Second-hand Madness



  


 
Dear Sam, 
Is it madness that grabs me and whispers to me to do all this? 
It doesn’t feel like madness, it feels like love to me, but then how could I possibly know what madness even feels like – or love for that matter – if I am as stark raving mad as they all say I am? 
Do you think I’m mad? You’d tell me, wouldn’t you? Not that it really matters though, whatever it is that compels me – whether it be internal and psychological or external and objective – I let it take over; I let it soothe and cradle me. To be perfectly honest, I don’t want it to ever stop. I am kind of depending on it in many ways too – whatever it actually is. I honestly hope it never leaves me and, I won’t lie, Sam, I have a sneaky suspicion that it never will.  
Since our last exchange, I’ve managed to find some real beauties. Do you remember the collage I was making and how I was just waiting to find the last couple of shots? Well, I eventually found them, and the project looks great – I’ll send you a picture of it once I get the film developed. But there’s more stuff that’s been going on too, exciting photographic stuff as well as more, let’s say, romantic things too (I wouldn’t want to jump the gun here – we’ll get there, we’ll get there!). So, photography-wise, I just recently picked up a new batch! It is a lovely little box – filled to the brim with photos of previous things, lost things, and strangers’ distant feelings; some old faded brown ones, black and white gems, and some brightly coloured prints as well – all of them are quite beautiful and I look forward to getting to know them better and working with them a little later. For now, I am content to just let them lie and await the selection process that I decide on when the time is right, or, rather, when the time feels right more like – as you always tell me; and, of course, even if there’s never any guarantee that it will ever feel right, I prefer to be patient and have faith in that quite splendid and quite mysterious of processes. 
Anyway, I have plenty of other things to do too right now, so I just can’t say when that’ll be – might be tomorrow, maybe next week sometime. I am fully aware of the fact that there’s even a chance that I won’t use any of them from this batch – which is not a crime at all, but in many ways does feel like it is – and I may have to set my sights on the next batch I hopefully come across. It isn’t really up to me, Sam, and it all depends on if they jump out at me and start speaking to my mind and telling me their secrets and all those wonderful forgotten stories. Are you sure you don’t think I’m a little mad? Well, as you also always point out to me: who isn’t a little touched by madness nowadays? Besides, I won’t lie, I’m too tired to do it today, and your letter is my priority at the moment; and like I said, I have a lot of other things to be getting on with at the moment, so the world will just have to be patient. Anyway, there’s plenty of time for stories, right? Just think how long this box has been waiting to be found and to then be able to tell its story – must’ve been a fair while, I’d say. 
Some friends over here call all these photos I hoard just a waste of time, or they say I am basically a second-hand rubbish collector gathering the tatty forgotten remnants of past lives that no longer mean anything to anyone. They are wrong of course. Some like to point out that the very reason why these photos have been abandoned so unceremoniously in these filthy second-hand shops in the first place, is exactly that: they no longer mean anything anymore. And once again, they are wrong.  
Where these photos might have been is, for me anyway, one of the most exciting things about them: these photos are ripe with prior meanings, meanings that are just waiting to be plucked and harvested into glorious, sumptuous stories; meanings that bubble and fizz just under the surface waiting to be freed by me – or by anyone really – but especially me. 
Sam, I get meanings shout out to me in my dreams, when I’m on the toilet, or when I’m walking down a shopping aisle – it’s a pleasant and very stimulating game for me. I like the way some meanings often take their time to show themselves; it’s almost like they are testing me, waiting to see if I am worthy of or ready for their tales and it is a good job that I am patient with them – perhaps that’s just another reason why they appear to me in the first place. Don’t you think? Perhaps they dislike being rushed, might not be their style, or maybe they just accept my presence and my ways as if I were the actual story that they are working out and not the other around at all, I really don’t know. I feel all alone with this “silly obsession” of mine, and perhaps those friends are right, maybe you do have to be a little mad to do it – and if that means I am mad, then so be it; I’m definitely not going to give it up now, not after so long, not after all this time – giving up feels like it would be a kind of pitiful madness in itself, you know? I mean, how much madness can one person possess anyway before it properly drives them mad, I wonder? Of course, they don’t always reveal themselves to me and there is many a time when I feel nothing from the photograph at all – it says nothing to me, only silently observing me it would seem. Time and time again, I ask myself if it is because I am not tuned into the meanings it is giving off – I simply don’t understand what it is saying to me, or that I am simply not focused enough to pick up the message and meanings. I feel a little like that today really.  
Thinking about these friends who doubt my sanity and who question my reasons for this so-called mania of mine, I don’t think they misunderstand my intellectual justifications for collecting and conserving these photographs. However, I do think it is more a question of their own fears of the past, their regrets and skeletons in closets that is most likely the cause of their criticism and scepticism in what I am doing. Don’t you think it could be that? 
Or maybe they are simply jealous of the stories I seem to so miraculously produce and that I seemingly and effortlessly extract from all these frozen moments I come across. Is that what motivates them at the end of the day to be so unsupportive of my earnest endeavours? Why would the desire to simply want to tell or rather, retell stories be viewed as weird? I mean, who’s really mad here anyway, Sam? Me for my enthusiasm or them for their lack of it? There are – without a shadow of a doubt – many more important things to be concerned about than storytelling and I’m sure the universe doesn’t care in the slightest about such things – but I do, I feel I have to, like it’s my calling or something. Do you feel a calling, Sam? Didn’t you love painting for years? Does that still do it for you? I still think you should join me on one of these outings the next time we meet up – I think you’d love it. At least I might not feel so alone. You’d do that for me, wouldn’t you? Humour me even? 
Sam, two weeks ago, I met a man named Lee in one of the many second-hand charity shops I love to rummage around in. Don’t think of me as a blushing schoolgirl or anything, but I did feel something between us straight away, exciting news, right? Our eyes met as we both flicked through some postcards in a large box filled with all sorts of odds and sods. He was tall, dishevelled yet handsome and his voice was sincere as he asked me if I were looking for anything in particular. I replied both yes and no in my mysterious and cheeky way you love. Please don’t tell me off again for always flirting and always playing hard to get – it’s in my nature! He nodded and said that he was looking for something a little more specific and – seeing my eyes light up with curiosity – he went on to tell me about his project to collect vintage photographic slides from the 50s through to the 80s, I think he said, although it may have been later. Can you believe it, Sam? Someone like me! Someone with the exact same passion! I was naturally captivated by his project (and not just the fact that he was cute, Sam!) and went on to tell him about my own love of forgotten photos and my need to retell or invent the stories contained within them. He seemed genuinely interested and not once had the condescending scowl that many of my friends have when they hear me go on about all this; there was undoubtedly a lovely connection between us, and we have kept in touch since then, but I don’t think they’ll be anything above and beyond a good friendship. Although, I don’t think I’m against the idea of it becoming something else. What do you think I should do? Should I go for it? When will I ever meet someone like that who loves the same things as I do? And is that really a valid reason for loving someone? I’m not sure it is. 
I love some of his expressions when talking about his passion where he defines it as not just collecting old KodachromeAgfachrome or Fujicolor slides for the sake of it, but that he is a collector of emotions, a hoarder of collected memory. Isn’t that uncanny? Just like me – he finds an emotional connection with these prints and images. He likens each slide – which he lovingly handles with reverence – to a miniature painting: precious and unique – something to be admired and that will never be created again in exactly that same way – and, of course, he is absolutely right. I guess we may not be telling stories in exactly the same way, but, still, we are both creating stories in the head of the reader, in each and every viewer. Think about it, Sam: if 100 people see that photo, then there are a hundred new and diverse stories being created, you see what I mean? Nothing makes me – us – happier than that thought, that’s for sure. You know, he’s gone on to create a website and publish a wonderful book containing some of the best slides he and his colleague Emmanuelle have chosen from the hundreds of thousands of slides they pick up every year; a truly amazing project that they have named The Anonymous Society, or The Anonymous Slide Project – something like that, the correct term slips my mind for some reason. I really must be quite tired today, Sam.  
All that is left for me to do now is to take a little nap; I can sort through those photos tomorrow. I am sure the stories can wait a little longer; although, in fairness, considering how long they might have already been couped up in a cupboard somewhere or discarded in a loft, perhaps I am pushing my luck with them. What happens if they take my tiredness for disinterest and then refuse to reveal themselves to me? Gosh, Sam, I’d never thought of that before! Maybe that is why they have sometimes taken so long to open up in the past, and it has nothing to do with my own ability or receptiveness in receiving their stories. Whatever it is, I’m just not feeling it today and I am sure they won’t mind if I just sleep on it, will they? What would you do in my shoes? This evening sky has the most unusual colour tonight – perhaps that is what is affecting me, making it difficult for me to focus on the stories right now. Does that just sound like a very weak excuse? It does, doesn’t it? Still, I might even take a look later tonight, or, perhaps better still, tomorrow morning now I come to think about it. I’ve got the box right next to the sofa, right here, so let me just rest for a while, just for a minute or two. 
I’ll call you soon, Sam, keep well and forgive my obsessive ranting as ever. 
All my love, your silly old friend. 



The Whole and The Part

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I wouldn’t look down so smugly from that Ivory tower
You were a disorganised mess before you met me
You have relinquished so much of your binding power
But it’s not like you have been replaced by divine decree
So stand up a bit no need to lie down and cower
Past former glories aren’t any guarantee
For liberty

It’s not like you are much different to them either
Still the manager, guardian, the custodian of eloquence
Yours is but to contain while you think I take a breather
I’ve been validated by monks through illuminated elegance
Don’t forget yourself or this tired forgotten weaver
My evermore fruitless relevance
In arrogance

This delirious electronic dance that we all seem to do
Unhinges but couldn’t ever leave you behind
Still orthographically clarifying their oral stew
A structural metamorphosis if you were so inclined
To redefine ourselves once more anew
No ages dark of once maligned
Or resigned

Maybe you were better off with the continuous script
I know you still pine the awful murdered calfskins
In blood ink and Guttenburg’s curse you were dripped
Images inverted to help underline their sins
Dulled light of ignorance will return us all to the crypt
Through idiocy glorified – the easiest of wins
It begins

The incessant duel with what is said and written
Crosswiring meaning with form hinders much
By the rabid dog of travesty, we were bitten
Decontextualised perversity or some other such
Enticing those with whom they are smitten
Shivers deep and sick to the touch
Their clutch

Still, you kept me warm when nights were cold
No prisoner bound by your gatherings so rich
Affectionate quires interlaced and bold
Our longevity and transcendence still bewitch
Sacred perusals of that which have always been told
And will surely outlive this temporary glitch
Our hitch


The Balls of Piss

The Balls of Piss 
 
Thought we’d give the balls of piss a miss 
Not as safe a place as you’d think anyway 
No climbing frame claim to fame this 
Or subverted rage game to block what you say 
Just a cage full of balls of piss 
The other day 
 
Said you’d try the jump from up on high 
I didn’t believe you’d actually do it 
Your boisterous boasting arcs towards the big sky 
Spectators like clouds to your proclaimed shit 
As you steady yourself to fly 
Into the pit 
 
The jeers and taunts work their magic on you 
I can see your eyes light up 
Part of me wishes that you do it too 
But the rest of me hopes you fuck up 
Trembling ripples before the queue 
In your vanity cup 
 
The older ones push their way to the top 
They steal your presumed win 
Sinews much older and bolder do pop 
And white smiles and cheers begin 
With no fear of the drop 
Or broken chin 
 
The sound of cracking can still be heard 
From Walthamstow to Finsbury Park 
Your forgotten bravado now seems absurd 
And we pretend this won’t leave a mark 
Glowing screens become quite blurred 
As we embark 
 
Why didn’t they ever take it away 
Build something less unforgiving 
I guess these lessons and games we play 
Are all part of the game of living 
We might say what we lost that day 
Is perhaps a kind of giving 
 
The plastic balls no longer seem like a safe place 
No more the alluring bliss 
Scarred from afar and with an older face 
I remember that park did this 
But brave silhouettes eternally begin the race 
Into the balls of piss 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 
Into The Balls of Piss  (alternative layout thingy)
 
Thought we’d give the balls of piss a miss 
Not as safe a place as you’d think anyway 
No climbing frame claim to fame this 
Or subverted regret game to block  
What you always say 
Just a cage full of balls  
Of piss 
The other day 
 
Said you’d try the jump  
From up on high 
I didn’t believe you’d actually do it 
Your boisterous boasting arcs towards the big sky 
Spectators like clouds  
To your proclaimed bullshit 
As you steady yourself  
To fly 
To die 
Into the piss-stained pit 
 
The jeers and taunts work their magic on you 
I can see  
Your eyes light up 
Part of me wishes that you do it too 
But the rest of me hopes you fuck up 
Trembling ripples  
Before the queue 
Shine In your vanity cup 
 
The older ones push their way to the top 
They steal your presumed win 
Sinews much older and bolder do pop 
And white smiles  
And cheers begin 
With no fear of the drop 
Or broken chin 
 
The sound of cracking can still be heard 
From Walthamstow to Finsbury Park 
Your forgotten bravado  
Now seems absurd 
And we pretend  
This won’t leave a mark 
Glowing screens become quite blurred 
As we embark 
 
Why didn’t they ever take it away 
Build something less unforgiving 
I guess these lessons  
And games we play 
Are all part of the game of living 
We could say that what we lost  
That day 
Is perhaps a kind of giving 
 
The plastic balls no longer seem  
Like such a safe place 
No more the alluring bliss 
Scarred from afar and with an older face 
I remember that park did this 
But brave silhouettes eternally begin  
The race 
Into the balls  
Of piss 

Ghost Writers

Ghost Writers/The Unseen/This Is the Day
Is This the Day?


The Mirror





I know I still see myself in the mirror.
There I am. Just look at me, always the envy of my sisters. I am still quite gorgeous, as enticing now as in the provinces of old.
I am there, I’m quite sure of it; reflected in my magnificence. But none of you see me, so I wonder: am I really there anymore? This window makes me look transparent, so I don’t use it – I wait for the mirror again to confirm and to ease my worrying and, with the wishful thinking of fools, I wonder if this is the day.

We were loved once – before they came and quelled our purpose, killed us. We were venerated and desired much like the greater Gods themselves until you got distracted by the Shiny Ones and their admittedly fascinating allure. Not all of us have forgiven you either, although I have, to some extent. And yet you still refuse to see me.
We drift among you today and from what I can tell, you are completely unaware of us – seemingly indifferent to our musings and our wanderings in the dreamscape, and to the playthings we create there. I check often too – and not just in the mirrors – but there are no signs, no glimmers of hope, no inspiring eureka moments. Nothing. Your quills and pens have run dry and been replaced by glorified ignorance, thumbs, eye movements, AI and the monotone, and as much as we have learnt to embrace change, we are unable to influence you as we once did. Perhaps that was just how it was meant to be. A sad drifting apart of sorts; destiny even. Although, if that were the case, why are we still here among you, cast adrift, aimless, and devoid of meaning sure, but still present nonetheless? Why have we not moved on? Why doesn’t Entropy come for us then? Doesn’t that prove that we still have things to give you? See? It is obviously not our time yet. There is hope.
We have wondered if you refuse to see us or if they have blinded you so much that you simply couldn’t see us even if you wanted to. We cannot tell which it is. Are we just echoes of Echo lost within the noise of your living Narcissism, imperceptible and drowned out by the bang and clatter of your ever so suffocating modern cities? It wasn’t always this way. We were something quite beautiful once. There were times when we floated through your cities, where we whispered our songs and stories on the wind to you, when our verse and eloquence trickled throughout your everything and we were the odours, sounds, memories and feelings of it all, and we were welcomed and worshipped with open-armed adoration. But then that changed when the Shiny Ones turned up and shut us out and shut us down for good; an ignoble, crude and quite ungrateful end to our participatory role, almost like a denial of our contribution to your many stories, in a way. Unfair, hurtful, to say the least, but perhaps understandable all the same if we are brutally honest with ourselves. Not that that eases the pain in any way.

Not that long ago, when your whole concept of a metropolis was still a new thing, I remember holding hands with Homer when the skies were undiscovered blue; I remember when we’d dance with the asparas in India and how we were all so insanely jealous of Gilgamesh; my sisters, bless them all, have lain with Sappo and journeyed with Virgil and Plautus, and then easily teased kings with Ferdowski; I strutted as a courtier with Shikibu as we created the first novel far to the magical east when the world danced to a slightly different song than it does today; I cavorted in the night before Rumi as we broke down borders in the beautiful arid beginnings of your modern world: such sights you could never perceive; we were present when stories graced the mountains of the north and although they would change their names, they would remain the same stories – as great Yggdrasill groaned in recognition and acceptance (or rather indignation) of the fact that it was not the first World Maker at all, and we rejoiced in such things – as we have always done; much later, Oviedo held me close and promised me everything as Milton begged for more – or perhaps that was Blake’s desire, I forget which; my sisters travelled with Johnathan Swift and toyed once again with unrequited love with Goethe as I also turned a shade of shy when Jane Austen lovingly called me Susan; there was no doubt that they could see us then. I let unwritten stories die within Charlotte Brontë prematurely on a cold day in Yorkshire and my sisters have not forgiven me for that tragic deed; I even sat down and swam between Edgar Allan Poe, Dostoevsky; Primo Levi and Bukowski not that long ago when your cities were still whole and willing, not fragmented, angry, and lost as they seem to be now. Gabriel García Márquez, Kafka, and even Paul Auster called to me in the dead of night, but I couldn’t always answer them; and I have spent a day walking hand in hand with Joyce through the noisy streets of Dublin not doing much at all, but, ultimately, doing everything too. Not that any of that matters anymore, it’s all gone now, just stories in the wind; a thousand million retellings that await their fate in another place; presumably waiting for others to find their meanings – for ears and minds beyond our ken perhaps; I say all that, but please don’t get me wrong: we are not renouncing in any way our earlier flirtings, far from it – not that we ever could – it’s just that we miss them, is all.
I miss them so much.

I, we, float among you aimless, wanting, hoping that someone, anyone, will notice us. Will you connect to us again seeing as we cannot touch and influence you anymore? How long should we wait? Is it that we truly no longer speak the same language as you do? After all this time, we are alone, alone with our glorious memories. You no longer recognise us, it seems. It’s not like we don’t try: I am in as many places as I can be, I – we – hover above you, within you, but you just don’t feel us anymore. We take forms of djinns, aurorae, songs, epic poems, springs, pestilence and intoxication, but you still don’t see us – you don’t see me at all. We hate the new Gods, even if we shouldn’t – we did the same thing they did just many years before, but just not as brutal, not as quick, not as detached. We were never as loveless as they are – not like the things I learnt from Nataraja and that still entice the fitful fever of life, this frenzy of the cosmos. Yet, it still hurts all the same.
So, let me settle here for a while, as I often do, let me contemplate the day and watch you, as I often have. Perhaps it is today that I break through, perhaps today I will matter; perhaps I can call my sisters to this place and we can start again. Perhaps this is the day.

You see her? She’s one of those I hate. Just look at her: all gifted and hyperfocusy and knocking out a thousand words a second while World War Three goes on around her; she barely bats an eyelid. Why would she ever need my help? I’ve seen her here before, but I don’t think she’s ever noticed me and if she has, she’s certainly hidden it well. Or maybe it really is true that the Shiny Ones obscure her vision to such things as us. Are we really so invisible? Have they really got you all so firmly in their cold grasp? Are we really as doomed as we all feel? Where’s that mirror gone? I need its reassurance.
She always sits in the same place and I wonder if it smells of her, if her familiarity has seeped in, taken hold yet. I think I’m going to try and get that seat before her tomorrow, see what she does – see if she speaks. I’m not going to sniff it though. Let’s see if I can influence her in some way, affect her, annoy her – maybe even speak to her. She never speaks to anyone. Not even to herself. She doesn’t seem to need me as she incessantly taps away, so why should I even try?
She’s probably not even writing, only pretending just to make people feel inferior or something. It’s working, I mean, even I feel inadequate here – not that that is such a new thing nowadays, of course. She’s been there for hours. Her sickly headphones holding her there, holding her steady – like she couldn’t exist without them. She never looks up – so, I guess, maybe she really is writing. Or just really good at pretending. She has no notebook, paper, or pen, just the ever-glowing laptop illuminating her fierce features. Although, sometimes, she takes a faded photo out of her pocket and puts it carefully on the table. It seems to mean a lot to her. It’s nothing special either – just someone standing in front of some bookshelves with a blurred face that I can’t quite make out. Is that her muse then, I wonder? Does a photograph have such power? Since when? Maybe it’s transporting her to when Hemingway sat in a place like this in Paris back in the 1920s, or it could be taking her back to when Martin Luthor King wrote letters in Birmingham, or perhaps she is huddled up with Gertrude Stein in a Model T. All without our help. Fine. But can a photograph really do that? What is really going on? What have the Shiny Ones got that distracts all of you so?
Never seen her look out of the window. I stood in front of it yesterday in your common guise – hitched up my skirt, straightened my stockings with my orange hair glowing like a red giant before her and she never even flinched. If she’s not taking in the world around her, then maybe she really is that good at pretending. Besides, doesn’t she feel even a little bit guilty about hogging the table like that? Such a prolific writer with so many tools in her toolbox, so then where’s her empathy, for the love of the Gods? I think I will sit there tomorrow, see what she does. But what does it even matter when none of you seem to  know I’m even here?

This one seems to be struggling though; he does look a little worse for wear. Look at him: he’s wearing a trilby and a snazzy jacket and it’s like 40 degrees out there. Ridiculous. That’s the tenth time he’s gotten up. He recently went inside for a couple of minutes and I thought about quickly writing something silly on his computer, or in his enormous leather-bound journal: I thought about sharing something with him. Anything. I wasn’t sure if he would have even been able to see what I’d written, so, I didn’t. You’d think he would be one of those that really needs us, but he appears to be as blind as the rest of them. I am quite intrigued as he doesn’t seem to be a slave to the Shiny Ones, so how does he do it? What’s his secret? Does he just do it on his own? Is that even allowed? He types for a while, anxiously looks around him; he gets up, flits about, sits down, taps away for a bit more and then gets up again. He did the same thing yesterday, and the day before that. Is that his secret? Just random movement? Has he got a secret photo too? He never goes inside for long, and I’ve never seen him go to the toilet. I wonder if he has noticed her. Have they met? He speaks to everyone, but he’s never spoken to her. Not yet anyway; why on Earth not? I wonder if he’d be a better writer if he were more like her. Maybe Ms Prolific would get a new fresh perspective if she tried his topsy-turvy approach. Perhaps it would break her. Who can say? Maybe I should suggest it to them – give them something to add to their masterpieces. Should I intervene? But they can’t perceive me anyway, so what’s the point? If they could hear me, maybe they’d just tell me to jump under a train and I guess that would give them something to write about. Perhaps such a sacrifice would at least justify me being here – and I’d finally be something again. Maybe they’d fall in love; and, well, that would definitely give them something to write about, that’s for sure – there’s no denying that.
I catch myself in the mirror, my flaming golden hair seems to have a life of its own today, and for a minute I thought I saw a smile. I turn back to them; I don’t want to miss a thing. I wonder if one of them is using me as a resource – and I wonder how they could possibly do that. Is there some new power the Shiny Ones have given them to tap into our ancient murmurings that we are ignorant of? Am I the protagonist or the antagonist in their respective tales? Or perhaps I’m just a space-filler passing through their epic journeys; I’m on the fringes of their fiction – colourful but irrelevant. Maybe I’m a cashier, or a bus driver; maybe I work in a bank, a supermarket, a 24-hour gas station; maybe I’m the one the killer takes home, or maybe I’m just the body that gets found at the beginning of their tale. I don’t feel like their killer though. Could I finally be the muse they’ve been looking for? What about a temptress or djinn? Could I be the unbearably attractive assistant professor that everyone dreams about? Maybe I’m their ghost, or the mother who left – the one that got away. Am I the lover that destroys lives? Maybe I’m a poor siren, or a handmaiden, or an Amazonian warrior princess – perhaps even an aristocratic matriarch, the personification of tyrannical. Maybe I’m just a bum burning rubbish in a metal drum who is full of hard wisdom and crackling anecdotes that keep the men at bay on the more colder nights. Maybe I’m the girl in the Ridiculous Dream in Saint Petersburg. Am I Rosemary’s baby, or even one of Frankenstein’s delusions? Are they using me without my knowledge somehow?
Or, most likely, as it always is nowadays, perhaps they simply don’t see me at all and I check the insincere lying window one more time just to make sure I am really there. As ever, it fails to capture my real splendour; I seem ephemeral, translucent, so I look at the mirror to just make sure and ease my messy and ever-growing noisy doubts.
I see myself; I am really here. I pick myself up and – as pointless as it may actually be – I decide who to pick, just out of a sad habit really more than any real conviction. I try once again to be seen, to leave an impression, a allow myself a little validation; to finally be something to them all again, to try and make this that day we have all been waiting for. I know that my sisters will be waiting for any news (as I am from them too, of course) and I really want to make them happy this time, appease their appetites. But, if the truth be told, it doesn’t feel like a day of miracles or susurrations at all, it simply feels like just another lonely day.

A Fly on the Wall

Turn on the radio and take note of the first thing that is mentioned. Use it as the basis for either the start of a story or an entire story – whichever, it should be no more than 500 words. Imagine a character, someone who is central to what the story is about. Try to use clear, vivid language so that your reader can see the character. Use some of the characterisation techniques we have talked about so far:

  • physical description
  • thoughts and inner life
  • personality
  • where the character is located
  • the character’s back story
  • how the character acts in the world.

You might not wish to include all of these various aspects in your story but you might like to know something about them nonetheless.

And if you wish, to help to get you started, use some of the starting tactics suggested in Finding a voice and More starting ploys (‘Emma said’, ‘I remember’ – or any other similar starting phrase.)

Write this story in your notebook, on your blog or in a Word document on your computer. You’ll come back to this story in Week 3 and improve it by reviewing and redrafting.

© The Open University

A fly on the Wall (Rambling draft version; heard someone say “…like, to be a fly on the wall there would have been…” then turned it off. So I imagined a fly remembering the time it’d been trapped by some kids in a jar outside somewhere. On a table. As I was writing it some kids entered the story; I discovered that they were play fighting...)

A fly on the Wall 
 
It wouldn’t give. I headbutted it thousands of times; it just wouldn’t give.  
But I swear there was nothing there, and it stopped me all the same. I tried again and again and again and again and again and again and again until I felt myself breaking inside. I didn’t know what to do, I had no experience of such a thing and although something similar had happened on occasion near the dwellings of the Destroyers – but never so incessantly – it was not something that had happened in such a way before or that the elders had ever told me about it ever being a thing. And it was all around me too. Whichever way I went I hit the same cold thing that wasn’t a thing until you smashed into it; again and again and again and again: it wouldn’t give. What was it? Why did it do that and not eat me – as the legends within the Learning suggest is the way when such similar things occur? Why was this so different? And how was it that we knew nothing about it? Was it truly a new part of the prophecy? Had I become an addition to the venerated Learning? A unique discovery that I had had the pleasure – or trauma – or being part of and contributing to? Is that my legacy to us all? I welcome that. 
The bottom part was different though; it was still cold, but it was darker, rougher, it felt familiar to me and yet alien too; everything there was all so alien, I suppose, all so fascinatingly new and unknown. 
I hated it even though there was nothing to see. It just looked like the rest of the world was there within reach and when I moved towards that world– it never got any closer and I smashed into the invisible wall that denied me freedom once again. And again. And again. And once again. 
It smelt amazing though. Initially, I had searched every inch of it and found unimaginable delights that I feasted upon with fervid joy. Until there was nothing left: nothing left within that cruel, heartless nothingness? That was when I realised that there was no door, no crevasse, no weak spot, no holes or gaps – just an endless nothingness that refused to let me go: just an unforgiving and relentless cyclical nature to the things within the nightmare of that nothingness. There were still some remnants of those glorious smells. But nothing else. Dizziness came over me from time to time and I had to stop moving. It too was something I’d never felt before, I had no understanding of that either, and I felt lost, cursed even. But I wasn’t scared: I never gave up hope. I just wanted to keep moving. Just wanted to feel the air again – anything but that cold endless nothing, whatever that even was. 
But I killed it in the end. I did, honestly, I did.  
After trying incessantly for ages, I decided to rest – to gather my wits and conserve my strength. And I was feeling strong – the unimaginable delights that I had found and consumed earlier had given me strength beyond anything I’d ever felt before. It was truly a day for new discoveries, and, in a way, I have whatever that invisible thing actually was to thank for that wild adventure and the unforgettable experience it gave me. Although I killed it all in the end. 
I rested for some time but sensed movement near me. Sounds echoed strangely around me and I began my headbutting again letting the strength come out of me and into the wall of nothingness before me – all around me again and again and again and again. I kept on, never gave up even if I started to feel the breaking in me once more and there was a weakness creeping in. The invisible wall refused to yield, mocked my attempts and ridiculed my efforts – at least for that moment although it would know me much better pretty soon. The movement was close to me but it never touched me. I think they were frightened by my new-found power – whatever they were. Perhaps they were Destroyers, just as many have suggested they were, but I don’t know for sure. I froze for a moment as the movement increased and the nothingness moved and I felt the air for a moment and then it was gone. My rage was pure and I headbutted the nothingness and it trembled and shook before me. I mustered all of my might and I braced myself for my assault. Everything shook around me and I knew it was time – there would never be another moment like that one. 
I charged the nothingness and it flew through the air and I felt it die into a thousand million tragic pieces before my spirit and strength. The elders have accepted me into their guild and I now tell this story as part of the Learning – and I have now become a legend, a living testimony of what we can become, of what we deserve to be seen as. The noise of it all that day was tremendous, and the movement was slow yet powerful around me. But I was so much faster than they were, and I left them far behind to their noise and their nothingness. The air that caressed me that day, was the most beautiful thing I have ever felt – even better than my temporary yet praised super strength. Finally, I saw the world as it really is and it moved closer to me, it welcomed me and I moved within it at last, not as a captive … but as a God. 
 
First (final?) edit:

At first, it wouldn’t give. I headbutted it thousands of times, but it just wouldn’t give.
I tried until I felt myself almost breaking inside. Whichever way I went, I hit the same cold thing that wasn’t a thing until you smashed into it. I don’t know how long I was there. The bottom part was different, still cold, but darker, rougher; it felt familiar to me and yet alien too. There was nothing to see. The rest of the world was there but when I moved towards it – it never got any closer and I smashed into the invisible wall once again. There was no door, no crevasse, no weak spot, no holes or gaps – just an endless nothingness that refused to let me go. I did find sustenance and smells there though that I devoured until there was nothing left. I felt lost, doomed, but I wasn’t scared. I just wanted to move, feel the air again – anything but that cold endless nothing. Although I killed it in the end.
The sustenance had given me wild strength but I rested all the same. Later, I sensed movement near me and I began my headbutting once more. I kept on until I started to feel the breaking in my head again. The movement was closer now, but it never touched me. Things moved – I don’t know what they were. I froze for a moment as the nothingness moved too; I felt the kind air touch me briefly, then it was gone. I headbutted again and everything shook around me, so I charged with my new-found power. The nothingness flew through the air and I felt it die into a thousand glorious pieces before me. Such noise. The movement was slow yet powerful, dangerously close too. But I was much faster and I left it behind with its fragments of nothingness. The air that caressed me that day was the most beautiful of things as the world welcomed me back at last and I moved within it once again. Just as I have always done.

The Killing Machines

These Mythopoeic Stills

SECOND:
There’s a fly trapped in here. I can hear it. It’s over there.
I wonder how it got in. The buzzing used to annoy me, but it doesn’t anymore; you get used to it as it becomes just another part of the day – if this is what a day even is. Can it feel me here too? I wonder if it hated my noise at first too, or maybe it has got used to me too, it suffers me as I suffer it.
Should I kill or let it out? But if I try and let it out won’t another one simply fly in and we’ll be back to square one just like the last time this happened? And if I kill it? But why would I do that? It’s just trying to get through life like everything else is too, I guess. Maybe I’ll try and let it out then – that seems like the right thing to do.
There, I felt the air tickle my cheek as it flew past me. It must be a big one. Wait. What if it’s not a fly? What if it’s a hornet, or some diabolical wasp. What if this all gets out of hand? It just wants to get out, maybe I should hurry – set it free before it gets mad. I’m confused, or am I mad? Am I going mad?
And that’s when I realise that I don’t have the faintest idea how to even get out of this place either.


[1] The Three Fictions and that One Tiny Fact
There’s one of those black and white mosquitoes behind me. I can hear it. Although its low buzz tells me it’s already full of blood – so am I safe? I guess it will just stab me for the fun of it like its great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandmother did last year.

(2)Three Facts and a Fiction
The cat was a killing machine that’s for sure – although it had always been nice to the girl. I guess it loved those bits of speck she would give it in the early hours. She’d never heard a cat eat and purr at the same time and the first time it happened, she thought it was dying. It did die though, but that had little or nothing to do with speck.

BREATHE character sketch thingy

5.13: ASSIGNMENT
Character Sketch for “Breathe” 300-500 words; totally imaginary; not me – trying not to put myself in it – so much harder than you think. But not impossible. (the Ideal Method according to Novakovich) 28th April

She really hates corporate America; lives on the streets of NY; angry, wise, shifty, a little paranoid and insecure even if she comes over as incredible confident. Hates technology. Has a notebook – writes in code. She’s secretive really. She’s very loud; swears, uses uncomplicated speech – appears dense, but is far from it; shouts at people who touch her involuntarily; speaks her mind, strong moral code – unforgiving; never lets go once she’s gotten hold of something/someone. She’s dirty but pretty. Short, lithe, fit. Fierce eyes, raven hair, high cheekbones and she struts as she walks; picks at the skin around her thumb. Enjoys fidgeting. Rocks slightly when she sits; bounces her foot a lot. Possibly Italian origins. Lost two fingers in a car accident – does just fine all the same. Better than us, arrogant, annoying but very alive. Sleeps with men and women without any preferences (they’ve gotta be cute at least).
She has a secret. A dead man’s secret. She needs to tell it to the press who have got the dead man’s story all wrong up to now (they accuse him of drug-trafficking!) It is her mission. Clear his name; and redeem herself for how she mistreated him before he died; incriminate the dead man’s Lady friend as much as she can: her real mission – make the Lady pay. Why? She’s jealous. Vindicative. But not violent. Talks to herself, running invasive monologue that tries to calm her down when she gets upset/angry; which is often. Has arranged interview with press but hates herself for having to talk to them. But has to get the truth out. Only way. Then she’ll be free. He’ll not be forsaken. The Lady will be ruined; shamed.
The interview is tomorrow. She’s nervous, ranting. But she has to do this. She checks the facts and starts to walk, monologue going mental in her head: “Come on, you can do this. Stay calm, girl. Breathe. Keep walking, it’s this way. Focus, idiot. Breathe.”

Something along those lines anyway. That’s all I got for now.
My word, I didn’t think she was this complicated (aren’t we all tough?) when I first met her in my mind. I’m looking forward to getting to know her, see what she does, see where she goes – where she takes me. I think I’d be a bit intimidated to meet her in the flesh though, to be honest…

The Becoming Photo

The Becoming.



Once, in another life – one that meant so much more than I care to admit – I remember walking with her in Calabria – both of us without a care in the world. I remember like it was yesterday. We met so many peculiar and wonderful people back then – so much more than I do today, it seems, although I’ve stopped wondering why that is anymore.
It was late August when we encountered a brazen and intense looking stranger on the road who said proudly he was from Eastern Europe. He had insisted on taking photographs of us for a book that he was making and that we would never see and that we would never read. We let him take just one of us; we thought we were too special and above such things back then, and I regret that now as there are only these rose-tinted reminiscences of us that remain, and I don’t really trust them anymore. He’d even taken down an address where he’d promised to send it off to – not that we ever got it though. I often wonder where that photo is now and the things it has seen. He had a fancy silver camera that looked as if it always felt cold to the touch and his deft hands never let it go. Perhaps he had a black and gold one too – but I might have imagined that bit. Still, to this day, I wonder where that photo ended up and I wonder what we have become.

Had the photo’s previous meanings been rejected and stripped away just as all its emotional origins had been too? Is it now sleeping in a dusty second-hand shop waiting to be awoken by the right hand, or the right mind? I wonder if it had simply been folded over and torn up by an ignorant jealous lover who unceremoniously scattered it in an overflowing ashtray – just content to release its chemical swan song into the already stale air of their stagnant relationship; it had become a weapon in the lovers’ tiff in the guise of an ex that never existed as a cheap way to strike at the partner’s heart. Perhaps it has been magnificently born again and used in some heartfelt collage for a school project on the importance of family values and the benefits of acknowledging the local community – making the people who saw it clap and comment and bringing tears to the eyes of the teacher who’d thought the whole thing up. Have we become useful? I imagine it being coyishly ripped out of an almost forgotten album and given a new lease of life before obscurity and entropy had set in for good. Who can say? Perhaps it was stuck on a fridge door somewhere reminding the future people of where they came from and the debt they owed and that they would never be able to pay back. Was it turned around backwards on a windshield only to be revealed by passing streetlights – illuminating, just for a brilliant moment, those faces printed there? Are kids using it for target practice pinned to a board somewhere and we have become pierced and unrecognisable with a dart or a knife straight through our hearts? I wonder if it had been torn in half and two lovers kept their half with the sweetest of inscriptions on the back, dreaming of when they would be able to place them back together – just trying to keep the hypothalamus working before it realises that it’d simply been wasting its time, again. Or was it simply stuck in a glove compartment in a doomed car that had already accepted its fate as it sat in a breaker’s yard somewhere – cut adrift like an astronaut, slowly floating and waiting to die? Had someone become obsessed by it after having found it in a thrift store and then dedicated the rest of their lives to going on an unsuccessful crusade to find the original owners? Will that someone confront me with it one day and care nothing about transporting me back to its beautifully painful meanings by asking questions that will mean nothing to me and everything to them? Have we become desired?
It might have gotten mixed up with Vivian Maier’s undeveloped film and will one day be thought of as two of her distant friends and people will speculate as they always do, and once again, strangers will want to know us. Maybe it was the curiosity of employees as it sat on the tyrannical boss’ desk the subject of many unasked questions and rumours abounded as to who we were – and yet all it was, was a lucky charm that by pure chance had helped him pass his final exams and was nothing else. Or was it kept in an airtight box under some floorboards in the vain misguided hope of longevity by someone wishing on something that no one else wished upon or considered or even cared about? What if it had slipped through this world to another, and deluded men had built a shrine for it, worshipped it, carved out our faces into elaborate sculptures, sacrificed animals to it, and pleasured themselves in front of it in unspeakable rites in caves deep below the earth? Had we become Goddesses? Perhaps it had been donated to a historical society somewhere under the pretence of being historically relevant in some way. It may even have erroneously been put in a collection of Soviet dissident art from the Cold War era; it might even be in the archives from the annual Moscow Fine Arts Fair for all we know. Have we become dissidents?
Had it been hidden away and then forgotten by the previous owner who’d then passed before telling anyone else about it, before remembering to let it go free? Had it been unceremoniously swept away in a flood, or a demolition, never to be seen again? At mercy to the better Gods of a better time? Have we become the memories best forgotten of good old uncle so-and-so and the wine-breath stories he used to tell everyone at thanksgiving of how he’d killed aunt Lucy’s cat in the tumble dryer some thirty-six years ago – and we’d helped him do it? Have we become murderers? Perhaps someone had locked it in a chest to keep good company with the other secrets buried there – too scared to let it see the light of day – yet too scared of letting it go too. Had it become a lie in an artist’s montage? Had it become appropriated and reimagined – resurrected and given new purpose for some pretentious and elaborate retelling named Finding Forgotten Photography or some such – quoting Sontag, Barthes, Stieglitz, Arbus, and being inspired by Tacita Dean or Joachim Schmid and we’d become quarrelling sisters in a made-up family? Perhaps it had been used in a now-famous advert in Bolivia where everyone there knew the faces in the photo as if they were family and had been accepted into their collective psyche and even been given loving names like Nayra or Carla, or maybe Gabriela. Had we become famous? Who knows? Maybe it had been taken by aliens as a souvenir? Maybe this is what aliens do – collect our memories for the sake of preservation and that is why it always seems that photos just disappear into thin air. Like socks do; but I don’t think the aliens take them though. It could conceivably be part of a lampshade in some home-craft project and our faces now project onto strangers’ bedroom walls comforting them on the darker nights, becoming intwined in their dreams and nightmares alike. Do we now only exist in dreams? Perhaps it had become a bookmark – cradled within the gentle pages of a book, waiting to be freed from the embrace of those pages – awaiting its moment to fall to the floor and become the delightful subject of many questions and many theories. What if it was being used as a fake profile picture as someone catfished and groomed the naïve and gullible ones? Have we become part of a lie? Maybe it was dog-eared and peeling; stuffed into the wallet of the only survivor of a family recently lost in a fire and our uncanny similarity was the only link left to the dead. Could it be pinned to a corkboard in the wake of a broken family, left unloved, abandoned, and devoid of meaning much like the shattered union it had erroneously become part of? Maybe someone used it for a gift tag, and it inadvertently gave joy for a short while with our faces eventually being ruined by tears of joy. Perhaps it has become just a random image used in textbooks, ownerless, but still useful, I guess. Had someone come across it and then been undecided if to use it as a genuine postcard, or as a practical joke? It might have simply woken up, become conscious and drifted off to other worlds and is now witness to sights we will never see and wonders we could never imagine. What if bank robbers in Albania had mistakenly printed our photo onto masks that were then used for a now infamous robbery known as: the Heist of the Two Faced Bitches? Have we become criminals? Maybe a painter found it in a flea market and went on to paint the people in the photograph turning it into a huge, magnificent wall dominating painting that now hung on a wall somewhere meaning something to someone. Have we become significant again?

And then I torture myself when I think, but what if he’d not set the shutter speed correctly or that the film had slipped off its sprockets within the shiny cold body? Or perhaps the black and gold body. Maybe he’d rushed it, loaded it wrong. But I simply cannot accept that the film hadn’t been properly and carefully inserted – I remember his dark hands, he was a perfectionist; I’d seen strong and secure hands like that before – they didn’t make such mistakes. What if he’d only sent it to her and she often smiles when she comes across it in her new life with her new friends and her new everything? Maybe – when she feels a little lonely – she takes it out, smells it, delicately runs her slim dark fingers across it and then she straightens out the corners and fondly recalls our time together as we walked to the magic land of Sicily all those years ago. Or maybe she just threw it away, unmoved by such pointless sentimentality and that useless dance with regret that such a photo would evoke. Perhaps she keeps it in a draw, close to her, but she never looks at it just to prove to herself that I no longer mean anything.
Whatever may have happened to it, I like to think that it had at least been developed. Nothing could be sadder than believing that it had never lived at all – a butterfly that never made it; the glorious fleeting mayfly snagged before its time; the phoenix denied its rebirth. A story forever untold is surely the saddest story there is.
Unlike the rest of the world, I never saw her again.

I Saw Him Sniffing Glue Late One Afternoon in Highbury

 

I suppose I’ve never really forgotten about him and the weird attractive rebelliousness of what they did that summer. Saw them all do it so many times, now I come to think about it; even though, thankfully, I was too chicken-shit to try it myself.
Him, like a god amongst men, with steely blue marbles glistening like dark ice in his eyes that slowly turned to red embers while I looked on in a kind of rapture, like a kid at the circus – which I suppose I was, in some ways. Sniffing Tipp-Ex, cigarette lighters or nasty bags of yellow glue never appealed to me as a clever thing to do – maybe I was just lucky that I wasn’t made the way he was; he couldn’t be that perfect and not have been broken or flawed in some way.
Late afternoon, we sat in the pissy bike sheds next to the Arsenal and he passed the bag around with a fake maturity that didn’t affect me at all as I just took some pictures of the trees, the sky, some ants nearby; my uncle had given me a Pentax K1000 that I didn’t really know how to use properly, but I loved to carefully try and snap away at the world around me anyway, with the beautiful spontaneous innocence of the young and uninitiated; inexplicably, stupidly even, I never took one of him – something I have never been able to forgive myself for.
One by one, their eyelids crept slowly down over their eyes as the smell tickled my senses, but didn’t tickle my fancy. Afternoon turned to evening and I knew they’d fall asleep there, strewn around him like disciples, lost within their intoxicated dreams of being grown-ups or whatever else went on in their minds – I couldn’t’ve cared less really. In truth, like anything prohibited, there was an attraction, a gnawing type of curiosity that floated around at the time but never seemed to settle on me – not until much later, of course; my friends had always hated me for having such a vivid imagination that I had no need of acid of ecstasy or anything else, but little did we know that I would become well acquainted a little further down the line when I began to run away from everything – when I thought I was looking for something.
Highbury drifted away as we grew up leaving those memories of summer days and the stench of glue and fags far behind, and I never saw him or those blue marbles again; however weird it seemed at the time, I still have fond memories of those days; amazingly, I still have one or two of the shots I took from back then – I have one right here of that ants’ nest: it seems a little abstract now as it catches the peculiar dusk light tonight, but this picture still tells me its story, and I get a kick out of going back there from time to time – even if it was a tumultuous and dark period in our lives nonetheless.


 

Highbury Fears

I suppose I’ve never really forgotten about him and the weird attractive rebelliousness of what they did that summer. Saw them all do it so many times, now I come to think about it; even though, thankfully, I was too chicken-shit to try it myself.
He was like a god amongst men: brooding, cocky even, with steely blue marbles glistening like dark ice in his eyes that slowly turned to red embers. I looked on in a kind of rapture, like a kid at the circus – which I suppose I was, in some ways, enthralled by it all. Sniffing Tipp-Ex, cigarette lighters or nasty bags of yellow glue never appealed to me as a clever thing to do – maybe I was just lucky that I wasn’t made the way he was; he couldn’t be that perfect and not have been broken or flawed in some way.
One late afternoon, we sat in the pissy bike sheds next to the Arsenal and he passed the bag around with a fake maturity that didn’t affect me at all as I just took some pictures of the trees, the sky, some ants nearby and anything I wanted – perhaps that has always been my way of not facing what is front of me: to find solace behind the camera’s viewfinder. My uncle had given me a Pentax K1000 that I didn’t really know how to use properly, but I loved to carefully try and snap away at the world around me anyway, with the beautiful spontaneous innocence of the young and uninitiated; inexplicably, stupidly even, I never took one of him – something I have never been able to forgive myself for all these years later.
One by one, their eyelids crept slowly down over their eyes as the smell tickled my senses, but didn’t tickle my fancy. Afternoon turned to evening and I knew they’d fall asleep there, strewn around him like disciples, lost within their intoxicated dreams of being grown-ups or whatever else went on in their minds – I couldn’t’ve cared less really. In truth, like anything prohibited, there was an attraction, a gnawing type of curiosity that floated around at the time but never seemed to settle on me – not until much later, of course; my friends had always hated me for having such a vivid imagination and that is why I never needed acid, ecstasy or anything else; but little did we know that I would become well acquainted a little further down the line when I began to run away from everything – when I thought I was looking for something.
He looked at me through half closed and suspicious eyes and slowly shook his head.
“Why won’t you even try it?” he said leaning forward and focusing his attention on me which I found thrilling but unnerving at the same time.
“I don’t need any of that. And we’ve had this conversation before.” I replied taking another picture of the busy black ants, pretending to be above it all, pretending I was as strong as he was.
“Yeah, OK. But why not, though? Why are you so scared?”
“I’m not scared-“
“Yeah, you are, I can see it in your eyes.”
“Oh, really? So you’re the lucid one now, are you? Surprised you can see or understand anything after doing all that stuff.”
He smiled, looked at the camera and then back to me shaking that handsome head again, “Definitely proper scared though.”
“Ah, piss off. What do you know anyway?”
“What do you mean?” he asked, a slight frown creasing his golden brow.
“I dunno. A mate of mine in Tottenham says that people who do stuff like that are the ones who are really scared.”
“Wha-? Your mate from Tottenham? Well, if he’s from there he’s gotta be a total prick then – no two ways about it, mate. You and your ‘scum’ friends from over there. Oh, my days.”
I’d always hated the blind hatred that local rival football fans had for each other, and I never got involved. There was pleasure in appreciating the sport as opposed to tribal worship, although all my friends said I just lacked the balls to commit, and that’s why I was annoyingly always sitting on the fence – in fairness, and in hindsight, I suppose they were right; maybe I just wasn’t attracted to – or didn’t understand – the need to feel part of a group like that, too much of a one horse chariot to fit in with the crowd. Or maybe I was just scared after all.
“No, I reckon it’s true; it’s like some people need to fill the emptiness they suffer from, and drugs and crap TV are the best ways to do that.”
“Bollocks, mate, I tell you that for nothing. I like you Sammie, you’re defo weird though; but you, or your mate from scumland, are chatting shite.” He leant back and closed his eyes whispering something about something that I couldn’t quite catch and I wondered if deep down he really agreed with me; and I wished I could’ve seen what we was looking at behind those closed eyes. He opened his eyes suddenly and although the whites were bloodshot, the blue of his irises seemed bluer than the sky he intently stared at. He’d lit up a cigarette and I realised that I’d never even noticed.
“Apart from the obvious fact that you are well scared -“
“No, I’m not!”
“Apart from that, I suppose everyone’s a little bit scared of something, right?” He exhaled a slow stream of smoke and I watched it rise and fade away above us.
“Another mate of mine,”
“Better not be another Tottenham geeza.”
“No, she’s not, she’s-“
“Wait, what? You know a girl?” his smile shone out at me and I could only laugh. “What’s her name then? When are you gonna introduce me? Sammie, you utter bastard!”
Even if I would have gained loads of points from him for bringing Sarah along on one of those summer days, I also knew that he was already pretty prolific when it came to partners, so there was no way I would’ve asked her to come and meet him – not in a million years, besides, she was busy studying. His devastating good looks would have trapped her straightaway, I’m quite sure of that. I’d like to think that it was because of my love and respect for her back then that had made me decide that way, but most probably, and if I’m totally honest with myself, that wasn’t the case at all.
“Listen, she says that fear – being scared of things – is a sign of intelligence and not something we should be afraid of admitting.” He blinked a couple of times and I could see he was thinking about it.
“Well, yeah, of course: if we hadn’t been scared of the dark and whatnot in the olden days, then we most probably wouldn’t be around as a species today, but that’s not the type of fear I was thinking of.”
“No?”
“No.” He lent forward and taking the last drag of his smoke before carefully stubbing it out he exhaled his answer to me.
“I was thinking more about that unspeakable fear you get when you are all alone in your room in the dead of night. You know, when we become totally aware of what you think you are; just lying still, staring up thinking about nothing, thinking about everything – thinking about the fact that we are just stardust that has become aware of itself and shit like that, and then that frightening feeling comes slowly rising up from the pit of your stomach and tightens slowly in your chest. The sensation of falling. The feeling of helplessness, of hopelessness that consumes you from within and you feel like you want to up and leave – to start running away from all of it but then perhaps realising that you are simply running away from yourself. The fear that makes you double over and not want to get out of bed; the fear of someone finding out that you are not really what you appear to be and that you have always felt like an imposter, a fraud, a prematurely born freak that your own parents never even wanted to have. You know? That’s the type of fear I mean.”
Whether the drugs were talking, or helping him to talk, it mattered little: I knew exactly what he was talking about and yet for some strange reason I didn’t open up and talk about it with him. Perhaps I was simply too scared of that too and all I could offer was my humour, my avoidance, as is so often the case.
“Jesus Christ, mate. I think you might’ve done too much of that nasty stuff today.”
“Yeah, maybe…”
He got up then, kicked his friends awake, and I knew it was time to leave.
“I still think you should try it though,” He said, looking down at me. “Might help sort that funny head of yours out, mate. See ya tomorrow, Sammie-boy.”

Highbury drifted away as we grew up leaving those memories of summer days and the stench of glue, fags, and philosophical musings far behind, and I never saw him or those blue marbles again; however weird it seemed at the time, I still have fond memories of those days. Amazingly, I still have one or two of the shots I took from back then – I have one right here of that ants’ nest and it makes me smile to see my so very young hand of yesteryear in the photo too – a stark contrast to the trembling crumpled up one that now holds it. It seems a little abstract now as it catches the peculiar dusk light tonight, but this picture still tells me its story from time to time; even if it was a tumultuous and dark period in all our lives, I still get a kick out of going back there nonetheless.

Lucky Alignments

The Lucky Line Up

People often ask me what I see in all these lines, those bold shadows, coarse textures, or striking reflections that I tend to photograph and I often don’t really know how to satisfactorily or conclusively answer that. And, quite frankly, nor do I feel that I really have to either: I don’t have to bloody fucking well justify myself to anyone when it comes down to it, do I? Why? Many brilliantly talented photographers out there take pictures of their breakfast and they never seem to feel that they have to justify that, right? Not that I would know – maybe they do give their reasons – I don’t even look at that type of photography let alone delve deeper into the wheres and the whys of it – I just don’t give a shit. The photos I take are for myself (and my family); what I see (and why) is simply what I see (however shallow and dismissive that may actually be) and just feels wonderful when I do it – I’m in my element. Why should I feel any pressure, any urge to justify, or intellectualise it? Although, perhaps revealingly, that would appear to suggest that I have never thought about or reflected on what I’m doing when I see, compose – see again – and then capture a photograph – or that I shy away from debate or critical analysis of my photography. That may very much have been the case thirty-odd years ago when I first started taking pictures but is definitely not what is happening with me and my photography nowadays. I feel much more aware of the processes when capturing an image although I make sure that doesn’t get in the way of the more instinctual and spontaneous photography I often try to do too.

So what is really going on? What is any photographer thinking of when they visualise in their mind’s eye – when they see a shot reveal itself and subsequently shoot it? But come to think of it, how could we ever really know what any one person is really thinking when we think about what they think they are thinking about? There has to be something more there, right? How wrong is it to even naively think that the need to capture a photo, to create an image could ever be reduced down to simply one thing anyway? I mean, what is a gut reaction based on? Is it memetic or culture-bound within us? Could it be a Pavlovian response? Perhaps it’s synaesthesia – that loopy/glorious cross-wiring in our brains. Is it the learned and careful thought processes as well as a self-conscious criterion that I am actually applying to my photography? Is it those Fibonacci numbers? Can it really just be a question of pure instinct? Was I inspired when I first saw the work of Rodchenko, Maholy-Nagy, El Lissitzky, and their development of the Constructivism approach (I definitely was, and still am!)? Was it Cubism, Dadaism, Bauhaus, Surrealism that invaded my mind and influenced my eye for the unusual? Maybe it’s was simply Man Ray and Duchamp that sparked my interest in the more graphic design of things around me? It might well have just been M.C. Escher’s glorious creations, or even Hopper’s stark, eerie beautiful worlds that turned me towards the Art-side? Or, more than likely, it’s Caravaggio’s fault – the master of studio light before studio light was even a thing…stunning. Who knows? Maybe it was Tolkien, Andel Adams, Rusty Springboard, Stephen King, Tacita Dean, Paul Auster, Nina Simone, Neil Gaiman, Julia Margaret Cameron, Elliot Erwitt, Tomorrow’s World, V.S. Naipaul, George Lakoff, Fabio Celenza, the twisted bough of a tree, Bill Sienkiewicz, Helen Ficher, Asterix and Obelix, Vivian Maier, Edward Weston, Zoe Leonard and Cheryl Dunye, Looe, The Mother Red Cap, Mario Rinvolucri, The Just So Stories, Paul Strand, Walt Simonson, Fay Godwin, Ronaldinho, Alan Moore, Brassaï, Portishead, Scott McCloud, Philip K. Dick, drum ‘n’ bass, Joseph Conrad, Iain M Banks, The Smashing Pumpkins, Harry, Callahan, Ben Elton, The Book of Kells, Mona Khun, Uncle Tungsten, Impressionism, Bukowski, The Odyssey, Giles Peterson, Witty Ticcy Ray, Yann Tiersen, Joan Armatrading, Franco Fontana, Klimt, a Pentax 50mm F/1.7, Alberto Breccia, Roland Barthes, Gillian Lynne, Brian May, José Saramago, Christopher Hitchens, Walker Evans, Radiohead, Ishiguro, Margaret Bourke-White, Flickr, Sue Murray, McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern, Andrew Wright, Oscar Wilde, Jonathan Pie, the sound of the wind, Erik Satie, Jean Loup-Sieff, Michelangelo, Stevie Wonder, Douglas Adams, Mary Shelly, Doom Patrol, Michael Lewis, Sir Ken Robinson, Cornish pasties? I’ll stop there. What a waste of time. Well, no, it was quite nice to revisit some of those names in all honesty, but trying to get to the reasons behind someone’s ‘talent’ for a particular ability is, perhaps, entertaining but ultimately absurd. Contemplating this is like the same kind of agony I feel when someone asks me what my fave film is or what my favourite book is. Maybe fun to compile such a list but it will only be put together from where you are in your head at the moment of being asked, right? Or how effective your memory happens to be on that day. Being a language teacher (and constantly looking for non-threatening ways to engage learners’ minds) I have had to refine and tweak such questions as these into (hopefully) something a little more personal and manageable like: “Give us three films which made you laugh; a film you always enjoy seeing again (and why); 2 films that made your skin crawl; some films that you originally disliked but grew to like/love (and why); two films that emotionally touched you, and so on.
How many times have I thought back about a list and realised that I’d missed out this that or the other and that there are simply too many to broil down to a finite few? By the way, I have absolutely nothing against lists – I use them every day – I am aware of how useful they can be for short term goals and the like, but not as a possibly stress-inducing put-me-on-the-spot type of activity, you know?
The pointlessness of such an impossibly incomplete list as the one above is exactly the point: there can never really be one thing behind the creation of something “graphic” – whether conceptual or tangible – but more an amalgamation, a culmination of factors (known and unknown) leading to a peak, a critical moment; an alignment of shapes and form that is an unstoppable although not completely unconscious impulse in me that has to be satiated through the deliberate (and often with my photography: fortuitous) act of making something visual – the production of anything visual.
Photography, for me, works in its immediacy and its alacrity: a fascinating, rapid process from its inception, the prediction and the envisioning of a scene or the unfolding of an idea to its physical or digital creation and consequently its reading forever (and inevitably) condemned to a future interpretation – all seemingly achieved in the blink of an eye, a blink of the mind. Perhaps Henri Cartier-Bresson hit the nail on the head when he likened taking a photograph to an immediate or instant drawing. I suppose we could class a photograph as a quick fix, a short cut when compared to drawing or painting. I must admit that, personally, I don’t draw half as much as I used to since I really got into photography although I still love a doodle. I feel like there are very different processes going on and that drawing or painting shouldn’t be compared to photography at all – I certainly feel different when I do one or the other. It seems to me that drawing, doodling, painting as well as writing all have that layered, methodical, reviewable, readjustable, and calm approach to their creation as opposed to the almost violent manner of capturing a photograph. I mean, just look at the language we use to talk about photography: take a photo, a snapshot, a photo shoot and to capture an image – so much faster (and violent) language than we originally used with the almost unimaginably slower chemical photography of over 160 years ago.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
The Games That He Plays 
Olympus E-M5MarkII, OLYMPUS M.12-40mm F2.8, ƒ/2.8, 28.0 mm, at 1/250, ISO was: 200;
Perplexingly, NOT a double exposure. A reflection: conscious and fortuitous alignment abound herein.

This picture came about quite by chance but appears to be incredibly structured and composed, in hindsight. I opened a door (which has huge glass panels) into a small foyer and noticed how the reflection on the door seemed to meld together with the view through the window just to the side of that door. By moving the door to compose this overlapping scene, I noticed how the palm tree’s trunk aligned wonderfully with the column in terms of girth or thickness so as to almost be a perfect match: the tree seems to come out of the column; serendipitous and incredibly satisfying to the insatiable need of my mind’s eye or whatever’s going on in there (as mentioned above). This was my focal point for this photo and once I’d “captured” it, the intensity of mind, the single-mindedness of obtaining it ebbed away. I thought nothing of it until I later looked at it again on a computer screen where I noticed a few more interesting things that I – at least consciously – hadn’t seen the first time around. This is, and has always been, a fundamental part of the selection process of photography – deciding what needs to be cropped out and focused on in so-called post-production editing phase – and, as with this shot, it can be an enlightening practice as new points of interest, new worlds reveal themselves to the photographer. I feel this editing aspect of photography is somewhat analogous to painting and drawing in the sense that it is a reflective process and can allow us to tamper with and alter what we are looking at. However, it still feels different to me.
Analysing it again, I started to see more examples of alignment: the way the horizon and distant landscape to the centre seem to link up with the green of the garden to the right; how the reflected railing seems to line up with the wall behind the column and the small structure in front of the garden as do the reflected bushes too.
On further scrutiny, I realised that there is a reflected car merging its side windows almost uncannily with the circular concrete structure to the bottom right of the photo. How had I not seen these things before? Maybe I had. Was this some kind of subconscious intervention aiding and abetting my compositional storytelling? Or is it only determinism? Could it really be just pure chance and happenstance?
As The Critical Drinker often asks: So many questions…