Wow. It’s been so long since I was last here that I mistyped the web address to my own blog. Er… oops.
But Good News, Everyone! My deadlines for my Masters program are UP. All (!) I have left to do now is my thesis, and the final deadline for THAT is February 2013.
That’s not to say I’m going to leave it to the last minute. I will try and get as much of that done as I can during the summer… which is roasting out here.
But it IS to say that my timetable just opened up, big style. And I plan to fill the time with some writing. I’ve got a proper formal writing group that I’m going to go to almost every Thursday. I’ve got at least four other friends who want to do some creative writing this summer who can encourage me and keep me going.
And… I haven’t written anything YET. So to kick myself off I’m going to post for you…. the first poem I ever read aloud at a poetry night. I re-read it this morning, and I still like it. I wrote it a couple of years after my grandfather died, and I like the… childish voice of it. I hope you’ll see what I mean. I also consider it a bit of a tribute to the man, as my grandfather was the man who introduced me to the beauty of poetry.
I should also say that, in an unfortunate way, this has kind of become a companion piece to Jigsaw, which I guess is a more mature version, so I recommend you check that one out afterwards.
You could tell he was up to something
By that naughty twinkle in his eye.
He cheated at football, moved the goalposts closer,
And took his ‘goal kick’ from our penalty line.
He’d send us to sleep with tales of talking sheep,
And wake us to chase us mid-morning-shave,
A grizzly foam monster in pressed brown pyjamas.
He wrote us poems about bunnies
Who loved to eat honey
Which we found very funny,
And he taught me chess.
And we could never do quite well enough to please him at school,
We could always do better, try harder, and we did,
To please him. I loved his smile.
You don’t smile. You look confused.
You don’t laugh, you talk gravelly and slowly,
You sit in bed, and Gran gets tired, and thin,
And the nurse whispers to my Mum,
And your eyes –
Staring, coldly, trying, oh how desperately trying,
To place me, to know me, to tell me –
“How are you getting on?”
I can’t answer.
I’ve been posting a lot of poetry lately, and very little in the way of stories, or short stories, or extracts from longer stories. This is because I’ve not been writing anything but poetry. Partly it’s that I never feel like I have enough time to dedicate to story writing. This isn’t exactly true, but I’d have to be very piecemeal on my story work… and that doesn’t have to be a bad thing.
It’s also because I’ve come up with a new game. It started when staying with my brother and his housemates over the summer; I asked them to give me a number between one and eighty, and each of these would be one of my poems that I then had to go back to and try to fix up. Yes, I have about eighty “unfinished” poems on my computer these days, although even the ones that are “finished” and posted on here could be fixed up a bit.
So I’ve got a new way to drive myself to write poetry. Feel free to give me one or two numbers in the comments below. Now all I need is something to get me back on the Longer Fiction Wagon. NaNoWriMo (which I’ve failed at for several years) is going to rear it’s ugly head again soon, though I wonder how much I’ll like the idea of working on my story for an hour after a full day’s work, every day for the whole of November. Probably I won’t get very far.
Getting off to a good start this fine February. And it is a fine February – bless Barcelona’s weather. This time last year, we had 5 weeks of rain… but were coming out of a drought, so we grudgingly accepted it. This year, it’s mostly luvverly.
Personal news – booking my return flight to Japan – I plan to stay there for an extra two and a half weeks after this contract finishes. Something along the lines of:
Arrive – 29th April.
Finish work – 18th July.
Fly back – 4th August?
Anyway, here’s today’s poem. I’m quite satisfied with this one, having jotted the initial notes, turned into a loose poem, left to stew, massively rewritten, sought advice, made a few revisions…. final product. I was talking to my flatmate about it, and I think I’m finally starting to appreciate myself as a poet. I know some of you guys have been my fans for a while, but I’ve never really thought myself good enough to submit them to magazines or anything like that. I’m starting to get how my brain works and writes, now, so it’s getting easier to write… and maybe it’s time I started getting myself out there.
Bought for your lonely hours,
it seems instead to be Our Project
Together. Piece by fractured piece,
we build my painting of your stroke,
a shattering of disparate particles,
rooting for edges in the box,
drawing you closer to the centre,
a slow rebuild to match the old lid.
Luckily for us, it’s true of your mind,
though your hand wilts in your lap
and your eye can’t match the shapes,
nor your former independence –
helped limping to the loo,
you hold court on “when I’m home,”
and “when I cook” and “in my car”
– “these old people here don’t talk”.
Though you don’t hear it,
it cuts us all to know;
some pieces lost
when this worn box was shaken.
I promised you a short story today, and I shall not disappoint. This is a story that I’m both proud and fond of – I’ve put quite a bit of effort into it, and it’s something that, every time I come back to it, I see ways to make it a little tighter, a little better. I hope that by “publishing” it here, it doesn’t stop this move to always improve.
I’m still looking for pictures to go with this story. If you have any, send me some?
It’s No Fun, Getting Old
Ok, so. It was lunchtime, and I was just sitting on a bench in Charing Cross Station. I had just finished my lunch, I think I had a magazine, I was inside in the shade, so my chocolate bar didn’t melt onto my good skirt. I remember at the time I was all worried about why Kyle hadn’t called or left a message, and why he’d been all distant on the phone the night before. This was back when I was with Kyle, but it wasn’t a major deal, he explained it all later, but at the time I was really worried ‘cause I thought he thought I was too young for him, I’d seen a photo of his ex online, and I was nothing like her, so you know, was I even his type?
But anyway, none of that’s important, it was a little thing, it blew over in like, no time.
So I was on this bench, and I was enjoying having lunch breaks, ‘cause after years of being a student, you know, managing my own time? it was nice to have a bit of structure, you know? It was before I really knew anyone at work, so I wasn’t up for lunch with anyone, and like I said, I wanted to think about Kyle and maybe text him again.
And while I was sitting there, this old guy in a suit came over and stood really close to me. Really close, like he was in my personal space. And at first I was like, what’s with this, you know, because it wasn’t like there was a shortage of space, but you know when someone’s in your space you feel really uncomfortable? So I moved over, to give him space to sit down, and I carried on reading my magazine.
But I’d lost my focus and I was thinking about this guy, now. He didn’t move to sit down next to me, but he spoke to me, he said, “I wonder if you could help me.” He was really old, like in his seventies, and he smelt of alcohol.
And he said, “Oh, I’ve just been today to my sister’s funeral, and I was wondering if could you assist me to a taxi because I need to get over there.”
And I was like, ok, of course I can help you, but I was a bit miffed at first, because it was like – no wait, he didn’t say that at first, he just came over and said can you help me to a taxi.
And I thought, they’re just over there, they’re no distance at all, and he’s made it here from wherever, presumably a train. So why’s he come over to talk to me, you know? And afterwards, I felt really guilty for thinking this, for thinking, is this some sort of scam, is he some kind of perve, but actually, it’s natural isn’t it? To think that. Because no one comes up to you and talks to you in London, you have a kind of open privacy, where everyone can see you but no one talks to you. Everyone has this kind of personal space bubble, and when you’re in it, you don’t talk to strangers.
And I know that – I reckon I’ve got the kind of face, you know the kind of personality, that’s open and foreigners and tourists come up to me and ask me for directions. But this one old man, he smelt of booze and I thought, what’s he after?
But, then it was no distance at all, my train wasn’t for ages, and I could see everyone else rushing past not looking, and now he’d asked me, so what could I do? I couldn’t like say no once he’d asked me, I obviously had nothing better to do.
So I got up to help him, and he was pretty drunk, you know? His jacket was all crinkled, and his white shirt had this big blotchy red wine stain down it, and he stank of booze, and he was like, “I’ve got to lean on you.”
So I had his suitcase by the arm, and he told me to put my other arm round his waist, right? But I just thought, let’s get this done, and I started leading him across to the taxis, but obviously we were walking really slow, and he wants to lean on me, and I’m thinking why, and I later found out he was limping, but he was just all like “I’ve got to lean on you”, so I was being cautious.
And we stopped for a break, about half way there, and then he really announced it to me, all of a sudden; “I’ve just come from my sister’s funeral,” all clear and precise, and then he started crying.
And what do you do in that situation? I tried to be comforting, and say the right things, like “Oh, I’m sorry to hear that,” and then I didn’t know what to say, and he was crying.
“Where was the funeral?”
“Out in Bournemouth. I went over there last night, the funeral was this morning. She died of cancer.”
“Oh, I’m so sorry, that’s awful. Was it unexpected?”
“There were a few months notice, but there was no time to do anything. She was younger than me,” he said, “she was younger, she was only 82.”
And most of the time, I didn’t say anything, he just talked and I said sympathetic things, and I started to ask him questions, thinking it might help him to talk it out. He said he lived alone, out in Shepherd’s Bush in a flat, and sometimes a neighbour comes in, but if he dies in his flat, like no one would know. He didn’t seem to have any kids, well he didn’t mention any. Some of the time I asked questions, and he just sort of stared.
At one point I realised he was leading the way, looking straight ahead, not looking at me, and he was going the wrong way, and I said “No, no, the taxis are over here,” and he said, “No, it’s this way,” but we could see the taxis by this point, so I pointed them out.
And he said “I’ve not got long now, myself,” and I thought maybe he had cancer too, but he didn’t say, but he repeated it, and, and then he thanked me for helping him. He was very polite.
And I explained slowly and politely that we were about to get to some steps, and that he should just take his time, no rush, and he, he thanked me again, and I walked at his pace down the steps, he was really leaning on me heavy, and I didn’t want him to fall and hurt himself. I was being careful of the limp, and I was encouraging him, you know, not to give up hope, you know? Trying to be cheery. And I was like “It’s no fun getting old, is it?”
And when we were halfway down, this woman and man came over and the woman asked us if we needed any help?
So I said I was taking him to a taxi, and she asked me where the taxi was to, and I said, “Oh, no, I’m not, not with him, I’m just helping out.” So the old man told her Shepherd’s Bush. She was in her thirties, and she was very helpful, she went over and got a taxi to come to the bottom of the steps, and told the driver where he was going, and to wait. And he started telling them the same story, that he was coming from his sister’s funeral in Bournemouth, and the man was really sympathetic and took the bag, and put it in the boot.
We all helped him into the taxi together, and got his legs in on the passenger seat at the back, and he pressed my hands together and it was like, like, god bless you, and he smiled at me, a kind of worn-out smile, and still crying, but he said, “you’re a Samaritan, you really are, you’re all Samaritans. Thank you. Thank you very much.” And the woman closed the door, and the taxi drove off, and she and the man left into the station.
I stood there for a minute in the heat, and thought about it, and I got all emotional and went and sat down somewhere quiet. It was a real mix of emotions, ‘cause I sort of thought, why did he come up to me, why, did he choose me? I sort of felt quite honoured.
I called up Sarah and told her, and I think I even cried a bit. ‘Cause he was such a sweet old man, and it must be horrible to have your younger sister die before you, and feel all alone.
But I’ve thought about it since, and wondered if it was all an act, a way to get help from people, but that’s a horrible thing to think, isn’t it? And then I felt bad for questioning it, you know?
I’ve been playing with writing in a different voice, and it’s actually a lot of fun to be a step further distant from the action – it means I feel more comfortable editing details, for a start, and I got to have a little go at being an unreliable narrator. Hope you like it!
Every week on Thursday, I meet up with a couple of other creative writers, and we talk about stuff we’ve written. Two of them are short story writers, which is totally my favourite area. One is in the middle of writing a novel, and brings us extracts. There are a couple of others who turn up sporadically, but with me and my poetry / short stories, we’re the centre of the group.
Last week we decided that this week we should all write a piece of Flash Fiction – a story in 500 words or less. It’s something they’ve all had some experience of and I haven’t, but I was totally up for the challenge. After all, if it’s half way between the two media I use write, it can’t be too hard, right?
Before I go further along this line, here’s the story, with a brief introduction (which may be part of it’s imperfection. It’s the last 500 words (and the only words yet written) of a short story idea that was born from a dream, fully fledged. Sounds corny, I know, but I was SO excited that it happened. I woke up and wrote and wrote notes of what happens, and, while I have yet to re-read them, they came to 20 A5 pages of scrawl.
Anyway, without further ado:
“Here’s your car.”
She stood, patient and warmly smiling by my car, her hands clasped on her handbag in front of her, as I fidgeted with my car keys.
“Well, this is goodbye, then,” I said, trying to inflect my voice with a heartiness that fell flat.
She smiled in sympathy at me, a ‘poor boy’ smile at my attempt. “You’re not used to goodbyes, are you? I am.” We looked at one another.
“Tell me,” she said, “Can I… can I touch your face?… Can I feel… if it’s…?” She didn’t need to finish that sentence. I took her right hand, gently, and brought it up to my face, then let go. First she touched my forehead, just with the tip of a finger, then moved it gently sideways, her other fingers joining it, and slowly moved to my hair, and brushed lightly against my ear. Her hand circled my ear, and I looked down to her to see that she’d closed her eyes. I removed my glasses. Still brushing lightly, with the tips of three fingertips, she drew down to my bristly cheeks and sighed as she touched my chin. Then, infinitesimally slower, she drew her whole hand up my face, feeling with each finger the contours of my lips, cheeks, eyes, nose, and finally back to the forehead, before it rested for a second, then lifting her hand slowly away. She opened her eyes, full of sadness.
“So much the same, and yet so different… … did I tell you how, when you picked up the phone, your voice… it made my heart leap?”
She looked down at the tarmac, and I said, “Things change. Time moves on, and things don’t just stay the same forever.”
“And despite it all, the dead would want us to be happy, to live our lives.” She chuckled. “Sometimes the clichés are true. I hear them at funerals. You’re far too young to know the real truth of that wisdom, a lesson it takes a whole life to learn, and yet… it still surprises you, catches you by the throat.”
“Still, I’m glad to have met you.”
She smiled warmly at me. “You know, in all you have shown me, nothing has felt quite real, except the time I’ve spent with you.”
It seemed wrong to, but I leant down, and lifted her chin, and kissed her, briefly, softly, on the lips.
I stepped into my car and drove away.
Having read that, a few points, which may explain its confusion. It is about the narrator’s grandfather’s lover, and she’s not blind.
This was amongst the criticisms I received – lack of clarity. I’ve also learned to cut all cliches from my writing (including “sometimes the cliches are true”) , and that,despite all the positive reinforcement I’ve been getting, I still have a long way to go.
Which is why I’ve posted this version of the story – as something to look back on when I’m better at this and say, “Yes, I’ve improved.” I think Flash Fiction merits more practice, for a start, and I also think this story may resurface as a complete short story.