07 February 2009

univeral law and the disarray of a desk

I can't really clean my desk at the moment. The laws of the universe forbid it. Well, they make it very difficult. Matter can neither be created or destroyed, you see, whilst important paperwork can be created in vast, immeasurable quantities and yet... still cannot be destroyed. Temporarily lost? Yes. But only at the time, that singular moment, that it is needed most.

My desk sits in the corner of my room, to the left of the window. If it faced out the window I'd do nothing but stare. It's a hexagon. To the right lies a haphazard pile of manila envelopes filled with bank statements, car info, health documents, assorted 'important docs', receipts, demands, final demands and all manner of paper trail. More organised people would file these things. I move the envelopes behind the curtain and occasionally look frantically through them after a phone call from a withheld number.

The slide-out keyboard tray holds no keyboard. Submission chapters scrawled with red and black ink, redrafts and new additions to the final chapters of my novel, early-stage cover letters, more important documents and final demands and the first few sections of a Phd I'm editing sit there. They sit there because they are of immediate concern. If this were an office, they would be labeled 'urgent'.

There are no drawers in my desk, only shelves. One shelf carries several copies of submission chapters so poorly edited that I should just use them as scrap paper. I feel environmental guilt when I think about that shelf. It also holds various spare stationery items - envelopes and the like; Conqueror paper for important letters, printer paper for producing yet more poorly edited print-outs of submission chapters; it is the shelf of dead trees.

Dead laptops adorn the opposite shelf - three of them. Two iBooks and an old PowerBook, with a cylinder of blank CDs to keep them company. I really ought to eBay those sometime soon.

My printer lives on the bottom shelf, scattered spare ink cartridges strewn about and on top of it. I'm not printing much out at the moment, but I should be. Photos, writing, that sort of thing should be printed - pressed into reality from the scattered, fickle electrons on my MacBook.

Six corks lay in various places atop my desk, some from extraordinarily fine wines. I use most of them to prop my keyboard up, as its little feet broke some time ago and those are the kind of spares you never find anywhere. Some of the things here make more sense - my laptop speakers and laptop, my keyboard and mouse, mugs full of pens, staples, thumb tacks, paperclips, and a lollipop with a tequila worm in it. Four notebooks - two moleskin - and two sketchbooks. I've not sketched anything for years and I've only used two of the notebooks thus far. There's a photo of my nephews and assorted pens, a pair of Oakleys, an iPod and a few sets of headphones kicking about. I see another couple of important sheets of paper that I really ought to do something about as well. A quaich full of loose change sits in the corner, occasionally pilfered for the sake of a pint. Some novelty dice also linger amongst things, serving little purpose but to add to the sense of disarray.

And this is my desk reasonably tidy. Not clean or organised, but reasonably tidy.

To the left sits a pile of papers, an odds n' ends shoebox and more incredibly important documents as well as various cables needed to connect various things to my computer and my camera. My specs case is there too, and an unopened packet of drawing pencils. They might explain my unsketched books. I can see my counterpart Driver's License shoved between some untranscribed tasting notes. There's a copy of the lease for my flat underneath. More corks. A disposable camera that's been used but not developed for 5 years.

I cannot imagine what's on there. I'm not sure I want to.

Every time I tidy my desk it's that pile to the left that gets bigger. I tend to just chuck all of it over there.

The detritus on either side, the stuff underneath and the rubbish on top - every once in awhile it gets to me. I sit down to write and find it stunts me. Some people file things for the sake of organisation, for some piece of mind that comes with things being in their proper place, imposing order in a universe that's quite happy with its own order, thank you very much. I need to file things to avoid distraction. Organisation is a luxury, a bonus, but never really a necessity to me. The odd frantic search for a bit of paper doesn't bother me too much. But the odd pointless scrap of bureaucracy can spell disaster. An old tasting note peeking out from under the shoebox will pique my interest and that quickly leads to a wasted 5 minutes, hour, afternoon.

Matter cannot be created, but clutter and endless distractions seem to create, recreate, procreate, duplicate and accumulate without end. Perhaps it's time, finally, after three and a half months, to buy a filing cabinet.

Matter cannot be destroyed.

But it can be hidden.

05 February 2009

lazy flurry

The winds abate and the clouds rise and a gentle flurry of snow drifts with a lazy abandon, often not bothered with gravity's grip. The sea laps instead of rages. The air has that crisp taste to it that comes with stillness. It pinches the inside of your nostrils, but doesn't hurt. The snowflakes move so slowly you can follow one for a good few seconds. I watch from the window, looking up from my notebook and scrawling script.

I've been thinking about India quite a bit of late.

It was a bit more than six months ago now, though it seems closer. Sometimes much closer. That's not a bad thing, really. I'm still writing it up. I don't know why it's taken so long. It's a peculiar project, writing about India. I can't make that move from pen and paper to the laptop. I'm still scribbling in the Moleskin I bought for the trip - a last minute purchase in Terminal 3 at Heathrow (along with some plug adapters and a couple of pens). I've lost the pens. The plug adapters turned out to be the wrong ones (India has two different plug standards - sometimes more) - I only bought them because I worried adapters I bought earlier might be wrong. Both claimed to be standard in 'Parts of India' and both failed to stipulate which parts.

Anyway, I'm still writing about India. I took notes while I was there, but never really got round to updating the journal during the trip. The notes I tapped into my (then) new iPhone or wrote in block caps on journal pages, marked by asterisks to separate them from my attempt at travel narrative. I have trouble with tense on travel narrative - I slip from past to present often, losing track and often shrugging my shoulders and scribbling onwards. Pen and ink make regret pointless; going back is not an option. It's something I can fix when I type it up, I tell myself.

And I tell myself to keep writing, keep remembering. That's why I cannot abandon my India notebook for the clatter of the keyboard. Something about the pen on paper, something about that curious scratching, keeps my memory sharp, keeps the detail from being lost. The banks of the Gomti in Lucknow, the stench of the Ganges, my constant sense of thrilled unease and total displacement all return as the pen pours.

My tense slips into the past. I'm wary of some of my memories, wondering idly if my mind's eye created a touch of filler for the gaps, writing only the details I'm sure of, leaving the odd question mark. Self-doubt in recollection isn't so uncommon - it gets worse as time goes on, as those brilliant days in July fall further back. Insight's worrisome. Often it's hindsight, something garnered on further reflection as the tense continues to slip. Most of my epiphanies on the trip were simple and probably came to many a traveller before me, if not all of them.

So I keep scribbling. I'm in Lucknow at the moment, touring a school along the banks of the river Gomti. The building amazes me. It seems of no continent: simply a testament to grandeur. It was to be a residence, apparently, but the owner died before completion and willed it to be turned into a school. Bamboo scaffolding adorns one of the wings in some attempt at restoration. There's a permeating damp from the river and the threatening, omnipresent monsoon. The morning began in Delhi and now I'm at the La Martiniere. After that we'll head to the famous Residency, landmark to the Mutiny of 1857. The tour guide drones on and does his best to bore the shit out of me. It's only the second day of the trip and there's so much to do.

I breathe deep and look up from the notebook.

I'm sitting at my table in the flat. It's darker out, but the odd flake drifts by, catching the light. It swirls and twirls and bounces about before disappearing on its course. The flat's empty and my tea's cold. It's not masala chai. I lose India and for a moment all the things of now come back to me and my breath shortens.

Another cup of tea and a glance down at the blue ink scrawled between the thin brown lines. I reread my last page or two.

I've lost track of tense again.

04 February 2009


Originally uploaded by rwhbray

Just a wee shot of St Andrews pier in the recent gales. I'm working on a new post as well.

02 February 2009

debates and morning weather updates

There is a small lump of melting snow lying in the bottom right corner of my window. Flurries fly every now and again, but as far as I can tell, that's the only snow that's settled. And it doesn't seem to be settling for long. I find it an outrage that London gets snow and St Andrews, perched on a rock jutting out into the North Sea, 400 miles to the north, gets fuck all.

Ah... nevermind. Since starting the last paragraph a blizzard has appeared, belting hail and snow against my window with an assaulting, though pleasing, rattle. Already the beach is turning white. In the space of 3 minutes. Even the seagulls look a mite unhappy.

There was a point to this post. I was pondering my morning run in the face of yet another north eastern wind. I wake up and every morning the waves loom larger. The howls, whispers and wails from out my window shriek louder.

*weather update* The sun is now trying to break through, the snow/hail has stopped and already the beach is reverting to its desaturated winter tan. It's been about 6 minutes since the blizzard conditions.

The blizzard's started again.

It's mostly hail now. But as soon as I type that, to spite me, it slips back to snow, and the rattle of falling ice is replaced by the hush that snow makes as it falls.

The sun's out, not a flake in the air.

A mist hangs over the beach, rising lazily towards the sun that lifts it. It's barely above freezing and there's a gale blowing. I can't decide if the weather's reached some level of stability, enough for me to go for my run. The sun hides again and the flakes start to fall and I value the comfort of my flat. No one would blame me if I don't go. I've no whip-cracking trainer, no drill sergeant there to demean me should I choose comfort and warmth.

The wind sounds louder than it did 5 minutes ago. And I still haven't decided whether I'm running or not.

01 February 2009

laughing and hovering

The world looked cold today. A monochrome sketch of a pale, glowering sky met by a slate, ravaged sea. All things de-saturated, the frigid air and bitter wind sucked the colour out of everything. The gulls gave smug looks as they hovered on and with the wind, floating without effort and laughing. Gulls seem to feel no cold. They fly and hover because they can. They spread their wings and the air takes them. They mock the people beneath as they huddle, scrunched against the gale, unable and unwilling to let it carry them.

To add insult to injury, sometimes they shit upon those huddled masses.

I'm surprised it doesn't freeze on the way down. Imagine that: death by frozen seagull shit. You don't get much more ignominious than that.

I write about the weather while I think about all manner of other things. It's always convenient when the elements match the tumult in my head. It gives the illusion of sympathy in nature. If it had been sunny and harmonious today, I may have been grumpier and certainly more resentful. As it was, I found a certain amount of solace in seeing the maelstrom of my thoughts and feelings mirrored by the climatic antics outside.

I could utter all manner of platitudes and metaphors about what ails my head and heart at the moment. It would do me little good. They are not problems unique to me, nor have they been inflicted on me by some nefarious malefactor. For the most part, they're the realities of life, in many cases self-inflicted. Love, loss, passion, purpose and that desperate longing for a pause button.

I looked and I watched the breakers crash, trying to see some manner of symmetry in the waves. It was clear, vivid; I found clarity, if not symmetry.

What I didn't find was answers. More and more I find answers a pointless pursuit, so in that sense it was a bit of a relief. People looking for answers frequently forget the questions. I'll take clarity and good questions over answers any day, even a cold one with a bitter wind-chill, raging seas and gloating gulls.