I lived in Australia, once. For a long time. All the time that I was small, and a properly fat slice of being a small grown-up, too.
Now I live in England. For many years now, really, although it doesn't seem like that.
These two things are terribly important -- they're The Two Things, the stories of everything that has ever happened to me. I keep trying to make them fit together, like a magic ring trick or a tessellation of two piles of coloured tiles. But it is not like that. It is like reaching for lens flare. The things I know about England aren't the same things that I knew about in Australia and when I think of the English things, I feel like I don't know anything about Australia at all. Perhaps I really don't. Perhaps I lived there when I didn't know anything about anything. I was small.
Today I took things I'd made and tore them into pieces, tore off things I'd stuck to them, put them back together crazy-paved and squinted to see if something emerged. Shuffle, shuffle. Shuffle, shuffle, squint.
I was pretending a little because many shreds are already in focus but they scare the stuffing out of me, scare the very vowels out of the words they're made of. Look a little to the right, and the star reappears.
It rained. The bird ground oatcakes into powder with soft and causal fascination. I read poetry and squished my hands delightedly into the wonderful wet mud of its doneness, its writtenness, its words glued into place with the perfect confidence of the obsessive or what-the-fuck.
I do not like the presentation-folder bits of things.
Avocado on toast and a head full of pollen. Sleep, solitaire. Water the cranesbill, broccoli for the parrot, sign for the parcels. MacNeice like clean old handkerchiefs, a fuchsia Muldoon someone threw about a bit. Tickets to a show, ho ho. Spitter-spatter of rain, warm air, an LP for baby brother, wrap it up, brown paper, striped string, red tape, kraftwerk twice over.
All the lost interpretations, All the unconsummated consummations, All the birds that flew and left the big sky empty Come back throwing shadows on our patience
I stopped writing on my blog because I had something else to write, something else to make. I thought that writing here was cannibalising that work somehow, eating up its crucial middle while I noodled away here in the never-never. Zero sum canapés.
But it didn't work, did it. Of course it didn't. The noodle is what makes the whole thing twirl around the fork and make a mouthful. There are always more things to talk about, other things I could tell you, things that are for here and things that are for there.
But are there really? I am terrible at this. To me it seems like there is only ever one thing, one thought, one prickle-branching trajectory. No nice joints to angle your cleaver into, everything together, everything a metaphor for something else, whatever else, anything else; everything the same story, everything an allegory about the thing that you happen to be saying today. How can I be saying more than one thing? How can I be doing two things? I don't even understand what that means.
I'm sorry for my silence. I'm working on Something. I'm not talking about it here, not because it's a big secret or anything, but because talking about things that I am doing and pretending that is the same as actually doing them is the number-one most-fucking-annoying character trait I have to endure in myself.
Yesterday I sat at my desk trying to think about The Something in the broadest way I've so far managed, stepped-back and fact-matterish, not matter-of-factish, and paper and books and fragments of envelope and plates with toast crumbs and parts of maps and photographs pooled outward, ripple ripple like one of those cheesy hotel posters with the high-speed photograph of the droplet hitting the water. I spread things out on the floor. Piles accumulated around the edges of my postage-stamp desk, seaweed on the tideline, until they got dumped off the edges and replaced by new piles. I shoved at the things that had come off the desk to get at the first-generation things on the floor until I was shoving at the tenth-generation seaweed to get at the fourth-generation stuff from ten minutes ago and also where the hell is my pencil no not that one the other one and then it hit me that I needed A Wall.
You know The Wall. Like Sherlock has, or like all the cop shows have, or like any conspiracy theorist or obsessed my-parents/wife/children-were-murdered shut-in ever committed to film ever, with index cards and mugshots and photographs and newspaper clippings and maps and pins and notes on yellow legal pad paper and red felt-tip circles around things or possibly faces in photographs with big black Xs on them and some important question marks on sticky notes and the all-important pink string connecting all the dots.
I want one of those walls. I need one. It shall be mine. The living room wall has a date with destiny.
I have a shopping list. Rolls of poster paper. Pastel index cards. String. Postcards with the right pictures on them. Eight kinds of washi tape with stripes and spots, because reasons.
I possibly need a mugshot for texture. Also, I found out that there is a tumblr for the crazy wall. Because of course there is. Good job, internet.
Sometimes the trouble is that the words don't come, or they stand wide-eyed in the headlights of intention as though they might be run over if they dare to express something. Sometimes you sit and you sit and you sit and the words look at you complacently from under the couch. Sometimes words pour out of you like a little lion-faced fountain with a circulating pump and later you look at them and go buh?
But actually that's not the problem right now. Or it might be, if I bothered to find out, and I could wear the weary-but-charming face of The Writer Who Cannot but instead I am throwing a tantrum of world-crushing proportions. STOMP STOMP STOMP, XtinKaiju.
The One True Tantrum. The koan of I-don't-wanna. The laser-beam eyes of fuck-you that you turn on the unopened mail, the unanswered text, the dinner that's supposed to be organised by now, the trip that's powering anxiety nightmares that awaken you with the taste of metal behind your teeth.
I thumb the pages of my passport, dog-eared in spite of itself, with a kink in the top where I clip the UK residence permit to the back cover. There is a slightly glittery smudge on it from some eyeshadow it got tangled with once in my handbag in Germany. A photo of me from nearly ten years ago. A teeny-tiny rendition of my signature. I turn it over in my hands and try to make it into the small booklet of micro-printed paper that it really is. But no. I cannot defeat it, gently thrumming emblem of my elsewhereness. I put it back where it goes.
I had meant to tell you about my walk to Logan's Meadow on Saturday, a scant muddy handful of nature reserve on the Cam riverbank, opposite the Cambridge Museum of Technology, which used to be Cambridge's sewage pumping station. There's a flat grassy bit with joggers and this bonkers swift nesting tower which is inspired by the African sun. The Ombre Roundel. I made that up. Not the part about the African sun. That part is totally true. Anyway, behind the featureless jogger-dog-turdy bit, there is a wonderful tangle of dead trees and ponds and birches and small soft new cow parsley at your ankles like salad leaves and baby nettles and celandine and its greeny-grey hearts creeping about the twiggy bits and and moor hens skrawking in the mud and an enormous, lusty choir of tits and robins and chaffinches, nonchalant city ones, not like the shy rustics at Bradfield Wood who followed us like an FBI tail, covert and yelling alarm calls into their cuffs. Three robins are singing for their invisible fences, throats as wide as if to swallow their opponents whole, ear-splitting riffs right into my face, for heaven knows, perhaps I've designs on this tree too. Blue tits bounce in the still-bare trees, tee-CHAR, spare me half a glance, perhaps the slightest tilt of the cap. Squashed catkins in the paths like discarded bits of Nutkin.
Two boys drink and bicker on the farthest fishing platform, knees crooked proprietorially over their fallen cycles as if they might rope them like calves at a rodeo. Well, that's what you said to me, says the one in the yellow hoodie with matching baseball cap, lacing everything with eighteen more inflections than seems possible. Eyeroll, says the one in red with the matching baseball cap. They are like cards lost from a UNO deck. I don't suppose either of them have ever seen a UNO deck.
I walk home by the riverside path with mud on my boots and my binoculars magnifying the lint in my pocket, past the runners and the buggies and the families wearing ironed shirts, past the postbox wearing a spiked hat like a bit of iron-maiden salvage, past the toddlers feeding swans and the narrow boats with for sale signs and the crackle of coxboxes, past the picnics on the common. Back at the little house there is bread for toast.