overwhelmed me. That someone so young could write something so perceptive and insightful about life. How was this possible? On capturing the starry realities of self-sabotage, Reiss’s version was fresh, sexy and remarkably wise at the same time.

Sad, gorgeous and retaining the worldly elegance of Chekhov’s prose, I have an enormous affinity for Reiss’s adaptation and I still think about it to this day. As you don’t know what is going to happen to you or what will shoot you down. And the following year I fell out with the two friends who accompanied me and I have never spoken to them since.

A big argument took place one afternoon in Brick Lane about ethics and human behaviour. Beforehand I thought we were just going for dinner. Discussing work, dating and the weather. Nothing could have predicted how such a pathetic argument would turn toxic within seconds. But I don’t regret falling out with either of them.

Private grievances usually exist between friends, but you rarely express them in person. Our fracture points usually remain concealed behind social pleasantries and diplomatic wisdom. But pushing an emotional fracking over a point of principle is ill advised at a restaurant table in my experience.

THREE SISTERS, Southwark Playhouse, London, UK.

However, if it weren’t for my ex-friends I would never have seen The Seagull and for that alone I am grateful. It stayed with me forever and eighteen months later I watched Anton Chekhov’s Three Sisters at the Southwark Playhouse. My ex-friends have long since disappeared and I briefly thought of them when I took my seat. How things can change so quickly, when watching another Chekhov play about inexplicable forces by a playwright over a decade younger than me.

Three Sisters Anya Reiss

Three Sisters is running at the Southwark Playhouse until May 3rd 2014.

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