This moment is broken,
Just blank it out
Or it will hurt you;
You don’t need it now.
Let it tip over sideways,
Let the edges fray;
Into another shape.
But you won’t remember
Or see me at all,
When this memory returns back
And you try to recall;
And if I arrive here,
Will you come to see me?
Or will you drown your function
Within a timeless sea?
You can’t say why it pains you
Or why you cry at words
Or why a familiar moment
Makes everything hurt.
The train seats are eighties brown etched with egg-yolk yellow. It’s rude to rest your feet on them, but the carriage is empty so you do it anyway. Only one earphone works, the sun is burning your left side and, christ, there’s nowhere to throw your empty drink can.
A blur of trees. Trainlines always seem to look into the worst gardens the country has to offer. Plastic slides bask pale in the summer heat whilst branches sway like arms in a crowd. We move, with purpose, until the greenery dirties with concrete greys.
The carriage fills, someone gives you a look and you move your legs. How rude. This is society and we all need to work together to keep everything from changing. Embrace the stasis. Embrace the eticate and expectation please, then we’ll get all get along just fine. The same person gets off the train at the next stop. A waste of a seat. Your legs return to rest upon the seat. How wonderful is it to rebel in the littlest of ways. I see you smiling.
Conversations are happening around you. All you need to do is stop thinking and listen. Suddenly, you are a part of someone’s dialogue: “Sharon never listens. She keeps going back to him.” Poor Sharon, people are talking about you and do not think you listen to them. Sharon, they are assuming that you disobeying them is you not listening. You strangely begin to defend Sharon, the absent party. Your thoughts move to a position of empathy. Sharon does understand and listen, but she still has a choice, regardless of what those around her think.
“Her choices are illogical.” The other person in the conversation says. How unfair. Choices are rarely ever illogical. There is always a logic to a decision. This, however, does not mean that every decision is a good decision. Sharon may be coerced into staying with whoever it is they are referring to. She may just love him more than he hurts or disappoints or annoys her. Or children. There could be a multitude of complex systems influencing Sharon and her decisions. Sharon weighs up her finances, hears what everyone has to say about her life, imagines her future, considers what change would look like then she decides on who she wants to be and who she wants to be with. Then she decides. It turns out Sharon decided to be with him and be that person that people talk about. She decided to be everyone else’s business when deciding her own. Don’t listen to them, Sharon, even though you probably did.
The mind is a house. Home to all the parts of your identity. A maze of corridors leading to rooms which can be opened and closed throughout the day. Thoughts and experiences are archived, shut away and revisited.
A cameo of characters roam the halls and once seen they take your hand and drag you to a room attached to their being. This character will place your hand onto the door handle and turn it for you. The lock will crack and you will fall into a world which hangs from the heels of this person. A memory of how you met this person, perhaps? A memory from whence you last saw them? Or perhaps a completely estranged experience which has tenuously tied itself around the two of you. Bill and I had such fun before he died. He reminded me of tractors. Though I had never seen him on a farm before. Or talk about anything of the sort for that matter. Then a tractor will appear, scraping at the textured wallpapered walls of your mind as it forces itself across the biege patterned carpet your father spent a whole weekend laying in the first house you lived in.
The tractor will slowly chug off past you and out of sight to reveal a new corridor and a tall, authoritive figure standing in the shadows. His shape is etched out from the darkness by a dim golden light. It is a flame. The small fire lives at his feet, its movement shifts the golden edges of this man’s silhouette into another shape. A shape of a woman. The fire burns brighter and the woman is now another door. You approach and reach out. This door does not open. Instead the handle burns your palms. After a flurry of cursewords, the blood fades from your hands and, after your eyes return to yourself, the door is no longer there. A memory for another day.
You search the house for this room, the room of the woman of fire, to try and discover that which remains unknown to yourself. The memories your mind has chosen for you to not revisit. The rooms in your mind which remain unopened and locked, hiding those moments you chose to forget.
Why don’t I have a name? People call me Jonathan, but it does not stick. I am not a Jon. Someone called me Stephen once. She must have been mistaken – stupid bitch. Stephen is a friend and we talk so much that his life has rolled over into mine. Why am I so tied up in other people to not know where my identity begins? Never be too social; you’ll lose yourself. Friends help, yes, but if you float along on someone else’s tide for too long you will lose the lands from which you came.
My sister’s friend – I always forget her name – believed that I looked like a Jake. What does that even mean? She could not tell me specifically, although she went on to suggest I resembled one of her friends called Jack. I know this Jack she was referring to and, trust me, we look nothing alike – he lacks the beard.
My parents have repeatedly told me that they had firmly decided to name me Charlie. Charlie is not my name though. I have queried this and they have said I did not come across as a Charlie once they saw me. This confused me to no end. How could I be a Charlie in the womb and then, as soon as I hit the air, suddenly become someone else? Was I someone else? If so, that would suggest that identity is intrinsically linked to a person’s name. That cannot be. If I did not have a name would I simply cease to exist? Surely not. Names, they must have some other value then. An external value, perhaps, to other people. I am Jonathan, supposedly, because people recognise me as Jonathan and as no-one other than Jonathan – except that girl who called me Stephen. What if others began to call me Stephen? Would I change at all? Would I become a Stephen? Talk and act like a Stephen? How does a Stephen talk? Or act for that matter. Would I change because my identity was now intrinsically altered or would I change through a subconscious awareness of the social expectation to be a different person, to act like a Stephen?
Why do I question myself so? Fuck me, that’s something a William would say. A name soaked in such poetic and philosophical turbulence that it would suit me perfectly – even if it was just for pure irony. William is such a rich name. It is tied to so many great and influential men. This makes me wonder if I would even deserve to possess such a name. Or even want to possess a name of great value. Would I walk an inch tall against the other Williams before me? It would be too much for me to live in the shadows or be crushed by the rock of expectation to do great things, to change the world. Fuck that. Fuck starting off life with a handicap, chasing a standard set by history. Usurped from birth; how fucking cruel. Christ, now I have snowballed onto the idea that a name could stand tall enough to cast monstrous shadows over a person’s entire life. No-one really cares this much about the weight of a name do they? Evidently, I do.
Lay a particular set of letters in a particular order and, for each person, there will be a face. Order, that’s all it is. We need to organise people. We need to keep track of those we love, those we hate and those whom we chose to forget. A woman told me that she hated the name Samuel because it reminded her of an ex-boyfriend. Each time she heard that name the past clung to it like a ghost. She even stopped dating a person who she had grown fond of because he shared the same name. She told me that their faces seemed to over-lap in a way that he – the ex – would always break through and haunt her. I have seen both men. They bear no resemblance and I cannot fathom her avoidance of the name Samuel, but I guess I wasn’t present during the moments of her past where that name soaked up so much blood.
That must be it then. Words are saturated with the past. Names can summon the ghosts from a person’s memories and haunt them. But this cannot be limited to names. All words possess this power of staggering and folding linear time in a way that the past pushes through the present.
For me, it is the sunset that summons the past.
I remember a fire that used to burn on the horizon. Its flames could be seen day in, day out: forked tongues licking the underside of pinkish clouds. It was a magnificent Sun that shone like a smile. The blues of the sky spread themselves out in shades of arctic water every day. I would stare out towards that gold-pink line, ghostless, with her at the end of each day. The end of things was so beautiful.
The sunset now sparks a fleeting electric green as the sun sinks and, although it is only visible for no longer than half a second, this green washes the pinks, blues and gold from the sky. Green, a colour soaked in envy. Envy: an emotion of irregular desire. The desire of comparison. Why do I not have the strength of others to sit still and become a reliable fixture? Why couldn’t I stop the shaking? Surely, I was more shatterproof than this? You let her drift off like an abandoned ship. ‘Hang your head, son. You let yourself down. You’re a captain, you should’ve gone down with that ship.’ Thrown from paradise, choking on that last bite. Together, you had a name, an identity. Separate you stand, ‘Jonathan’, staring out at the empty sky, ghosts burning at your side.
Some may disagree, but I feel that the best writing takes place on the edge of a moment. One word breathes life into the next; pushing the piece along, through each mental blip until the words grow into an organic mess of an idea. This idea may be poorly structured, lacking concision or even incoherent, but at least this idea now exists.
Go with the flow
Whenever I write, whether academic or creative, it helps to avoid the temptation of stopping and criticising my work until I have something substantial written. Many times I have stared at a blank screen after writing a word or two and rejected what was in front of me for not being immediately perfect. Deleting content before allowing it to take shape will leave the writer with nothing to show for hours of frustration. This is not at all productive. What is often referred to as ‘writer’s block’ is a case of the writer trying to produce their final product too quickly. Trying to find the perfect combination of words before they hit the paper will overload the mind, make the writer over-think and become lost in the intangible things darting around their head. In order to combat this, you should pursue each idea that comes to you (regardless of how ridiculous or irrelevant it seems), let it materialise into something that can branch into the words, sentences or paragraphs you need. In order to create, the writer must be open to allowing his or her mind to explore an idea and see where it takes them. Then it is important to get these ideas down on paper without judgement or hesitation. Not only will this add to the momentum of your writing, it will help clear your mind and allow you to map out your ideas in a coherent order. Do not over-complicate the creative process. Editing should be carried out on the page, not in the mind. As you continue to create content, your mind should be an uncensored space.
Planning or Procrastination?
In my honest opinion, the planning process can easily transition into procrastination. I am not dispelling the importance of planning your work; I am merely drawing light upon the potential hindrance that over-planning can be for the momentum of writing. The planning stage of any written piece provides the writer with the opportunity to create a skeletal structure to hang the meat of their words from. The writer now knows what the basis of the idea is, they know the structure and direction of the story or argument; the writer is now in a position of complete control over their work. Having their work simplified into brief notes leaves the writer content with their efforts thus far. This feeling of contentment is what makes planning potentially unconstructive. As soon as you begin to feel comfortable with your plan, move on. It is far too easy to dwell in the planning process due to the illusion of control it gives you over your work.
Take the leap
The act of turning notes into sentences and then into paragraphs is a truly daunting step. The writer could become lost in sentences that stretch for miles and completely lose sight of the idea captured in the plan. A way of overcoming this leap from safety is to stop thinking that all your planning needs to occur before you get stuck into your work. Planning can and should occur throughout the writing of a text, not merely act as a preliminary stage.
Expanding upon your notes can be extremely difficult task to gain momentum with, especially if you attempt to tackle each point/idea in a linear fashion. If you are writing an argument, you should not feel compelled to focus on the development of your introduction first. Similarly with a story, the writer should not feel that he or she cannot start expanding upon the ending before the story’s beginning. Choose a part of you plan which you feel most prepared and comfortable writing and get the ball rolling from there. Sometimes it can even be helpful to procrastinate and write something completely unrelated just to get your mind in the mood for creating.
Do not write how you read
It is important to understand that the reading of and the writing of a written piece are two completely separate processes. Reading is generally a rigid and linear process, whereas writing is not. It is more a process of conception, murder and reincarnation. The creative process is writing and editing, writing and revisiting; and writing and deleting. To progress with a piece of text, the writer needs to travel in loop-de-loops, going forward, around and back again. Even if the writer finishes their text only to revisit the start and try again, the direction is always onward, always towards the finished product. As soon as the writer becomes comfortable at a particular stage of the writing process they should push onward, leave it behind and change to something fresh. The change is necessary to keep the onward momentous thrust ever-present within the work. If your mind runs out of ways to refresh your writing, it is time to take a break and return to it after doing something other than writing.
Maintaining movement, change and momentum is essentially the best way to overcome writer’s block. Build up momentum in your writing through regular change and then follow this momentum wherever it leads you. Change is movement and movement is progression. If you keep movement flowing throughout the creative process you allow ideas to grow and you will have more content to choose from when editing your final draft. It is better to produce content that is of poor quality than produce nothing at all.
If you ever begin to feel special or unique, spend a day or two job-hunting for your dream job and you’ll soon return back to your normal and disposable self.
Modern life is insane. It jitters in an incomprehensible half-talk, spitting away sounds without meanings. We are walking, with open ears, down a busy street of faceless figures. We maze through the shadows and brush past shoulders. Brief is the breathe and it hits us in a ghost-like, fleeting contact.
“Jeremy, we’re going to be late. Have you got your -” “-bannanas! A bunch of them here for you, my lady, for the special price of-” “-salvation; he died to save us all from-” “-getting a loan out in order to pay for the boat he can’t afford. I told Tony to invest the ten grand into variable ISA accounts to maximise the interest he could receive, but no, he buys a fucking boat and now he’s complaining about the-” “-bad bacteria that you can’t see. Well, our product kills 99.99999999% of bad bacteria to ensure that good bacteria-” “-does not exist. How can He? If God was real, we would know, we would have a-” “-brand new car with the most innovative technology to improve your driving experience. Imagine gliding quietly through-” “-life. He was a man loved by many. George Turner will be greatly missed. He was a loving father, an attentive brother and a-” “-fuckin’ cunt! Say that again to mah face you spineless prick! How can you sleep with her and think that I won’t beat the livin’ shit outta” “-the prime minister held emergency talks today with representatives from both Ukraine and Russia. An outcome has yet to be established; however, what is clear is that-” “everyone is going to die when they see you in that dress, Jackie. You look fantastic. No-one will be able to tell that you’re-” “-an ancient relic, dating back to 10 AD, will be shown on exhibit in the local museum next to-” “-a 26 year old man who was found dead late yesterday evening outside the cemetery in-” “her knickers. That’s all I want. None of this official relationship bullshit. Sex, that’s what it’s about and what it will always be about.”
The city talks to itself. Today is a rush of syllables carelessly strewn among a fever of feet which all march towards money. It is 8.30am and we can only assume the majority of the people around us are on their way to work. Suits, umbrellas and ties. Ludicrously high heels dance around puddles which pulse to the constant battery from heavy lines of rain.
Our ears prick to the emerging sound of a confident stride. It breaks through the hiss of scraping soles with an audible authority. A pathway opens up, as the mass of bodies divides, for a tall figure with sharp shoulders who moves swiftly on through. The figure disappears from view as quickly as it appeared to us. The sound of its confident footsteps gradually fading behind the sounds of talking faces. We try to follow these footsteps, but are swept away in the current of bodies that push past us. The pavements thrive like a living thing; it is a mess of limbs with a unitary drive. We are hit by a barrage of insults as we try to work our way out from the crowd. Life feels too quick for us; it is a panic of clashing moments which seem to push us further into the crowd of people. We choose to walk with the crowd, to follow the current to see if it leads us to an escape.
We move with the other suits and end up at a train station. The platform is full of men and women stood in silence, staring at an overhead matrix screen. Breathes are held and, once the matrix reads: ‘CANCELLED’, those around us release into a synchronized groan. Our head turns to the exit in hope of an alternative route and, as we march onward, our ears rest on the fragmented conversations of our fellow commuters.
“You have got to be joking! Out of all the days they choose to cancel my train it has-” “-nothing to do with me, sir, I’m merely a ticket officer. If you wish to make a formal complaint or have your ticket compensated you’ll have to-” “fuck me. That’s the third time this week. Tom, I’m gonna have to call you back. I need to find another way to get-” “-no fucking signal. One bar everywhere I go. Perfect. Now there’s no way for me to-” “form an orderly line, so that we can empty-” “-your purse fell from your bag. You should be more careful. There are plenty of pickpockets at train stations these days.”
The gentleman’s words dissipate like smoke. Mouths become silent and eyes follow the backs of other commuters. No-one knows where they are going, only that they have to leave. The crowd reaches the exit of the station and disperses into the streets of the city like the seedpods of a dandelion when blown by the wind. Feet dart into the sunlight in a tense panic. Suits strewn themselves in a number of directions; all searching for a way to get to their destination.
The rain has ceased and the clouds have divided to reveal the warm glow of the sun. Loose coils of steam release from the drying asphalt and fade into a semi-existent state. The air is warm, heavy and wet. The rain hangs around our face like a ghost. Its history hugs our skin and is almost suffocating. We survey the scene to see ringlets of hair appear and work shirts drying into a two-tone pattern due to the rain. The crowd appear wild around the edges. Stray hair and ceased jackets surround us.
Our feet move before we think and soon we are in another part of town. We are closer to our destination. We aren’t late. We are, in fact, right on time and decide to stop in a small coffee shop. A medium latte with two sugars. We order the same thing regardless of the cafe. The tongue is trained and does not wish for change, so we do not pursue it.
The page turned, the paper made a crisp hiss and Alex gently raised his coffee to his mouth. He had been visiting this cafe religiously for weeks. He ordered the same food and read the same book. It was a pocket of peace where he could dive into another story and sink away from the buzz of the world.
Summer had finally arrived and with it came the incessant screech of children and empty chatter of their parents. Always talking about the weather and people Alex had never met. These people had begun to work their way into the pocket of peace and had attached themselves to Alex’s existence.The conversations of those around him would drag Alex from the forest of thought he had planted for himself. He found himself plunging in and out of the lives of others, hearing half-talk everywhere. Every lunch was now a story of broken sentences: “Did you hear-“”-we never want-“”-to be honest to with you”.
And who the fuck was Karen? The couple next to Alex seemed pretty certain that she was a ‘bitch who only cares about herself’. That’s not nice. He was sure that Karen was a lovely girl, just one of those people who make wrong decisions every so often.
Alex had given up trying to read his book. He had been stuck on the same page for the last few weeks. The last sentence he could remember reading was: ‘the dead were silent and polite, I have never had a fight with a dead person’. The lack of progression in Alex’s reading of this book meant that he could not remember anything that had happened before in the story. The entire book became associated with this sentence. These words were an artefact of the whole story and were to Alex the threshold between an old peace and the now ever-present shower of intrusive noises and names with no faces.
Alex’s coffee had grown cold and the delicate decorative heart design on the froth had warped into a ugly shape of dirty shades of cream. Two pound fifty is a small price for sociability. People were always saying that he needed to talk more, to get out more and be seen. He felt like a slut being seen. Alex pulled his collar towards his neck at the thought of others seeing into him. Those around him had already interjected themselves into his life and now they are seeing him? Alex felt sick at the idea that those around him had their own image of him. They could see him and in this act of seeing him they were stealing a version of his self that he could never regain.
An old man coughed and looked up at Alex. Their eyes caught momentarily before the old man left. Gone forever. A photograph of Alex was now installed in those ancient eyes, a photograph that he would never see. How many versions of him were there? Alex dizzied in the idea that for every one fleeting moment of contact with another being there is a reproduction of Alex; Alex is numerous as a social being. But did these versions of him even belong to himself? If they were unobtainable and purely the possession of the other person, surely he could exist beyond himself? Surely he was only a part in the totality of Alex? Was Alex as a whole a collage of these photographs – snapshots – that others took of him when they interpreted him? He cupped his face in his hands and scrunched up his fringe between his fingers.
“Too much thinking for my lunch break” Alex chuckled slightly to himself, trying to swim to the surface of his mind. He grabbed some coins of multiple values, shapes and sizes from his pocket; a collection of shining faces. He placed the small tip on the table, collected his unread book and made his way to the exit.
A waitress watched, from the far corner of the cafe, a man rise from his table, collect his unread book and make his way to the exit. The man had been quiet and rather polite. He had not touched his coffee. He seemed distant whenever he had visited the cafe. She did not know his name, but she thought he looked like a Michael, or perhaps a Mark . He stood for a moment at the cafe door before he plunged into the sunlight. Gone. Gone forever.
The waitress cleared what used to be his table and picked up a collection of shining faces. It was only a small tip, but she did not mind. She smiled as she dropped the coins into her purse and zipped it shut. Safe, secure and now all hers.