Sunday, April 18, 2010

New York

I remember my trip to New York in 2005. Over the winter months, I’d been emailing with a young writer from North Carolina (whom I shall call C), who’d recently lost his father. One evening, in a long email quoting Richard Siken, he invited me to meet him in New York and explore the city together. I didn’t need asking twice. I'd dreamed of New York since I was twelve, and in particular, The Chelsea Hotel, gorging myself on a teenage diet of The Velvets, Chelsea Girls, Dylan’s Sara and Cohen’s ode to Janis Joplin’s blowjob. Also, I was more than happy to flee my current love affair that I knew (my small heart temporarily crippled) was never going to work out.
     Before I flew out, I emailed C to say I'd see him at five o' clock the next afternoon in the Museum of Modern Art, in front of a painting of St Anthony in the Wilderness. After arriving in the city I'd trudged, exhausted, up Fifth Avenue, my green fraying rucksack heavy on my shoulders. However when I reached the grand glass doors, security stopped me. No bags. So C and I met instead outside by the trashcans, a bird pendant swinging around his neck.
     Other snap-shots remain fixed in my memory. I remember the morning I left Brighton - a taxi ride to Poole Valley bus station, my vision of early morning travellers and dark-glass windowed coaches blurred by sleep. I remember the feel of a warm hand on mine, a copy of James Joyce's Ulysses bluetoothed to my mobile. The goodbye was dream-like and beautiful, empty of substance. 
     Then I remember swooping down towards Newark airport, the Statue of Liberty dirty and unimpressive below me. The city seemed like a grey polluted stain, and the Hudson, a stream of drizzle spinning down a gutter. I remember falling asleep on a single bed (in a house with four giant poodles, where I was fed cream cheese bagels at midnight and we watched The Sopranos). C, no longer a boy, but not yet entirely a man, read O' Brien's The Third Policeman to me, images of Macruiskeen and old Mathers cycling into my dreams.
     I also remember swinging, orangutan style, from scaffolding with C whilst we waited for a poet to emerge from a subway.  C had talked much about him and held him in high esteem. We played footsie as a black curly shock of hair rose up into view from behind a metal railing. And then I remember driving through Boston at three in the morning, Lambchop on the car stereo, a house huge and ghostly, rearing up like a hallucination behind a white picket fence and neatly cut lawns.
     I remember a kiss, like tango, or rather a desire for tango in an apartment near Central Park with huge white radiators. I recall the sound of the key in the lock and the clatter of a flatmate returning --  C and I, muted, still, frozen together, pressed together in the spare bedroom.
     I remember turning a corner in the MOMO and facing Yves Klein's Blue canvas –  a sudden dizziness – sky coursing my veins, invisible currents knocking me backwards towards the wall. No other art in the building did that to me and none has done that to me since.
     And I remember standing in a rainstorm on my last night with that same poet who'd met us from the subway - his hair frizzy and glistening with pearls, yellow taxi cabs speeding past us. In a single moment I fell in love with the blackness of the storm, the glare of headlights and this thirty-year-old woman-chasing poet standing by my side - disarmed, hopeless, desperately trying to hail me a cab, squinting at me through rain-spattered spectacles. 

The Daily Growl

Saturday, April 10, 2010


Anyone who has been to Beachy Head knows the vertigo that peering over that chalky-white cliff to the rocks below can induce. It’s the kind of thing that either thrills you or makes you nauseous, depending on your temperament. And neither the lighthouse - that striped pepperpot sticking out into the ocean - nor the horizon where blue meets blue, can soften the fact that this is a place where people go to kill themselves. 
     Sad remnants of deaths are strewn all along the cliff-edge – cotton flowers faded with sunlight, tiny wooden crosses and small cards with messages of love etched in biro.
     Yet even as you walk along the edge, looking over into white frothy waves, seagulls swooping and rising, you can easily miss something that’s nestling in a clump of trees, halfway down the jagged slope. Squint, and you’ll make out rusty car windows, a bashed in bonnet. I noticed this car the first time I took a bus along the coast road through Newhaven and Cuckmere, towards those cliffs looming over Eastbourne. The car seemed like a drunk who'd fallen over and now lay face down, pissed, in some hedgerow. Grass has gradually grown over most of it so that now it’s almost invisible and easily missable. I find it terrifying - the empty driver’s seat, passenger door flung open, its glass long-gone. I wonder who, why, and how it came to be there, and how long the person who accelerated it off that cliff lay inside its crushed metal or thrown across bracken before the helicopter rescue team flew down over the Sussex coastline. Perhaps they jumped before the wheels skidded off the crumbling edge. I hope so, though somewhere I doubt it.
     A few years ago, I sat on a bus that steadily rose through the Alpujarras mountains in Andalucia, Spanish voices chattering loudly around me. I shielded my eyes from view out of the window - a steep, rock-strewn incline, diving hundreds of feet down. From time to time I’d peer out from between my fingers, and almost every time would spot another car contorted like a body in the grass, beside olive trees. I followed the trail of devastation, like markers on the road to annihilation - my palms sweaty, teeth crunching down desperately on boiled sweets.
     Seeing an abandoned car or one crushed by gravity is obviously less horrifying than, say, passing a car wreck – time has passed, the suffering has long since gone. Yet to me, it is compelling, scarring; evocative of all that we pretend to be far away from our daily realities - death and destruction, losing control at the wheel; that exhilarating fall. I remember as a kid trying to recall the best way to escape a car that was sinking into the river (I watched TV programmes on it, read stories about it) and the terrifying prospect of sitting in some airless container until enough pressure had been released so that the windows could be rolled down. When they invented automatic windows, my first thought was – so what am I meant to do now…? I’d be sunk, mouth like a goldfish, gulping nothing.
     Recently I walked with friends through countryside that was flat and waking up with the first signs of spring. At the side of the small road that led towards nearby fields, we spotted an old barn. With its peeling white painted planks, its still spinning weathercock and dark, smashed windows, it looked mysterious, inviting. I peered in through dead grass that blocked the doorway, but inside was filled only with rolls of barbed wire and empty crisp packets. However, out front, two cars sat side-by-side. It was as though two people had parked up, turned off the ignitions and just wandered into fields and towards the river, knowing they'd never return. Decaying and mildewed, these cars were oddly mesmerising like some old, dead couple, still holding hands.
     I don’t drive. Probably never will. Is that part of the reason why I’m so fascinated with cars that no longer function? Why I want to wrench open the doors, climb in, and sit inside the wreckage?


Thursday, April 01, 2010

Writing Manifesto

  •  Keep going through self-doubt, criticism, a sore back, rejection, ridicule and terror.
  • Honour that tiny light that sparks sometimes when I touch keyboard or grip a pen.
  • Let go of pride, decency, even ambition.
  • Make that stab in the dark.
  • Dwell in uncertainty and make friends with insecurity. Be hungry.
  • Leap for that goal. Turn into a rainbow shoal of fish as I do it. Or a dead man in a stinking overcoat.
  • Kiss the scabs on my fingers.
  • Wander down some cold back alley in an unknown country, at three in the morning (without my cardigan, and in heels).
  • Stare without blinking.
  • Love loneliness, or at least offer it a whisky when it comes knocking on my door in the rain.
  • Stay with struggle.
  • Have the grace to fall.
  • Have bruised knees and no one to phone at two in the morning.
  • Watch. Listen.
  • Stop loving the sound of my own voice.
  • Let go of being clever or the desire to be clever, or to be seen as clever.
  • Sever myself from ideas of success.
  • Feed beauty. Track wonder. Breath out fire. Dream.
  • Die not with a thorny blue rose in my palm but with a ridiculous happy look on my face, and odd socks.
  • Love.
  • Take delight.
  • Run rings around inadequacy. Remember the blood in my veins even as I wake up with a hangover.
  • Embrace boredom.
  • Run out of teabags three lines before the end of the paragraph and laugh whilst cursing.
  • Freefall.
  • Chill the fuck out
  • (it will never be what I want it to be.)
  • Accept/ever accept.
  • It is solace, so give solace.
  • It is generous - so give the shirt off my back.
  • Take those risks, the ones that matter.
  • Eschew judgment, especially my own viperous tongue.
  • Kiss fear on the mouth or at least one cheek.
  • Never give up.
  • Carry on swimming out until the yellow buoy is under my hand.