Wednesday, 26 April 2017

I'm in your head

     This is a truth I hold dear. Some people cannot write. In the same way that I cannot draw, some people cannot write. We can all have a game stab at it, throwing words out there into the world, but the truth remains: some people cannot write. Or rather, some people do not understand how writing works.

     When you read something – anything – whether it’s a book, an article or even just an email, the writer is inside your head as you absorb those words. Yes, I am inside your head right now. Hello! Bit dark in here, isn’t it? You are reading my words, and my written voice is inside your head, right here, right now. If you’ve unavoidably  failed to escape me in real life, then you might even be reading this imagining me actually speaking (for those of you who have been spared, my voice is actually quite small, bit of a Norwich accent, prone to breaking into a hooting laugh that’s as big as The Mane). I am writing these words to you, reader, whoever and wherever you are, distracting you from things you should really be paying more attention to. Sorry, I won’t keep you too long.

     I was hoping to get away with not writing this next bit, but I’m lazy and can’t think of a way round it. People, some people, tell me that I’m a good writer. And I’m not being a faux modest twat when I say that I don’t think that I am. Because to me there’s no magical process that takes place. I don’t struggle and slave over this stuff. If I say ‘I’ve written something, I’ll edit it later’ what I actually mean is that it’s all written in a notebook already, or that it’s there, fully formed in my head, I just need to be poked into actually typing it. I don’t have an angsty tortured relationship with The Muse, I don’t have a writing routine (other than really liking to write in a pub), I don’t spend hours writhing in agony waiting for inspiration to strike, and I very definitely don’t have a writing style. I just write the way I think.

     Yeah. It is honestly that simple. It doesn’t matter what I feel like writing about, or what thought has been bothering me, or what mood I’m in. I don’t rehearse it. I know I’m lucky in that I pretty much only have to write for me, I don’t have to consider an audience or use jargon or seek to flatter anyone. I’m not even writing for self-promotion, just for myself, just to verbalise whatever occurs to me. And sometimes it’s shit, to be honest. Sometimes it’s ok. Occasionally it touches a nerve with people and I get told I’m a Good Writer. Am I bollocks. I’m just honest.

     And whilst I’ve got you here, I’m going to be even more furtherly honest, and admit that I can be a bit of a wanker about writing and saying that I have to write and that I feel like me when I write and I’m a nightmare to deal with when I don’t. The difference in me since I was gifted my beloved desk is noticeable enough to be remarked upon. Also, it does rather feel like the pressure cooker has blown as a result, so I probably will do a lot of navel-gazing selfindulgent tosser blogposts … because I can, now. And before you sneer and say I’m no better than the shit writers I frequently rail against and that this type of writing is essentially mental wanking with my pen as a dildo…. Mate, you don’t have to read this. No one’s forcing you to. Just close the tab. Kthanksbye.

     One the biggest frustrations I have are pieces that…. Just sort of… well. Something that really annoys me is… I’m not sure. What do you think?

     Yes, people who don’t have the courage of their convictions. Who have an idea, but don’t let it blossom. Who have a voice, but deliberately stifle it, for fear of giving offence, or only appealing to a few people, so everything's a bit watery, or even more annoyingly, not fully fleshed out. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again – no one is ever going to achieve universal popularity. Not even Michael Palin. So why seek it? If you care enough to write about something, then care enough to deliver your message in full. I’m going to end this paragraph now before I add a picture of a snowflake falling over a rainbow at sunrise whilst a unicorn races past a shower of glitter confetti with comic sans lettering urging you to ‘Be Yourself. There Is No One Else You Can Be.’

     Which sort of leads up to the point I was supposed to be making when I first started hammering this out. Writing only works when it’s honest and direct and written without a filter. I’ve spent far too much time in recent months reading pieces by Other People that leave me cold, unmoved, and frankly really rather bored. Because they are written always with an eye on who’s going to be reading, who do I want to see this, who do I want to impress? So the words fall down because they’re too carefully picked, or they’re not really what the writer was thinking, or they’re just strung together in a way that is too artificial.

     There is no magic guide to writing. None. All there is is the voice inside your head that decides what you think and feel, your inner narrator. And when you read the writing of others, you are giving them headspace. And when I write, when I can actually be arsed to share what I’ve written* then I am, briefly, inside your head, providing the voiceover. That is all that writing is. A voice inside your head.

*to prove my point, I wrote this about six months ago, and only found it again today, having forgotten all about it. This happens quite a lot.

Monday, 24 April 2017

Speech Marks


I say I’m a ‘bit obsessed with graffiti’. I may be slightly underselling my feelings there. I’m more than a bit obsessed. I am consumed by it. It started, a these things do innocently enough, with a bit of light reading and the odd like and retweet. I liked it, but there were other ore pressing matters at the time. Such as a blog about how my face melted in a sauna in edgefield once.

     As we know, my feelings changed. Quite quickly. Not overnight, but overday, to be honest. Something shifted, clicked into place and I got graffiti. It made sense to me. I felt as though I’d become fluent in a new mother tongue. I hadn’t, as I now cringingly realise. With the zealous passion of a neophyte, I made pronouncements, went off on half-cocked tangents and made probably more mistakes than things I got right. They’re all out there somewhere still, testament to my early excitement. I could go out and cover over those errors and embarrassments with the handy ‘delete?’ button, but I think we usually learn better from our mistakes, so have something of distrust for those who maintain a fa├žade of faultless, blameless perfection. To err is human, to deny that is be dead behind the eyes. It’s instructive too, to go back and see the younger me, on the right track, trying out this new language, even if my lack of knowledge meant that sometimes my hovercraft was full of eels.

     But what graffiti meant to me then, and always will, is communication. It’s the impulse that causes someone to create it, whether that’s medieval daisywheel, a 17th century memorial, or a tag on an underpass. All graffiti is created with the intention of being seen. That is the entire point of it. If the person making their mark didn’t intend for it to be seen by others, they wouldn’t do it in the first place, it would remain only a thought, a wish, a prayer even. I’m always wary of over interpreting things (which isn’t to say I don’t overthink EVERYTHING), but even the smallest, most plain and mundane graffito was created with feeling, by someone. For someone specifically? Perhaps. Possibly. Potentially. But always for an intended audience, whether as one individual to another or just as a message wider, unknowing and maybe uncaring world.

     The thing to remember though is that attitudes change. The word ‘graffiti’ wasn’t even coined until 1851, which rather suggests that before then it wasn’t needed. But it certainly existed before then – because the word came into being to describe the inscriptions that were being found on the walls of the newly discovered Pompeii. But until that point, graffiti had been considered as unremarkable as to almost never be remarked upon. And yet it was there, seen, registering with an audience, whether they were the direct targets or not, for as long as humans have been able to write and draw, they have left their ideas behind on the walls. We celebrate the historic graffiti, painstakingly record it, pin the butterfly to the board… but how much do we really think about those who created it and what they are still trying to tell us now? There is a story behind every graffito, it’s never mindless doodling or just a coincidence that it happens to be there.

     Graffiti today is considered unwelcome and illicit, something destructive and bad. That's precisely why artists create it in public spaces, people who feel sidelined, who feel out of kilter and don't feel that they have any other outlet to express their feelings. Whether they do it to claim  space for themselves, or to express their contempt for other people, whether they do it to be provocative, I can't claim to know. But their intention is to be seen, whatever the motivation. It's done to be provocative - either to create moral indignation at the fact that it exists, or a message to make the audience think. Creating it in any space is seen as naughty, subversive, and antisocial. But could anything be more personal, more touching, more human than the need to communicate with others? To leave a speech mark without words in a language everyone can read, but few seem able to understand?

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Head desk

  I’ve always had a desk. Always. From the rickety little wooden toy school desk with lift up lid & fake inkwell, to the vast mahogany expanse of my teenage homework years of paper pile ups, discarded ink cartridges, and abandoned glasses of Ribena, the boardroom table of my first years in employment,  which dominated my office to the extent that no other furniture would bloody fit in the room, on to the flat pack laminated cheapy naffness of my 20s & early 30s that may also have been used as a babychange station for The Girl at times, and then finally, a much beloved bureau belonging to my parents that sat in the corner of the living room in my last home.

     Now, when I remember that desk, I feel guilty for not appreciating it more. It was a beautiful thing to look upon, golden walnut wood and black leather, with space for my laptop, notebook and a glass of wine cup of coffee. It had useful little shelves at the back to put photos and notes and special sentimental items (also, handy for The Blondies to stuff sweet wrappers and Chupa Chup sticks and bits of paper and all other sorts of fluff and crap I’d discover lurking on  the rare occasions that I deigned to flap some polish around). I did all sorts of things from that desk. My first real attempts at writing. My first tweet. Sitting at that desk, I made friends, had arguments, discovered things I’d never known, I opened up my world to a new perspective and understanding. I sent happy emails, sad ones, angry ones, silly ones. I saved photos and paid bills, I organised things, I changed the course of my life irrecoverably on so many occasions, sitting quietly at that desk in the corner over the space of four years. And I never really considered the desk at all. It was just there, being a handy piece of furniture that was useful in every area of my life.

     But it wasn’t mine. So when I moved, it did not. And in the general complete pigfuck that was the process of moving house, I had to jettison several items that could easily have been pressed into service as a flat surface on which to write (moving was a complete disaster. Maisie’s slightly quirky in that the front door is upstairs, meaning that all of the furniture for living room had to be taken down the very tight and winding spiral staircase. Or not, as it transpired, because hardly any of it would fit. Seriously, I lost all of my bookshelves, my beloved Indian dresser - the first piece of furniture I ever bought – my gorgeous six foot pine antique dining table… and then the crowning glory of not getting the sofabed down the staircase to the living room, which is why it got dumped in my bedroom instead, and I’m still sleeping on it now, a year later, and god, moving was a disaster. It should have taken three hours. It took nearly seven). 

     No desk? No problem. I’ll just use the kitchen table instead. Except that the kitchen table is a bit dodgy and has two wobbly legs. Fine for sitting and eating at, but rather unnerving when you’re typing away furiously, and the table lurches away and to the left of you as though it’s about to collapse in on itself, meaning you have to leap up and hold your laptop aloft every few minutes. 

Oh, and wifi in the kitchen is rubbish, so communication with the outside world is curtailed every few minutes, which is hugely frustrating and rather like living in North Norfolk.

     I thought I’d found a solution. The coffee table in the living room. Sturdy, hardwearing, dependable, and unlikely to develop an aversion to being close to me. Only problem is that it’s about 30cm off the floor, so to ‘sit’ at it, I had to arrange a couple of cushions on the floor and lean against the annoyingly prickly wicker sofa. Ever tried sitting like that? It’s fine for an hour or two. But adopting the same position for hours, day after day, for months at a time gets trying. It’s never wholly comfortable, leaves you with an aching back, pins and needles, and a persistent feeling that things could somehow be more enjoyable. A bit like a rubbish shag, to be honest.

     And because positioning myself like that became such a chore, writing stopped being enjoyable too. The only times I did write anything was in my notebook when I was in the pub, but the thought of then having to drape myself across the floor to transcribe those ciderfuelled scribbles onto my crappy laptop on a narrow table that was usually covered with magazines and books and craft projects and games and toys by The Blondies… It was just dispiriting, and made me feel like I wasn’t using the table so much as banging my head against it. But there was no other space in the house I could use. So I wasn't writing. And when I'm not writing, I'm... frankly awful. And the longer I went without writing, the more unhappy and full of doubts I became and felt as though I was never going to write again. Or, if I did attempt to write something, it would be utter shite. The world does not need more shite writing, trust me. There are already far too many people who can't even type a coherent sentence, let alone a piece that ebbs and flows and is funny or clever or thoughtful. I should know, I seem to end up reading most of their output and twitching as I do so. I felt like I couldn't even hoik my judgeypants at them though, because at least they were writing and being read, shared and valued. I wasn't even managing to come up with a single idea. I was sodding miserable without writing.

     Until last Tuesday. When that arrived. A desk. My desk. Mine. And it might not look like much to anyone, and it’s small, and it’s fairly plain, and inoffensive, but I love it. The first time I sat down at it I felt this ridiculous rush of happiness that made me laugh out loud for the first time in too long. It may seem such an insignificant thing, but it means the world to me. Not least because on the surface of it are ghosts of writing past. Tiny little fragments of words that have been written into the very fabric of the wood by another’s pen, pressing slightly too hard on the soft pine. ‘ighton’ and ‘what is PE?’, marks of doodles and zigzags, a deliberate graffito into the desk of ‘I heart B’ and hundreds and hundreds of jumbled up hours of other peoples lives and stories and homework and letters and admin and idle moments and times when inspiration  struck and days when despite staring out of the window for hours, not a single thing got done. All of those marks are there, from people writing at this desk, people making their mark. Perhaps, now that I have a desk, my desk, their desk, our desk, I can start writing again too. And make my own mark, in one way or another.