How to carve a life

It’s Nyepi Day here in Bali; day of silence (we are not allowed to go out onto the streets among other rules; patrol men say so!) after the night of monster spirits, the Ogoh Ogohs, being paraded through streets across the country and ending in fire. Today is a new year, day one, blank slate, day of reflection (from 6am this morning until 6am tomorrow morning) and, in my case, laundry day.

Yesterday, the supermarket (to which I was kindly driven by the homestay family member, Made, with some friends I’d acquired within hours of arriving here and invited along for the group outing, much to his enthusiasm), was absolutely packed with a long line of kitchen-less tourists stocking up on storecupboard essentials as if an apocalypse was nigh. If apocalypse just means ‘new beginning’, ‘revelation’ or ‘uncovering’ (from the Greek apokálypsis), it’s kind of true, of course, according to the Balinese. A box of walnuts cost nearly a fiver, and some heartily healthy granola (coconut, banana, rosella, red rice, oats, cassava…) cost about the same. I stocked up frivolously (peanut butter, juice, a peach, that kind of thing), and took great refuge in the fact that spending in a different currency doesn’t always feel like spending real money.

I write this on a terrace, eating some unidentified green substance with a spoon Continue reading

The Others in our Heads

At a writing event the other day, someone read something out during which the main character licks their third left molar ‘and does all the other things we do when we’re uncomfortable’. As the rest of the paragraph washed over me, I automatically licked my own (having calculated at lightning speed which molar the author meant; third from left, third from right?) and observed several others around me discreetly trying the same. Yes, we all agreed in silence while not meeting each others’ eyes; this is what we do when we’re uncomfortable. We lick our third left molar.

Details make for good writing, which is all about truth, whichever brand of truth particularly on offer.

I looked up a book today after a personal recommendation (a book recommendation is a sort of gift; it should never be fobbed off lightly) and read some online reviews. The book had been shortlisted for a massive international prize. ‘Boring boring boring’ said one dissatisfied customer under a 1-star review (zero isn’t an option, as another reviewer noted) entitled ‘Stupefyingly boring’; she went on to announce that she ‘will never again buy novels about men living inside their own heads’. At this point, and after some other reviews (some adoring, some more mixed) mentioning themes of displacement and genre-defiance, I was positively salivating and I couldn’t order it fast enough. Continue reading

Hallmarks of a good-bad decision

Making decisions has never been my strongest talent. Even as I write this, I don’t know exactly what I’m going to write about. It’s great, isn’t it? I have absolutely zero plan. I wonder if you’ll read on. I’ll probably write on – here in the attic bedroom I have brought my laptop up to especially, only because I have the urge; that formless, purposeless yet driven urgency to find out what I’m finding out about, what I’m figuring out; all via the wonderful medium of webbity blogging.  Continue reading

Ways to write a world

I wrote a whole world, once. Then I wrote another. Then another.

What is there to do with these worlds, afterwards? They sort of linger, lolling about in your head.

It’s a funny thing to finish a world; it’s a sudden decision to stop; simply to stop putting down the lifeline of its words or thought pattern. You walk along and hear a character’s voice, remarking on something which has amused him; speaking words which he is certain, by the way, is the kind of thing he’d say; he’s become quite witty – quite worldly, even stuck in that fertile ring of performance you formed with your sentences, that belt you put around him, that supposed perimeter defining him, a sort of spritz put about the sense of him. Continue reading

Zephyrs & Value (in a world of paper)

I find it quite interesting (by which I mean annoying) that when I play a piano piece I used to know very well, but which has – through my recent abandon of it – started the gentle cascade towards only semi-memory, it is the old favourite parts that I mis-play, or forget completely. I get to the most beautiful part of a piece; the section I would once have felt my way through with my eyes closed, or while gazing absently at the blue picture frame in front of me (which used to belong to my Grandma and contains a poem about how much more we would value the world if it were small enough to fit in our hands), but this time my fingers freak out and have no idea what to do. Continue reading

An Ode to the Arbitrary Deadline

You are my favourite whim; my grounding line; my comfort and my direction.

May my ship always sail boldly towards you, with hand-written notes-to-self flickering skull-flags at the front.

You have guided me through deep waters and beamed over rocks in the night.

May your power never be mistaken for limp liminality; may your presence always be fondly felt.

May your laugh never falter; may logic dictate you and heart revel in you, but may you raise your eyebrow, gameful, in the face of calendrical chronology. Continue reading

On showering; or how I hold the world together

Climbing the grand steps of self-labelling, there are many levels to nudge oneself through (one is both a person leading the horse on a piece of rope, and the horse being urged to proceed through each narrow gate) before one can truly feel comfortable calling oneself ‘a writer’. There is the ‘I’m not really a writer unless I have published my fourth novel and won another prize‘ brigade, and on the other side of the scale there is the horse-before-cart, self-actualising, The Secret-loving, manifestation-willing, glory-expecting camp of those who enthusiastically consider ‘being a writer’ merely to mean ‘sometimes I think about stuff and definitely will write some of it down one day; it’s gonna be good.’ Somewhere in between, there is this trusty landmark: you can’t call yourself any kind of writer until at least one person has asked you where you get your ideas from.

When some people shower in the morning, I imagine they think about the way the water feels, how they need to replace the shampoo soon, or what they’ll have for breakfast. On one level, I’m doing all this too (luxuriating in bergamot and orange homemade body scrubs, etc.; though I definitely have already had breakfast; I wake up starving each morning and have to eat immediately) but on another level, while the water runs over my body, I’m merrily and involuntarily living several other lives in my head like an absolute weirdo. Continue reading