You know what it is I don't like about this rug?, I called out from the kitchen. J., from the bathroom, dutifully groaned what's that. I was talking again about the rug which I'd purchased on an insouciant Sunday morning and soon after regretted. It's, I pronounced, peppy. I should have known by the name of the colourway on the tag: 'chilli'. It suggests a kind of festiveness I wouldn't like to foist upon my unsuspecting, introverted home. My home is retiring, a wallflower with no flowers on its walls, literally so after I steamed off the graphic leaf paper in the kitchen. The chilli rug is a loud guest who thinks it's a good time but to be honest has just raised the volume and has actually said some annoying, casually offensive things. It's got a thick skin, jute, and doesn't seem to absorb much, which is good for a kitchen rug in principle but in actuality it would be nice if it read the room a bit, took on some of the effortlessly masc style we've so deliberately cultivated. In this house, chilli is an ingredient, not a motif. We're not circled in sparks the way the word 'chilli' might be, or the word 'fiesta'. When I cook chilli it's made with the darkest chocolate and the darkest beer I can source. I'm a cowboy like that. This place isn't funky, it's mellow and taciturn. Can't you, rug, just chill out? The design of the rug is borders within borders, a kind of insipid mise en abyme. It's a funky nightmare. In truth, I hadn't unrolled it all the way in the crowded shop, hadn't initially registered its hyperbolic zig-zag top stitching. In truth, the rug was recruited as a foil to the laminate floor, to distract from its cheapness, its inauthenticity. Instead, it accents it with more misguided mock-rusticity. A friend of mine, one of my primary consultants on domestic style, reckons I should put it in the wash or give it a bath; bleed it a bit, tire it out like a toddler before nap. She revealed that she never likes anything in her house, or houseboat to be precise, to feel finished, or 'done'. She should have a blog, responded J. Which brings me to: where have all the good interiors blogs gone? They've just sort of drifted off, grown up and moved away. Everyone is uploading photos of the wilderness, which relegates my homebodiness bordering on agoraphobia as démodé. We've barely accepted an invitation all season, and that includes a Halloween party, at least two birthdays and at least one magazine event. Anyway, J.'s right: it was the best tip she could offer, to let things take their time, to work towards rightness rather than settle on something a bit wrong. Take the cushions. I was desperate to ensnare some for the moderately comfortable couch. The comfort level of the couch has qualifications and needs cushions. You're nesting, explained my domestic goddess. But procuring the right cushions proved a palaver. If I'd settled on the first pair I brought home (monochrome in Nordic Blue), which I'd made a sales assistant fetch from the stock room at John Lewis, the house would have felt 'done', and incorrectly so. Let alone, I would have sat swollen at the temples from the duck feathers. I returned the allergenic buggers the next day and instead sourced some very good, discounted covers, the feather stuffing removed, and then trekked back to John Lewis to score polyester filler pads. It turns out I'm very allergic, I'd told the sales assistant at the shop, a kind of high end fair trade emporium, where I'd finally found covers to put me at ease. It's annoying. She pulled the feathered pad from the cushion. Yes, she said, it is, rather too carefully, I thought, as if she meant not so much my condition as me. And really, do we need to pluck all those ducks? I'm sure if I did the research the process involved would be a cruel one. The feather cushions are nice to fluff with the palm of our hand, that testing method like spanking, but when you sit back on them, I have found, you sink in too deep. They're too mellow. I don't want to get stoned. Everything in here is a balance of the relaxed and the upright. I was sick with cold for four days and the interior decorating reached fever pitch. You're going stir crazy, J. pointed out when I suggested we move a shelf we'd hung the day before. I was thinking it might be better in the initial place I'd had in mind. Then I nicked the lip of another Vitsœ shelf with a bulldog clip, as I've been wielding bulldog clips recklessly whilst conducting an ongoing series of experiments called what picture to hang where, and things like bulldog clips weirdly have a propensity to slip from my fingers, though I wouldn't say I'm clumsy, just a bit dropsy from time to time. I was, at that moment, hovering over the 'S' section of the record collection, which is, by the way, generally a very respectable genus and hence the first letter I head to at the record store. I was looming over the 'S' section as I had been tempted to once again hang the Smiths' twelve inch single on the wall. This is a most meaningful object to me, the mnemonic item that begins my book, like a prism, or madeline, this book I'm ostensibly working on which I can't seem to write because I'm so consumed by the visual nuance and complicated shopping process of kitchen rugs and scatter cushions. Purchase and refund, or alternately keep and regret. That unloved jute rug sits there curdled under the kitchen sink like an irrepressible upstart who can't take a hint. It seems to think it's so cute. And it doesn't just lay there. It moves around, it slips, won't sit still, which has forced me to shell out on a rubber underlay mat, which was also, to some relief, on special offer. Again, it's a triumph for the scheming laminate floor. The laminate has a nick on it where a previous tenant probably dropped a knife. I've always imagined it to be a perfectly innocuous washing up accident but perhaps it was an incident, the result of an abrupt turn in a lovers' dispute. This notch was one of the reasons for the rug: to cover it up, prevent it from becoming expansive. The laminate is not the kind of floor that takes wear and tear elegantly. An old pile of hardy wood can look great after mighty tectonic shifts. I long for these surfaces that look good with age. The rug, it remains to be seen. It looks like the kind of rug that wants a dog to sit on its face. In fact, it looks like the object of a doglover. Not that I don't like dogs but I would hardly allocate doglover as my aesthetic, and I do think it is in fact an aesthetic sensibility. I'd describe the doglover style as peppy and multicoloured (to hide stray hairs) and facing the world with a goofy grin. It's difficult not to purchase something devoid of association. I researched the rug with buyer's remorse, and regrettably discovered that it is also available in the shape of a heart. I mentioned this to J. who pointed out that at least ours isn't shaped like a heart. But now I know that the heart-shaped one is out there, commissioned by the same sentimental doglover. Sometimes it's best to shop at home, and through the passing of my quarantined days I was amazed at some of the things I uncovered in J.'s brimming boxes, stuff I'd forgotten in the last move, like the Victorian slide of the boy in nightshirt blowing out a candle; it's vibrant against an oversaturated blue, and the sash wooden frame of our new place displays its radiance lovingly, in the kind of charming decorative touch of the sweet queer bordering on nonce. I can glance at this curious artefact while I do the dishes, this nostalgic and storied thing, but then I'm standing right on top of this irritating jute mat with its ingratiating demeanour. It rubs me the wrong way. This house isn't big enough for the both of us. I do the dishes now with a kind of aggression, as if hoping that all of the weight I put into the floor will roughen it up, make it subdued and cool like something artfully worn and featured in the pages of a matt magazine of literary proportions. It's not that there aren't certain aspects of living in conflict with one's environment that I don't enjoy: I take pleasure in being frustrated by the puritanical corners of my Victorian flat, its insistence on compartmentalising, reticence, rectitude. It's not even an actual Victorian but an additional wing built in the conservation style in maybe the 1950s. It screams oppression and I'm fine with that. I'm fine with not waltzing across an open plan conversion, with not being lofty. Instead, I bump up fondly against its taxonomical corners. I'm fine with contemplating its nooks like something out of The Poetics of Space, and analysing its midcentury shortcomings, such as why are the ceilings bumpy; is that fireproofing, and how. I've even become relatively at ease with the notion that the house comes to the street at an oblique angle, on a crossroads overlooking a small triangular island, a gore; it's all very angles and triangles, whereas for years I've said this situation made me neurotic and what I preferred was the stability of a terrace house, or one in a row of identical worker's cottages, that or a stolid ranch on an unquestionable, untriangular piece of land. We'd eat bowls of chilli there in jeans that fit us like gloves. That's another problem: my friend who is benignant with interior tips also kindly brought me some APC denim back from Paris which I'd requested at one size too big. Here I am, hoisting my waistband up in a house all corners and angles, in a flat like clenched mandibles. I'm going to hashtag this firstworldproblems, says J., as I'm reading him this essay in a room like a severe clavicle. I'm into the hypertension of this layout. What I'm not not into is the tension of that braided rug, which grits its teeth like the kind of hippie who gets put out when things aren't going its way. It's so well-crafted by artisans they've left no erroneous lacunae ripe for the start of a charming abrasion. I am, however, totally fine and happy with the eventually procured cushion covers, one from India and the other Guatemala, deep indigo and dark red, the latter 'For Decorative Use Only', a directive whose implication I'm sure will be revealed with time. Effortlessly masc; I texted J. to propose there should be a shop that sells military surplus shower curtains, corduroy cushions, that kind of thing. He writes back, right, slay your own Chesterfield. For now, I'm satisfied. I did pull in a loose thread from the indigo cover in a very awkward and unconvincing manner that combined J.'s strategy with my own into a kind of comprised line of attack that may result in counterproductive redundancy. For the moment, though, it's yet to unravel further. I'm glancing over to the handsome pillow and I am very much appreciating its company. Leaned up against the facing wall, the man on the Smiths single cover looks away from me sarcastically. With that same upturned expression, he used to be so reverent. I really should get back to writing that book.
Friday, November 6, 2015
Oh come on, said the woman sitting next to us. Her face was well-composed, intent. We're not young anymore, she said to her partner, lean, greyed handsomely at the temples. Throughout the audience, sitting on folding chairs drinking cans of Beavertown beneath a domed ceiling, which was unadorned and stained by the rain, the rustlings were subdued but slowly increasing; we hadn't been kept waiting that long, but with Cat Power, you wonder if she'll never appear. The sound technicians appeared listless. They didn't have much to do: A guitar, a piano. No one to play them. Two microphones stood in close parallel at the front, another at the piano. The stage held the spectre of her future presence. An empty, lit stage holds the promise of beauty, even transformation; in this case, also terror. Cat Power's stage fright is known to be consuming. Above the stage hung a heavy iron sculpture of a crown of thorns.
When Chan Marshall took to the centre microphones, without ceremony, a round of applause formed, orbiting the room like a curious spaceship. It was at first timid, then ardent, much like she would be through each song. We all took a while to recognise each other, just as on each song she seemed to need to reacquaint herself with her own sound. She got through the first song all the way through, and relief surged through the crowd, or at least through me. When the monitor had screamed feedback, she had just nodded her head, as if to acknowledge that the solution was simple; she would stand back, was not going to panic, not going to give in to her tendency to fixate. But, then, at the end: Sorry, sorry, interrupting the salvo of applause, the first of her whispered repentances, in a litany that would end the night at a count of several dozen. I made a mistake, she explained. The audience responded by clapping supportively. I don't see what's so charming about making mistakes, she creaked.
Each time she sang, it was the most unbelievable thing. To hear that voice soar across the ceiling, which felt sure of itself and its actual godlessness. Afterwards, I described her fraught stage presence to friends. You see, they relayed quickly, I couldn't tolerate that. Just the idea of it makes me angry. I like her music, but. Her behaviour onstage is perceived as indulgent. A very smart friend of mine considers it more than that, a deceit: The problem is, I don't believe her, she told me. I can't listen to Cat Power anymore, she said, after witnessing a performance in which she had a meltdown and stopped short. No refunds. Another friend, Nina, conveyed her usual cosmic empathy: Cat Power. I love her. I saw her in Barcelona, and she just laid on the stage and covered her face with her hands. Nina didn't mind. Her silence was a blank page, at the front or the back of an old book, on which Nina would find the loveliness in the grain of the paper. I began to wonder if it mattered whether Chan Marshall's stage fright was performed — or vain, passive aggressive, narcissistic, et cetera. Isn't everything performed, and very clearly so when you're onstage. An affected vulnerability, in her hands, was still affecting to me. To make the audience both swoon and squirm in their seats. There's something both cruel and generous in the act, something I relate to. There's a lyric of hers I recall often: It's so hard to live in the city, because you want to say hello to everybody. To me, that eagerness, openness, the wilful naïveté sits in tandem with the over-apologising, the impolite admissions (I really don't want to do that song), the blowing raspberries into the microphone.
Chan Marshall was on the verge of banging her head against the piano but stopped centimetres short.
I knew I shouldn't have done it. Normally I don't, but I had lemon in my tea. I knew, I knew…, she said in a tone of self-comfort and self-chastisement. It should be 'just honey'. The lemon, it strips my throat. But I can get through this, just get through this. And after, I'm going to sit and drink: tea, with 'just honey'. A couple of days later, I asked an opera singer I know about the lemon: I doubt, she reasoned, a slice of lemon would make that much difference. But the psychology makes sense: if you sound different, feel that you don't have control over your vocals, you look to see what you did differently, and ascribe that as the reason.
At the piano, with her brown hair pushed forward, leaning into the microphone like a reluctant moth to a persistent flame, underneath a bank of monochrome coloured lights, she was a classic image, stoic in a bank of smoke billowing from a fog machine. But then leave it to her to break the spell, or rather cast a new one, by coughing a short cough, waving her hand in front of her face. Who set the stage on fire?, she drawled. What do you call them: kebabs? Shish-kebabs! The diphthong shish divulged her Georgian roots. It's like someone is cooking a kebab under the stage. She teased out a few tentative chords on the piano, a very different etiquette than smoothly tickling the ivories. I went for a kebab last night, she said. And there was a guy with, you know, his glasses had clear frames. And he said, Are you Cat Power? And I said, Yeah. Are you? And he said, I just tweeted about you. And I said, Yeah? What'd ya tweet? And he said, I tweeted that you're boring. And I said, So are you. A tentative minor chord. And he said, you're very good though.
Chan straightened her back, which has rounded slightly with age, in that way certain women grow softer, beetle-backed, no longer a taut guitar string at boyish breaking point, but a smooth, round stone, as beautiful as the sea that caressed it into shape. And it's taken me… a lot of what I've come to terms with is, I am comfortable with being boring. On cue, someone shouted: you're not boring! Chan begged to differ. I'm boring, I am, I'm ok with that.
Earlier, when Chan had moved from the guitar to her seat at the piano, she had done so sideways, ostensibly blocking the view of her backside, the backs of her hands against her bum. While standing, she'd blurted: I gotta pull my pants up. They're BAGGY. So I'm gonna pull 'em up. And I related, because I too had been hitching up my jeans all week. I felt I could never get them to keep high enough. There were secrets and translations in the slippage, the misfit. When she did take her place at the piano, she took fright at the mirrored panel above the keyboard. You can see me, she turned coyly to the balcony behind her. She looked back and again: sheepish, cute. You can close it, someone shouted. Is that ok?, she said, closing the panel sweetly like a compliant employee. And you can see my baggy pants. And you've got cameras. Later, she would confess: I am dripping with sweat. I've got these glands, and they make water. Nobody knows this about me. When I do this, I really sweat. She billowed her shirt for air. Oh, man, she groaned, turning back to the balcony again. Aw, I just showed you my junk.
It was the 29th of October. In the US, National Cat Day. But Chan Marshall named herself after the Cat Diesel Power logo. It's an industrial name, a reference to heavy machinery, and she is more Caterpillar than cat. Or is she beetle. She was uncertain as to whether it was Halloween. Is today Halloween, or is that tomorrow? A voice from the audience shouted, the day after tomorrow. Ok, tomorrow, she misheard. And what will you go dressed as? She teased out a chord as if kneading nervously, as if the piano was a palm clenched tensely. Be anonymous, right?
She sang "Fool", "Maybe Not" and a queered cover of "Can I Get a Witness". But this talking seemed to occupy a good half of the performance. I should be a stand-up comedian, she realised at one point. And I could have a special guest: Ladies and gentleman, she gestured to the darkened upstage right: Bill Murray. A beat. Mr. Bill Murray, everyone. It was silent, and the empty upstage looked forlorn. He's not really there, she whispered. Bill Murray: doesn't he have a great deadpan face. He's like this. She made the Bill Murray face, like the aftermath of a burp, and mumbled: "I fucked up".
When she did play, committed herself to song, stumbling here and there, but finding the music, she was beautiful. I recall the Olympic figure skater Michelle Kwan, who always won silver (or bronze), because she occasionally didn't land her jumps. Or didn't jump as high as Gold. But everyone knew she was the most beautiful figure on ice. She was all limbs and eyebrows. She would glide. Then an upstart called Tara Lipinksi came along, all thighs and fists. She jumped over the moon to grab Gold, while Michelle had thought the beauty was in the reaching.
The moon is not only beautiful", goes a Cat Power lyric, "it is so far away." And she is a lyricist who needs distance. I've been reading Proust, and his paragraphs and pages and pages on a single line of music: …the field open to the musician is not a miserable keyboard of seven notes, but an immeasurable keyboard still almost entirely unknown on which, here and there only, separated by shadows thick and unexplored, a few of the millions of keys of tenderness, of passion, of courage, of serenity which compose it, each as different from the others as one universe from another universe, have been found by a few great artists who do us the service, by awakening in us something corresponding to the theme they have discovered, of showing us what richness, what variety, is hidden unbeknownst to us within that great unpenetrated and disheartening darkness of our soul which we take for emptiness and nothingness.
And then J. pointed to a passage in the book that he's been reading, Recollections of My Life as a Woman by Diane di Prima, showing me that this date, the 29th of October, in 1961, marked the opening of the New York Poets Theatre. Its first production was accompanied by no program, tickets, or flyers. In Diane's words, she tromped about the stage with tousled hair and in dumpy pyjamas, and scolded Freddie [Herko], who sadly embraced his image in a mirror. The date is nothing more than a coincidence, and the joy of a coincidence, I have been thinking lately, is precisely that 'nothing more'. I've decided that luck is a solipsistic fallacy: when we say we're in luck it is generally at the expense of others. Fuck luck, I've been thinking, and fuck fate. There is no such thing, they're excuses. But how immensely pleasurable the simple, surface joy of a coincidence.
Back at the guitar at the front of the stage, unlucky, surrounded by coincidence, on the wrong date, Chan Marshall suffered a false start in a song that begins high in her vocal register. That's called fear, she said. She promptly separated the pair of microphones, taking one out of the spotlight in which to sing at calmly. At the front of the stage she stood plaintively and plainly, and she gave an acceptance speech, in which she accepted the audience's acceptance of her unprofessionalism. I'm considered unprofessional, she acknowledged, I've been gilded… What's the word? What does gilded mean? Someone from the balcony shouted: covered in gold. Chan said, Well, I got that wrong; what word did I mean? Someone from the front shouted ironically: Bevelled?
But the long shadow of the deep south overcame the witty wordplay of the Londoner, as Cat Power cooled us in the shade of her weeping tree, as she sang "The Moon", and assured us, after the final lyric, which is "Everyone says they know you / Better than you know who / Everyone says they own you / More than you do": They don't. It's all about you. I found that at one point, and it was maybe during this song, my feet had lifted off the floor, as if on the brink of orgasm. Proust, again: And while it passed, light, soothing, murmured like a perfume, telling him what it had to tell him, as he scrutinised every word, sorry to see them fly off so quickly, he involuntarily made the motion with his lips of kissing the harmonious fleeting body as it passed. The lights were turned on; curfew. By that point, even Chan seemed to understand that the show was rousing, if not, if only because she wouldn't use the word, a rousing success. And so she stayed onstage.
One of the difficulties of a show that excites me this much is the challenge of focussing. I wish I could watch it over again. I know, for instance, that she played "The Color and the Kids", but I can't recall her singing the line, "When we were teenagers / we wanted to be the sky", because my pleasure of being in the moment had ironically switched me into being someplace else, as if my self had filled up and to avoid overflowing, the music was being poured into another vessel. And again, Proust, who described a subsequent listening of that incandescent tune: There were ideas in it which Swann had not distinguished at first hearing and that he perceived now, as if they had divested themselves in the cloakroom of his memory of the uniform of novelty.
Towards the beginning, I noted a couple of guys at the front intent on filming substantial sections of the performance from their iPads, and I felt protective of Chan's performance and anxious that they'd distract her or cause her to stop. I wished they'd put their digital devices away so that I could sit wholly in this fleeting, acoustic moment. Eventually, however, my own phone seemed to burn a hole in the pocket of my backpack, and I found myself leaning down and fingering the pouch and grabbing the phone and making stills of Chan sat at the piano and brief recordings of the euphonious "Maybe Not", with the camera pointed at the hollowed ceiling, as if her voice was disembodied, floating, reaching. Taking these photos and videos, I wound up distracting myself, and then wondering if it was a kind of coping mechanism, as I was in a constant state of anticipation that the music might stop. I felt ashamed, and cheesy, and so I restrained myself, put the camera back in the bag pocket. The feet rose off the floor.
But at the end, when the lights went up, and she remained, I anticipated some kind of Moment happening, and thinking I would regret not documenting it, I found myself grabbing the camera again. Chan was asking for help from the stagehands, collecting the set lists, getting a pen to sign them, preparing to give them to audience members. As she came forward, the audience now illuminated, she put the set lists in her lips so that she could once again hoist her waistband. Sheets of paper flopping out of her face, her rear and elbows pushed out, Mick Jagger or a funny duck, she spotted me with my camera, and laughed and pointed and gave the look, as if to say: you caught me. I felt a flush of shame at filming her in this awkward moment, of filming her at all, and the footage, before I deleted it, cut immediately from her look to my embarrassed lap. Caught with her pants down. I felt like a terrible person. She passed the set lists out, one to the very large man who had filmed so many of the early songs. He was so apparently keen.
Towards the end of the gig, Chan said, D'ya ever still say hey to someone you see after the concert, on the subway, whatever, the tube? On the bus? A boy or a girl you know was there. And you nod your head or say hey. Do you still do that like you're seventeen, you're twenty two? You don't, do you? You're 42. Kids. Bogged down. Needed a night out. I say: give it a whirl.
I didn't say hey. I couldn't sleep that night. I felt hot in my hands and feet; the nearest sensation I can describe is the satisfaction, golden but marred, tarnished and hollow, that comes after a one-night stand. I felt consumed with regret, and frantic that I couldn't identify one of the songs she'd performed (I wrote this about Martin Luther King…, she'd said, and it's very difficult for me to play). I felt annoyed with J., angry at myself, out of place in my own home, adrift but away from the world.
Soon after, scrolling through Cat Power's Instagram feed, I saw that she too had recently filmed some fifteen seconds of a gig. From the vantage point of what appears to be the very rear of a stadium, glimpsing spotlights, a huge monitor, the flicker of lighter flames, one can hear the strain of Neil Young singing "Helpless". Chan's caption: soothing tears just walking in.
In the morning on the day of the performance, I had heard, in passing, an expert of some sort on the radio speaking about the ways in which we've changed our relationships to each other due to social media: Have we become more connected?, he asked, Or have we become icebergs? The next day, fatigued from my restless night, I thought about this sentiment. I thought about icebergs breaking away from continents. I thought about my video of Chan Marshall, embarrassed, which I'd then accidentally deleted. And then, another video, which I had accidentally filmed. I'd wanted to record a bit of her receiving a standing ovation. I thought it was a wonderful and well-deserved thing. She, in turn, applauded the audience. There was a feeling of relief and mutuality and joy. I filmed the standing, then thought that I'd stopped the camera, and put it down on my bag. But evidently it still recorded: the sound continues, but all you can see is black. You can hear some legs and chairs moving, and this: Chan, stealing her last moment on stage, all the lights on, past curfew, the microphone still plugged in, singing a cappella, unbridled, "I Can't Give You Anything But Love".
Wednesday, October 28, 2015
I have been slowly rereading the first volume of Proust, as translated by Lydia Davis. I can't help but feel like I'm hanging out with the two coolest kids, just sitting on the pavement and they're finding magic in the cracks and stains. My Penguin paperback has loosened at the spine, its cover softened by a spill of water, certain pages thinned from thumbing. In bed, I read supine, propped up and feeling Prousty: feeble, enlightened, floating above the world as I sink into the mattress. One day recently, off from work, reclining, I came upon the following passage:
A little tap at the window-pane, as though something had struck it, followed by a copious light spill, as of grains of sand dropping from a window above, then the spill extending, growing regular, finding a rhythm, turning fluid, resonant, musical, immeasurable, universal: it was the rain.
I felt, as I not infrequently do with this author, swiftly and tenderly stung, which then spreads into a kind of consuming rapture. Reading Proust is an infection. I have to put the book down. I look away from its pages. I do something, anything, with my body: stretch my fingers apart, whatever. It's a means of savouring. In this case it wasn't enough. I decided I would read the sentence aloud. The room fell silent. Every corner of the house hushed, each neighbour leaned in attentively, the branches of trees bowed, and I heard my voice unravelling like a silvery ribbon. It had never sounded so sure. It became translucent, buoyed by the words, which, through Lydia's translation, reverberated in their plainness and complex rhythm. A Proust sentence is like a guitar in open tuning. It's a magnifying glass and a spiral. Speaking the phrases was like walking evenly across an erratic surface. I tried to move on, to continue reading, but I was stuck. I knew I had to get up, fetch my notebook, and copy the sentence out. I'm a fan of copying. You might find your own voice by inhabiting someone else's. So I scuffled across the room and into the next, got my notebook and pen, and arrived back in bed. As I settled into the indentation, the slight hollow made by the weight of my own self, scooping aside the duvet that never seemed fluffier, I was stunned to detect the presence of gentle outlines at the window. It only lasted a minute, but it did: it came.
Sunday, October 11, 2015
I had attended a book launch, or a books launch, held on the occasion of the release of two new titles from the same publisher. The event entailed short readings from each. One of the authors spoke a word that I hadn't heard for awhile, a word of which I no longer or perhaps never knew the meaning. Of course, I intended to look up the word later. This slipped my mind until I was riding home on the Jubilee Line. By then, I couldn't remember the word. I thought it was handy that I had purchased a book — in it, I figured, I could easily find the story that had been read aloud, about the woman standing in a doorway wearing a 'very peculiar hat' (I'd wondered, with gratuitous criticism, whether the word 'very' was necessary). Surely somewhere in this story the word could be retrieved. Funny the way they sit there, unfound words, waiting like merchandise in dusty stockrooms. I leafed through the book in a feeble attempt to locate the story. Then it dawned that the word could have been from the lexicon of the other author, who had written an essayistic study of suicide. I had not purchased that book. And even if I had, the author opted to read a supplemental text, one not published therein. The word floated around someplace, not with me but somewhere else, and because I could not grasp the word, it was meaningless to me, nonsense.
I was sure the word began with a prefix, along the lines of inter-, sub-, or extra-, and that it had a juh sound in the middle. Over the years, I've alleged that words that containing the juh always sound sexual, whether they intend to be (frottage, ménage) or not (mélange). But despite my own phonological theory, the word in question hadn't sounded particularly lurid. I felt around my mouth to detect if the word was 'on the tip of my tongue'. The day before, I'd bitten the inside of my right cheek. It then seemed to get worse, or more cumbersome, bloated as if it had stitched itself and swelled, and so it became hard not to chew on it repeatedly, even when I wasn't chewing. But the word wasn't even there — it was someplace else altogether.
I flipped through my new book again, but now I thought that I'd rather not find the word. To find it would yield finitude. I could look up its meaning; it would become definitive. As it was, without knowing the word, just holding the idea of it like a mirage (juh), the word could mean anything I wanted. I decided that the elusive word was definitely the appropriate term to describe my mood of the evening. Or if not mood then rather the sense of self that I was projecting. What was that: a particular swishiness, actually, as I was wearing a long, lightweight parka. This parka was initially mine, but I had almost immediately given it to J. Then, the day before the book launch, I'd conceived that I'd like to try on again. Upon doing so, I found the olive colour complimentary to my reddish skin. J. had then cried with alarm: haven't you got enough coats! He clearly conveyed that my plan of borrowing back the parka was an unjust one. Unfortunately, this petty incident induced a prolonged silence between us. So, a day later, if I was indeed swishing in the parka, through Green Park station and the portico outside the Ritz, with a kind of mod-like confidence, it was not without poignancy, or a sense of guilt, or perhaps, to be honest, triumph. I had practically stolen the parka from under his retroussé nose. The swish of a parka is foppish but not feminine; its militant origins beget an inherent stolidness. But then, surely a parka can be as camp as blue jeans. I thought of the greatest challenge to the drag queen: realness.
I was moving through the night as if platforms and pavements were catwalks. I am not a fashion model. Hence I was outside of reality, but inhabiting 'realness'. This delusional phenomenology was abetted by the music through my small white headphones, a bravado-building mechanism, I find, as if the cable is a line of cocaine. The headphones are also new to me, as I had, for a prolonged period, held out from listening to music during my commute, out of a kind of arcane stubbornness, or pretentiousness, combined with the genuine desire to engage with the sounds of the city. As headphone wearer, I newly discovered, I tend to internalise, become distanced from my immediate physical context, have less regard for the happenings in this space, measurably less consideration for other people. The thin plastic bits, and the private melodies they conduct, provide an excuse to ignore, to not engage. I took a seat. I listened to Fleetwood Mac: "Everywhere". I decided then that the strange scales at the start, both syrupy and perhaps imperfect, like a kind of failed magic, as if a school orchestra was playing Tinkerbell's entrance cue, epitomised this elusive word, which was not even on my tongue's tip. That trickling, stumbling sound, it was a pure example of ________________. As I listened to the song a second time, my focus fell onto the subsequent bass line, cheesy and, whilst distinctive, also somehow generic. Not ________________.
The word, I was beginning to perceive, was about a kind of distance, between myself and the city, my body and the borrowed parka, my mind and the music, between the idea of myself and the picture others received, between my memory and the word. Its very out-of-reachness, its obscurity, was illustrative of its meaning. In my crooked, bushy neighbourhood, I walked up the choppy pavement on the route home. I noticed my shadow, and the second, fainter one. I thought about the shadows of shadows. I thought of things that shift, create distance and somehow disrupt hierarchy, so that the second shadow may in fact be the primary, more significant even than the corporeal me. And I thought do those shadows overlap, and why: I thought of things that overlap, and of what exists inside that crossover, and how light and movement allow these impressions to expand. I thought about stories in which shadows get away from their 'owners'. A metaphor for slavery, or passivity at least. I tried to recall the films in which a shadow escapes; they tend to dance, sometimes steal. There are probably several examples of this in the history of cinema. J. has often said that he'd like to edit together montages of certain cinematic tropes. (Montage, a juh word.) The one he says he especially wants to do is: scenes of extras dressed as extras. You know, when the main action brings us to a film lot, where can be seen actors costumed for other, unknown films, frequently as nuns or giant animals. Stagehands move past wheeling clothing rails or carrying props. Sometimes there is a group of young men dressed as a regiment, perhaps riding on a tank, or showgirls in carnival headdresses. An incidental parade. It is the moment in which 'our' story meets another, or a potential infinitude of stories.
Once, on a train from Margate, I brought this game to the attention of the historian David Crowley. I said, what if you were to assemble footage of a recurring movie trope. I asked him: which montage would you like to create? He replied in a beat: dancing aliens.
Wednesday, October 7, 2015
Brain-dead and melancholic, seasick yet still docked: I can't help but collapse in the evenings, shut myself off through the day and indulge autumn in all its built-in bleak hope and satisfying sense of disappointment. My favourite season. An easy obsession: This Charming Charlie. Brill.