28 April 2009

Three attempts at a literary exercise

At my fortnightly writers workshop, we are meant to read out a literary exercise each meeting. This is, in the words of our chairman, "to keep us honest." I am often late and don't get to read out my exercise. But that doesn't mean I haven't done one! Here is last night's would-have-been exercise. (Note: they are adapted journal excerpts.)

1. Puddle

Feel like today got off to a good start, then brain was sucked out of ear during hours spent in office. I could feel it going, slowly, bit by bit; it pooled out onto the top of my desk, drip by drip, and made a puddle. It made a big soggy brain-pink puddle, and the puddle slooched off the side of the desk until it hung there, like one of the clocks in that Dali painting. You know the one.
I'm not saying that no one should ever work in an office, or that its inherently bad. All I'm saying at the moment is that it's draining me of will to live.

2. Quilt

So: I dared myself to sit at my desk and type. Set the timer for 13 minutes. I ran over, which felt nice, went to 20 minutes, and now of course am late, missing buses everywhere, it is the school holidays, and I don't have my bike because I left it at work when the weather turned bad. I wrote 229 words and thought, as I walked down rue du Bailli, that these 229 words don't have to be anything more than they are. They don't have to be perfect. They don't have to be pristine. They don't have to be publishable. They just have to sit on the page and be.

These 229, they feel like a block, like a building block, or a patch. I'm going to concentrate on making a bunch of patches, and when there are enough of them I will sew them all together. I'm not going to make any daft quilt analogies, but it is true that I have always admired quilts. I once tried to make one: I thought it would be easy but even finding the right fabric was hard, I guess because I grew up with quilts and they were already soft and worn, but fabric doesn't start off that way. That was disappointing. I did eventually find some suitable material, it still wasn't the right kind and when I started to cut the squares, the fabric started to unravel and it was hard to cut the squares straight. The entire process seemed to confirm everything I knew about myself and sewing, even though I really wanted to do it and I could see the result in my mind's eye: but I was crap at sewing and have no patience for it. I still am crap at sewing and have no patience for it.

One day perhaps, one day -- when I have a pair of green wellies and a dog and a goat, when I live in the country near an estuary -- perhaps I will try again.

3. Hotel

Now I'm in bed, and made a cup of tea as the minibar wine is outrageously expensive. It is very quiet. I can't say that I have warmed to the charms of Cologne. Frankly I can't see anything so charming. Today I talked with the man who came to turn down our beds. The girls and I were lounging about and he knocked on the door so I let him in to do it. He was asking where we were from and all that and we gave our usual schizophrenic answer, about being from Belgium but really from the US and etc etc. Well, he was from Afghanistan, 11 years ago. Said that he lost 2 brothers and his family said "that's it then." They got out. They had spent a lot, his family, on his education, but when his brothers were killed they got the hell out. Now they're scattered all over Europe and one sister in the US. Only his mother and oldest brother are still at home. I forgot what he said he studied, all I remember is the expense... And something about languages, being close to India. And now here he is, a middle-aged man, turning down beds in a big hotel and maybe lucky to be able to do it. It doesn't seem right somehow. I wish I'd asked him what he'd studied.

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