Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Plumblossom Pauses

So less heartbreak...Sunday calm, missing trains up north, moving house, writing plays, and surviving long nights behind the bar. This is my life at the moment.

Packing and unpacking again, for the second time in six months, I realised with some relief that this new room, this new bed, are my own. Since 2009, I've been an interloper in other people's homes, lodging existentially, and now I finally have my own space again. My own space. A space I can look forward to returning to at the end of a night.

(Even as my books lay around me in disarray and my picture frames remain stacked on the dresser.)

Monday, 28 March 2011

Miss November, Forever Ago

Sometimes, I take portraits but (like the invisible boy) only when no one's looking...

Saturday, 26 March 2011


Less heartbreaking thoughts will follow shortly. That's a promise...

But I was just floored tonight by this interview with Ingmar Bergman, late in his life. It was from Swedish television, so these are just the subtitles. But still...Literature, I think, strives for this kind of truth, this kind of open-hearted disclosure. He has just been asked how he feels about death, and this is how he answers...

We had an agreement, we even used to joke about it...

I would die first.

Ingrid would sit with me and hold my hand. Ingrid would be the last person I saw. She was going to take over everything on Fåro and everything was to go on as before.

And then this happened...Probably the cruelest thing to befall me in my life and which has crippled me. Ingrid suddenly died.

Not suddenly, it took a year.

To go on living now is for me so utterly irrelevant. I try...I try to fill in the gaps in my knowledge. I try to keep my life in order. I keep set hours. I get up at six in the morning. I work methodically until noon. Then there's the theatre. I try to maintain a strict order.

To me...To me life itself is a heavy burden. That I'm never going to see Ingrid again...is to me deeply distressing. It's a dreadful thought.

You see, I really felt that Ingrid was still there. I had an uninterrupted conversation going on with her. She wasn't altogether gone, she was still near.

But then my notions of life and death as existence and non-existence clashed violently. That means I'll never again see Ingrid.

Then Erland [Josephson] and I had a good conversation about it, which meant an awful lot to me.

Erland asked: "What are your thoughts on the matter?" I said: "I'm very doubtful at the moment...But I think I'll see Ingrid again." Because I do believe in other realities, I always have. I think I'll meet Ingrid again. And Erland wisely replied: "So affirm that belief."

And that's what I've been doing. I'm not actually afraid of dying.

Erland Josephson and Liv Ullman in Saraband, Bergman's last film

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Late Night Freudian Slips

Today I gave a two hour lecture on literature and Oxford to the loveliest group of Japanese mature-students. Their kindness overwhelmed me, especially considering all that their country has recently been through. Then, later today at work, postcards for the relief effort, with the phrase 'I Heart Japan' in Japanese characters (all except the heart, that is, which had a little map of the islands instead).

Carrying around all this information in my head for the past 48 hours, I'm now spent and seriously tired, and yet I've been staring at this picture for the last ten minutes on my bed, utterly mesmerized, in a sleepy haze. It's a photo by Clifford Coffin, showing a very young Lucian Freud in his studio. It's in the placement of his hands, his eyes, that shadow falling softly on his face: something startling and wild and yet very very serene. Dark and gentle as a moonlit night. It is easily, without a doubt, one of the most impressive portraits I've ever seen...

I may use it in a book one day, probably soon.

This is a detail from Freud's Girl with a Cat taken by me on my last visit to the Tate. The girl who was standing beside me as I took it, afterwards lifted her hand, as in the picture, and smiled at me. I didn't know her.

Monday, 21 March 2011

Knowing Your Bones

Words I read the other day, a little lost, a little caffeinated, and made me think of someone faraway, quite suddenly, quietly working, and of myself, what it is we must try to do:

'There is something you find interesting, for a reason hard to explain. It is hard to explain because you have never read it on any page...

'There you begin. You were made and set here to give voice to this, your own astonishment. "The most demanding part of living a lifetime as an artist is the strict discipline of forcing oneself to work steadfastly along the nerve of one's own most intimate sensitivity." Anne Truitt, the sculptor, said this. Thoreau said it another way: know your own bone. "Pursue, keep up with, circle round and round your life...Know your own bone: gnaw at it, bury it, unearth it, and gnaw at it still..."

'The body of literature, with its limits and edges, exists outside some people and inside others. Only after the writer lets literature shape her can she perhaps shape literature. In working-class France, when an apprentice got hurt, or when he got tired, the experienced workers said, "It is the trade entering his body." The art must enter the body, too.

'A painter cannot use paint like glue or screws to fasten down the world...You adapt yourself, Paul Klee said, to the contents of the paintbox. Adapting yourself to the contents of the paintbox, he said, is more important than nature and its study. The painter, in other words, does not fit paints to the world. He most certainly does not fit the world to himself. He fits himself to the paint. The self is the servant who bears the paintbox and its inherited contents...

'Push it. Examine all things intensely and relentlessly. Probe and search each object in a piece of art. Do not leave it, do not course over it, as if it were understood, but instead follow it down until you see in it the mystery of its own specificity and strength....

'Admire the world for never ending on you--as you would admire and opponent, without taking your eyes from him, or walking away...

Then this last thing, this last revolutionary thought, which left me breathless, sitting there with my mug of coffee and the daylight churning over the street, clouds racing like eyes over a page:

One of the few things I know about writing is this: spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book, or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now...[Otherwise] anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you. You open your safe and find ashes.'

All quotes from Chapter Five of The Writing Life by Annie Dillard.

[Untitled Drawings by Louise Bourgeois. Book, entitled Wound, by Anish Kapoor]

Sunday, 20 March 2011

They Say It's Spring

Today, the first day of a new season, and the light suddenly changes and the clocks prepare to jump. (Dreams last night of running a marathon, down old streets, miraculously faster than I ever dreamed my legs could carry me.)

Pictures by Huldero and Geraud

Saturday, 19 March 2011

Hands Across the Water

Just random black and whites that have caught my eye. This one above, just this morning, while preparing a lecture. It's of Aldous Huxley and DH Lawrence and it makes me wonder at the lankiness of these two writers, how better-dressed people used to be, and yet how much more malnourished. The length of their arms alone, the soft-heavy weighted-ness of their hands.

'Why should I look at my hand, as it so cleverly writes these words, and decide that it is a mere nothing compared to the mind that directs it? Is there really any huge difference between my hand and my brain? Or my mind? My hand is alive, it flickers with a life of its own…Why should I imagine that there is a me which is more me than my hand is? Since my hand is absolutely alive, me alive.' DH Lawrence in his essay 'Why the Novel Matters.'

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Looking for the Touch

In 1972 a great Swedish director rejects a film he's made, on the basis that it marks for him, 'the very bottom'. Unlike the vast majority of his films, it is never re-released. Forty years later, I track down said film, downloading what seems to be a VHS copy recorded off Swedish television. The quality is gauzy, almost moth-eaten around the edges of the frame. It tells the story of a Swedish housewife who falls for a Jewish-American archeologist, and who tells her one day, out of the blue at a dinner party, that he fell in love with her the first time he saw her crying.

At one point in the film, before they decide to act on their desires, the archeologist takes the married woman to the site of a dig he's mentioned at the party. Behind a church wall, construction workers have mysteriously found a statue of the Virgin Mary. The couple stare through a small hole in the wall and, cheek to cheek, peer in at the Virgin's face. Shining their flashlight inside, we see this shot:

When the actor who played the archeologist was invited to a film festival in his honour recently, he wanted especially to talk about this film. However, because of its scarcity, its neglect, he had to bring his own personal print for the audience to watch.

Friday, 4 March 2011

Window Climbing

For Barney who has been watching Twin Peaks for the first time...

Has anyone snuck out of a cooler window, I wonder? It's something people should do more often: forgo doorways, slip in and out through more creative means.

'I'm gonna let you in on a little secret. Every day, once a day, give yourself a little present. Don't plan it, don't wait for it, just...let it happen. Could be a new shirt at the men's store, a catnap in your office chair, or two cups of good, hot, black coffee.'

Play Riding

I'm writing a play, it seems, somewhat accidentally, but not without heart. That is to say, my heart is in it, in the groove of writing, and I hope to see it done before a deadline two weeks away. It will be playing in Oxford in early July at a theatre named after Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. The working title is 'The Upstairs Room'.

There are bits of film involved, projections at the back of the stage, and my hope is that they can look somewhat like this above shot from an old Swedish film nobody knows, called Nattlek. Also, maybe, Chris Marker's La Jetee.

I am hopeful and afraid and this is a good thing.

I'm standing here wanting to play someone some night music. In a far off room, with candle light and flowers and a window for sneaking cigarettes, perhaps even sneaking out. Little talking, mainly music.