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.

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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…

Strumpshaw Fen

To Strumpshaw Fen with S. From the low-lying path the pleasure boats on the river seem to glide over the reeds. In the hide S. points out a marsh harrier flapping erratically above the reedbed and a cormorant standing on a pole with outstretched wings like some strange idol presiding over this man-managed reserve. Over the meadows shrieking swifts feed on mists of insects they’ll soon carry south across the seas in their bellies. A partridge hops along the path in front of us. We point and laugh at its panicky prance, but there’s no comedy in nature. It hides in the reeds where it stops and looks back at us in what seems like fear as we creep up to it to get a closer look. Sometimes you only see how utterly different wild animals are when you get close to them: the black beads in its head hardly look like eyes, its richly detailed plumage is not for you.

Miracle

Heavy with homesickness for being. In my heaviness the moment passes me by. I’m looking for it in these scattered words. Is it looking for me too, the moment, calling me into itself? Does it need my words to come to itself? But it’s been and gone and I’m passing my time in detours. Then – miracle – the words come together and lift me into it, the silent moment.

Towards what?

When I name a thing it comes alive for a moment, then sinks back into itself. I no longer know it, the name’s no longer true. I move between the nameless and the named. These words really should be varying shades between black and white, appearing and disappearing on the screen. And yet they seem to be making their way towards something. Towards what?

Nothing worse than false optimism. Better to bide your time.

Silence

Heidegger: ‘We speak our language. How else can we be close to language except by speaking? Even so, our relation to language is vague, obscure, even speechless.’ And: ‘As mystery, the word remains remote. As a mystery that is experienced, the remoteness is near.’

What does this mean? Perhaps that language, born of silence, retains an intimacy with silence; that it binds us to the near and remote silence which our words at once conceal and reveal.

*

S. and I move about the cottage each sensing the other’s presence. We speak, or don’t: speech or silence, it’s all the same. When she goes outside I swear I can feel her absence even if I haven’t heard her leave.

S. tells me about a study which showed that when couples live together they begin to mirror each other physiologically. Their heart rates, breathing and brainwaves synchronize when they’re in each other’s presence, as when our footsteps fall in with those of the person we’re walking with.

*

Noise weighs on me now the way silence used to, even out here. The right words, the words of wholeness, come in stillness: when the pigeon isn’t cooing, the cat isn’t scratching something, customers aren’t knocking on the door wanting to buy eggs, delivery vans aren’t rolling by to T.’s farm… Then something takes hold that’s mine yet not mine.

*

A new time of speaking and listening: strange, circuitous route to what’s already here, even in silence. The language says: ‘a telling silence’. Dream of a writing that responds to the speaking echo of silence. Words are long since worn out, the moment and the day too, barely there, yet as full as ever.