Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Waking Dreams

 Cast of The Upstairs Room (e.g. a dream of mine)
A Middle School Lacrosse Team from 1970 (e.g. a dream of Wes Anderson)
As I write less and less on this blog, I'm wondering if it isn't morphing into a tumblr account. Let me make up for this deficit, right now: 

I was about ten when I began fictionalizing my life in earnest. It wasn’t that the world itself was especially disappointing, just my world, my existence, and I needed a means of making up for all the things I felt I was lacking. I found myself regularly thinking of places I’d much rather be, other people and other existences I’d rather be inhabiting. The secrets I made up for myself included my parents not being my true parents; that I fell from the sky, aged four; that I washed up on a beach; that I’d travelled through time, but I temporarily had amnesia. These stories, while they lasted, were precious and I savoured them.
The egocentric nature of this chronic daydreaming shouldn’t be overlooked, either. Like a little Walter Mitty in the making, the tales I weaved were entirely self-serving, for nobody’s benefit but my own. I could nurture some sly untruth about myself and, in some magical way, add a little ornamentation to what was otherwise so needlessly prosaic and unexciting. I could wander through the world with a new and secret frame of reference, a new narrative to live by and through which to reinvigorate the world. And because my acting out was entirely invisible to anyone else, I could play innocent. After all, I wasn’t actually doing anything wrong. Not in a real world, punishable way. And yet I could also enjoy a thrill of immorality, of rule-breaking and of drawing outside the lines.
There were drawbacks. An over-active imagination can just as easily conjure devils as angels from the woodwork. Fears of bombs and of kidnappers spoiled for me a great many excursions in the real world. From the age of ten to about twelve, I practically had to be chaperoned to sleep; I had to know there was an adult awake, somewhere, in the house—just in case.      

Tuesday, 6 November 2012


The cover of my book, care of Methuen Drama (2012).
In other news, my couch surfing days are over here in NY. I made it through the hurricane and I've now found a place on the 2nd floor of a building just up the road from the Brooklyn Museum. This is a picture of my current upstairs room.

Friday, 28 September 2012

Dancing Out the Door

Well, on Wednesday, I'm moving to New York. Hoping to find my feet, while two of my plays (one in Cheltenham, one in London) are being staged, on the opposite side of the Atlantic.

Still from 'Herb and Dorothy'
'So anyway, at the time, back in the late seventies, December 1978, to be precise, David had a girlfriend who happened to be a choreographer. She was quite good. She’d been in the Twyla Tharpe company and had branched off to form her own group. David called me up one day to invite me to an open rehearsal of her new piece—which was still a work in progress. The event took place in a high school gym, somewhere in Lower Manhattan. There were only about twenty or thirty people there. Actually, [Jacques] Dupin was in town, and we went together. And David’s girlfriend, Nina, got up with her dancers; there were about ten dancers in the company, and she stood there on the gym floor, a little off to the side... There was no music, no set, no costumes, nothing, just her, trying to explain what the dance was. She would say something, and then the dancers would dance and I found what they did very beautiful. The movements, the gestures.

 'Frances Ha' care of The New York Times
They just moved around the floor, with no music to support them or tell you what to think. Ten bodies moving in space. I thought it was one of the most beautiful things I had ever seen. And she, standing there, with all her earnestness and sincerity, tried to explain what they were doing. And her words were so inadequate, they missed the mark so completely about what these bodies were doing right in front of her, that I started trembling in a kind of ecstasy, an enormous surge of happiness, realizing how inadequate language was in the face of such a thing, in the face of the world. It was as if the dancers were the world, and she was language. That was what inspired the piece. I went home, and that very night I started writing White Spaces. That was the breakthrough for me. It got me writing again. I hadn’t been able to write for a year and a half.'
--Paul Auster, who was 31 when this happened.

Sunday, 22 July 2012

The Sky Inside

 'So that becomes how it is. They try to reach each other with words and gestures. They almost tear their arms out of their sockets, because the reach of their gesticulations is much too short. They never stop trying to throw syllables at each other, but they are extraordinarily bad at this game: they cannot catch. And so time passes, while they stoop over and hunt around for the ball...' (Note X in Rilke's Notes on the Melodies of Things, translated by Damion Searls)
 '[But] there are, in fact, moments when a person stands out from his grandeur in clarity and silence before you. These are rare festive pleasures that you never forget. You love this person from then on. In other words, you work to retrace with your own tender hands the outlines of the personality that you came to know in this hour.' (Note VII)

'[Rilke] says that each of us takes our inner world and flings it out past whatever is out there so that it constitutes the background or negative space against which the object in the world is delimited. In this metaphor, what matters is not the angle you see from but the fact that things are undefined unless they stand out against something, and what they stand out against comes from inside you.' (Damion Searls, from The Inner Sky: Poems, Notes, and Dreams of Rainer Maria Rilke.)

Saturday, 7 July 2012

The Map and The Territory

When he was a boy, there was a topographical globe at home. Occasionally he would spin the whole world, close his eyes, and let his fingers trace journeys over a braille of landscape and sea. The sharp bump of the Himalayas, the smooth slope of the Sahara. These pregnant pauses in which he waited to decipher something, until the globe and all that it represented would fall completely still, silent. And it was here, at this point, that he would imagine trying to inhabit the distant location where his fingers had landed, a place he may or may not have heard of, but certainly never visited. There were very few frames of reference in the pre-internet age for places like Stockholm, Salamanca, and Svalsbard. Kristianstad, Kyoto, and Kent. Bethlehem, Botswana. What were the people like there? What did they dream of, and in what language? How did they feel and what did they love? It was like a passenger train coming, slowly, to a surprise halt in the middle of the night: those drowsy seconds you spend gawping out a window and spotting, in the middle-distance, the lights of houses, vague interiors; the realisation that whole other lives are always taking place, secretly, out there.
Now, with the advent of Google Maps, he finds himself late at night, doing similar things, making similar expeditions. He will randomly drop the little yellow figurine someplace on the globe and find himself hurtling down to street level in some unknown place, feeling again that old battered globe under his fingers. Still, even now, even as a man, trying to unlock something always just beyond the reach of his fingertips.

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Moon Tigers

I quite like things with the word 'moon' in them, she explained, one evening. We were sitting in her kitchen, astride the kitchen counter like a couple of kids up a tree, ashing out the window and drinking iced tea. Our bare feet were in the sink, my heel between the two of hers, nuzzling the drain. It was warm in the house and felt like summer even though it was raining out. She listed them off, saying she had no idea why this should be, only that the moon invariably added mystery that wouldn't otherwise be there: Moon Palace by Paul Auster, Moon River, Moonstruck, The Moon and Sixpence, Moonlight in Vermont, Goodnight Moon, Blue Moon, Paper Moon, Pink Moon, Half Moon Bay, The Moonstone, Moonshadow by Cat Stevens, Melies's Trip to the Moon, the Moonlight Sonata, Harvest Moon, Gibous Cresent Waxing and Waning Moons, also a poem by Ted Hughes called Full Moon and Little Frieda. She thought there were more she was forgetting. Then she told me that she had just finished re-reading Moon Tiger by Penelope Lively (that same day, in the park) and recited her favourite passage which she knew off by heart now: it described the main character crushing a eucalyptus leaf in her hand, smelling it, and 'crying not in grief but in wonder that nothing is ever lost, that everything can be retrieved, that a lifetime is not linear but instant...that, inside the head, everything happens at once.'

Garry Winogrand took this.
She kicked me when I said I hadn't read it, even though I was at the time studying 20th Century Egypt for my MPhil in Anthropology. 

After that I would call her whenever there was a suitably pretty moon in the sky and have her look out the window so we could share the moment, once or twice demanding--so ecstatic was I by the moon's shape and colour hovering on the skyline--that she get out of bed, leave her boyfriend, and see what I was seeing.

Monday, 25 June 2012

Nickel, Nickel, Quarter, Quarter, Penny

There's a bit in a rather unloved American Eighties film, in which Danny De Vito shows Billy Crystal his coin collection. From out of a box De Vito spills a handful of coins, and arranges them on the floor carefully (why, I wonder, do I remember these characters lying together on the floor?). 'This one's a nickel...This one is also a nickel,' etc, spreading them out, until all the coins are in this sacred uniform line. Nickel, nickel, quarter, quarter, penny. How many times, we wonder, has De Vito's character enacted this secret little ceremony? But are these coins actually worth anything, the Billy Crystal character wants to know. De Vito then explains that these are the coins his father let him keep, how his father always let him keep the change.

It occurs to me that we all do this, writers especially. Taking something as banal and everyday as pocket change and making it meaningful. That is, we hold things sacred by arranging them like so, sharing them, savouring them, and saying, 'Here. Look. Look what we're missing.'

Saturday, 23 June 2012

The Art of Direction

Somewhere, there is footage of Leonard Bernstein lecturing an orchestra on the meaning of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. He asks his musicians to remember ‘lying on the ground, in spring or summer; you lie down, face down on the ground, and you want to kiss it. You watch the grass grow and you want it to just enfold you.’

It occurs to me now, that all art might be a seeking out of the sublime. To know what we want, to desire, and yet to allow for a fundamental freedom too, communing with stuff bigger than ourselves. What Simone Weil calls shaking the branch rather than reaching for the fruit.

Sunday, 17 June 2012

For the love of Claire Fisher

The above images were found in various articles in The Guardian over the past two years. The last, of Aung San Suu Kyi (in Oxford?) in the Seventies, is one of my all time favourite photographs.
I was talking with a friend the other night about film versus digital photography, trying to explain that it's the process of film I like. The idea of a semi-accidental chemical reaction taking place, a little annunciation taking place in a box held in your hands. Not only that, but then the lack of immediacy--the having to wait. For instance, I've had a roll of Provia X in my bag for weeks now, and I now have little idea about what's on it. I know that I finished it in London, but where it begins, I can't remember. Months ago, most likely. A visit to the Freud Museum in there somewhere. And, the fact is, I love this. I love the patience and the surprise involved. I think I value the images more because they are embedded in time...And this, I suppose, is the most essential thing. I like memories. Not so much memories as they exist now, but real old memories. What you used to find leafing through old family photo albums, those slightly faded colours, times and places that pre-existed you. That is precisely what I aspire to, what I long for in photography and, perhaps, in art generally. The poignancy of a memory that calls you back, that haunts you from the pages of a family photo album. It's a look, a feel, I think I'm always striving for: the sticky-backed pages turning with an audible gasp, the images reflecting something both lost and found. 
One of mine, California 2010 (while dreaming of Sweden)
 The rest are from photo albums. Of my sister and me, California, 1980-81

Saturday, 26 May 2012

Balance Beaming

Doing yoga (nothing serious, just once a week) has reminded me of nothing so much as going to Occupational Therapy when I was a child. Then, as now, the problem was an inner-ear-derived lack of balance, but I've since learned and absorbed little tricks to help hide the fact. That is, until I have to strike a yoga pose that requires only one of my feet to be lifted off the ground a twisted around at a weird angle. It's funny because it feels so much like re-visiting Peninsula Hospital every Wednesday and being asked to perform similar feats.The difficulty is something I associate with childhood.

I remember walking along a balance beam and rolling around the floor--game-playing as therapy. But my favourite experience was at the end when my therapist (a curly-haired woman who was the first colour blind person I'd ever met) would allow me to root through a treasure chest filled with sand and pull out one of the little toys hidden around the base.


Oxford preview of the LOST Theatre production of Book Ends, along with a new play called Finland.

Oh shut up.
I see us, now, very clearly. On holiday. There is a heavy mist resting over everything and it’s cold. Unexpectedly cold. Unbearably cold. The ground is damp, with patches of snow. We shuffle along a path, me with my hood up and you getting all wet. The rain still trickling from the trees. You’re ahead of me, leading the way.  
Where are we?
Oh Finland, finally.

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Late Fees

Inv #                         Description                         Amount
   479428 OVERDUE  Wings of madness [videorecording] / France 5 ; d     $0.75
   515070 OVERDUE  Le Dernier metro [videorecording] = The last met     $0.25
   515071 OVERDUE  The iceman cometh [videorecording] / produced by     $0.75
   515072 OVERDUE  Ich hiess Sabina Spielrein [videorecording] : =      $0.50
   537322 OVERDUE  Hits [sound recording] / Joni Mitchell..........     $0.50
   537323 OVERDUE  Aberdeen [videorecording] / Norsk Film AS presen     $0.25
   587193 OVERDUE  Aberdeen [videorecording] / Norsk Film AS presen     $1.25
   431123 OVERDUE  The Decalogue [videorecording] = Dekalog / direc     $0.25
   431126 OVERDUE  The Decalogue [videorecording] = Dekalog / direc     $0.25
   431143 OVERDUE  Eternity and a day [videorecording] / directed b     $0.25
   438041 OVERDUE  The book of illusions : a novel / Paul Auster...     $0.25
   451193 REQUEST 08-15-10 02:59PM: The West Wing. The complete fou     $0.75
   468248 OVERDUE  Jaguar of sweet laughter : new & selected poems      $1.75
   468249 OVERDUE  Ballets Russes [videorecording] / a Zeitgeist Fi     $0.25
   604098 OVERDUE  Ballet suites [sound recording] / Shostakovich..     $1.00
   604099 OVERDUE  Solaris [videorecording] / Mosfilm Studios ; Sov     $1.00
   615873 OVERDUE  Campo Santo / W.G. Sebald ; translated by Anthea     $0.25
   662380 OVERDUE  Hits [sound recording] / Joni Mitchell..........     $1.75
   662421 OVERDUE  Children of a lesser god [videorecording] / Para     $2.00
   667287 OVERDUE  What I loved : a novel / Siri Hustvedt..........     $2.75
   677610 OVERDUE  The West Wing. The complete fifth season [videor     $0.75


An image from Wings of Madness, listed above. A documentary about Santos-Dumont, the early aviator.

On Sat, Oct 24, 2009 at 11:26 PM, David K. O'Hara <dohara50@hotmail.com> wrote:
Dear K,

Currently, I'm back in California, staying in my mother's spare spare bedroom and trying to get a handle on my future. Or trying to will one into shape. I've been applying for temporary teaching jobs out here (to no avail) and also to permanent university posts on the east coast and back in the UK, most beginning in January. I've yet to hear anything, though. Mainly, I'm just re-acclimatizing to old surroundings and trying my best not to fall into old habits, old systems of thought. I've been thinking a lot about the concept of redemption lately, primarily because, the other night, I happened to read Cynthia Ozick on the redemptive thrust of literature:

'The tales we care for lastingly are the ones that touch on redemption--not it should be understood, on the guaranteed promise of redemption, and not on goodness, kindness, decency, all the usual virtues...Redemption means fluidity; the notion that people and things are subject to willed alteration; the sense of possibility; of turning away from, or turning toward; of deliverance; the sense that we act for ourselves rather than are acted upon; the sense that we are responsible...above all that we can surprise ourselves...Implicit in redemption is everything against the fated or the static: everything that hates death and harm and elevates the life-giving...'

Please do tell me anything you've found particularly inspiring lately. Again, even the smallest thing...

Personally, I've been a little bit obsessed with public libraries, falling in love with these old school American architectural lovesongs to the book. Seriously. I'd forgotten them. The quaintness, but also the wealth of real, intimate culutre. The kind of stuff that gets clouded from one's vision after three years in the Bodleian. A strange sort of giddiness totally absent in academia. 

Later the recipient of this email told me that she herself had gone to the library to look up this essay of Ozick's, but someone had torn it out of the book.   

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Return to Sender

I once knew a girl who said she wanted to live in the countryside. She used to send me postcards and letters telling me about this, describing the life she wanted: picking apples and working sometimes in some dusty old general store where old people came to drink coffee in the mornings. She hoped, one day, to find herself drinking bottles of beer on a porch somewhere, watching the sun go down, maybe listening to the radio, birdsong in the trees. Once, when we were on the phone late at night, she told me how she would paint in an upstairs bedroom she had converted into a studio, with windows that overlooked a lawn, a hammock, a tandem bike leaning against a fence. In her most honest, most vulnerable moments she might mention children and trips to a lake with water wings and blankets and buckets and spades. It bowled me over, hearing all this.

We kissed once at a party. That's how we met. She had herself an awful boyfriend at the time, we got talking, we had an encounter in a hallway. As far as I know, she's engaged to a lawyer now (who, I’m told, treats her very well) and lives at the edge of a city she once refused, categorically, ever to return to. She no longer writes to me, or phones me late at night. Last I heard, she was dreaming of traveling to India, or New York, or Japan, like all the other women I know.

Saturday, 31 March 2012

For the Love of Gold Days

A rather heavenly home I found once while wandering around Sweden on Google Maps...

Friday, 30 March 2012

My Sister the Poet

I am sitting alone in her room, again. This is the room where she writes. There is a lamp, a window, a gauzy curtain, an empty bowl of cereal with spoonfuls of milk left inside.
There are one or two bookshelves (stuffed to the gills) and a typewriter, a selection of pencils: it’s neither a study or an office, though, but a private space. The ghosts of words faintly traced into the wood grain of the tabletop appear wherever the light lands in front of me. I am surrounded by her things, little objects she has touched and moved around many times like so many talismans (which she told me once, standing on the lawn outside, came from the Greek word "telein" which means "to initiate into mysteries"). I can see her fingerprints on these picture frames, this loose button, this seashell with its pink underbelly. I am not quite trespassing so much as interloping, here, sitting in her place, waiting for her, ostensibly to ask her some nothing question about the time, or about the weather, or about a phone number I've forgotten. I'm doing what I assume she does, whenever she's in here, waiting for words and images to come. Cozing up to them, sneakily.
I sit here at her desk, but she is not here with me. I think I can hear her faintly, pacing, humming under her breath while she feeds the cat and waits for the kettle to rumble and click. And so I just bide my time before she comes back again and asks me to leave. I prepare myself for this dismissal, for the smile she'll shoot me, which will take me bashfully from her seat with the creak in its legs. It's a sound I sometimes hear elsewhere in the house, this creaking, coming through the walls, telling me she's hard at work. So I lean back a few times, trying to get it exactly right, this sound that is hers alone. I relax carefully into that chair, calling its owner back to me.