Illuminations

Those passages in novels in which the laboured-over story gathers itself into fleeting moments of clarity and illuminates itself in all directions. Idea of a book containing only such passages – something like Stephen Hero’s book of epiphanies, or a collection of Woolf’s ‘little daily miracles, illuminations, matches struck unexpectedly in the dark’. But life rightly barges into our rooms and pulls us out of our ideas, into more little miracles.

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The familiar

Cocker also writes that ‘a preoccupation with the exceptional is almost hardwired into the human imagination’. It’s become almost impossible to escape the lure of the exceptional. But perhaps the exceptional (the marketable) is becoming the least worthy of thought. Perhaps the mystery in the familiar is becoming the hardest thing to understand.

I grow too used to the world again. I make it commonplace, veil the day behind the everyday. I become a burden to myself, moving from bedroom to bathroom, from the bathroom to the kitchen, from the kitchen back to bed and my laptop. It’s raining.

Sometimes the nearest things – what we’re most used to – are the hardest to see: we see them too often to see them fresh. Too much home and home becomes oddly alien. I’m a body moving through the same rooms, the same fields, the same shops… No dramatic mountain peaks in this flatland. No vantage point from which to sweep your arm across the horizon and grasp it all…

What did I mean by the mystery in the familiar? (Already the phrase grows stale, kitschy.) Giacometti said, ‘The closer I come, the grander it is, the more remote it is.’ Doesn’t Being lurk most intimately in the beings we encounter every day – in the mystery of their being here at all? In the things and people we move among, in ourselves, the fact of our shared being hides in plain day. Closest and grandest.

A new score

With words my material and immediate environment I am at once halfway the victim and halfway the successful traveller. There is the involuntary war between me and that environment flowing in on me from all sides and there is the poetic outcome. I am not the victim of my environment. History does not repeat itself. I am the bearer of that poetic outcome. History continually arrives as differently as our most recent minute on earth. The labourer going home in the dusk shouts his goodnight across the road and History has a new score on its track. The shape is changed a little.

– W.S. Graham, ‘Notes on a Poetry of Release’

Spring always came finally

With so many trees in the city, you could see the spring coming each day until a night of warm wind would bring it suddenly in one morning. Sometimes the heavy cold rains would beat it back so that it would seem that it would never come and that you were losing a season out of your life… In those days, though, the spring always came finally but it was frightening that it had nearly failed.

– Hemingway

Dormant

Branches brilliant with hoar frost and bleak fields on the way down to the river. I think of Wallace Stevens’ mind of winter. Does that help? I can’t decide, it’s too cold to think. A boat chugs by leaving a dense wobbling wake in the near-freezing water. The path is ridged with hard mud. On the surface of the willow pond pure freshwater forms shapes like oil slicks as the brackish water sinks and starts to freeze. I spot a snipe at the water’s edge, blended with the reeds and puffed up against the cold, the end of its long beak sticking out from under its wing. Everything here seems dormant: conserving energy, waiting, secretly growing. On the way back there’s black ice on the road and frost feathers on the windshields and roofs of the cars that spread out in unique, elaborate shapes as if unfolding some deep structure of nature itself.

Class on the coast

To the coast on my new bike. The low tide exposes a bank of sand on which tiny crabs scuttle between pebbles and bladderwrack.

This part of the Norfolk coast – the closest to us – is a world away from the northern stretch. In fact the coastline as a whole is as clear a demonstration of the British class system as you could wish for. To the east, Great Yarmouth with its familiar story: once a rich port and Victorian holiday resort, now one of the most deprived towns in the country after decades of budget airlines, package holidays and a spiral of worklessness and neglect as the regional cities have gentrified and pushed those in the margins further out. Here are slot machines, betting shops and terriers. In the north, at a suitable distance from the caravan parks, second homes in tasteful muted colours and Range Rovers have replaced the old fishermen’s cottages and carts. The beaches are wider and sandier, the pubs have Michelin stickers on their doors, the dogs of choice are spaniels and labradors.

Twisted postures

‘I’m not myself today.’ Pregnant phrase. Who or what then?

Woolf: ‘I see myself as a fish in a stream; deflected; held in place; but cannot describe the stream.’

When I was younger it was often as if the current of another life – the success I should have been in the world – flowed over me, pushed me this way and that or left me stuck somewhere. What else is that current but the stories of success that the flow of capital uses to seduce us, having broken down the old stories of our lives? All day I translate business texts to make money to pay our inflated rent. They’ve set up a billboard for payday loans down the road… We’re degraded by capital, a force as concrete as the foundation under our house and as abstract and fleeting as stock indices rolling down a screen. It reaches us out here in the Broads, of course, infiltrating and compromising our lives: it owns us, makes us want to degrade ourselves before it, mocks these very words, tells me I don’t understand it because I’m not living in the real world, which is its world, a world that seeks to swallow all alternatives. We try to straighten out the twisted postures this life has forced us into so we can walk, breathe, think. We try to gather strength to unlearn its happy endings, to see through the screens it erects against the day. Yet here I am, translating business texts on my laptop to pay the bills, never sure how much I’ll make from month to month…