Saturday, August 11

The Graveyard Shift

DESPITE HAVING THE week off work I still went in on Monday, just for a couple of hours. I ended up staying four-and-a-half, then a director asked me to cover a meeting – ‘Just an hour. Just sit in there for an hour.’ ‘Pete, I came in at half-eight for two hours to do something on Monument – it’s now one o clock.’ I made a b-line for the door. Forty-five minutes later my friend told me that the director had been looking around the office for me. ‘The place is insane,’ I thought. The day was hot & sunny so I took a walk around. Even though it was a weekday in the city I work in I was dressed in civilian clothes and feeling good, if a little hungover, weak and upset from a family argument the night before. The night before. It still ached a little; I retreated into the dark with a bottle of whiskey and Pessoa for company; then words begun to bleed out of me, which was good. Tourists for the games walked around, with various accents and skin colours and all of them joyful. I perspired. I spent a lot of money in a record store, where I was stopped by someone I went to university with. I didn’t remember his name or much about him. Neither of us were in music anymore; he was a personal trainer. He had always been unimpressionable to me and I wondered if I were the same to him. I never really spoke to anyone at university.
The next day I went to find some paper for painting. It was all mothers and children in the shop. The school holidays. It was a relief to have the week off as it was a week of good weather. I never grew bored. I amused myself with painting and swimming and walking during the day; then in the evenings – which I looked forward to the most – I sat in my room, getting drunk and writing. I never intended to get drunk but when you have no reason to wake up, a bottle of wine & a bottle of whiskey, you tend to get a little carried away. I made a good start on my second story, and wrote poetry when the novel was unappealing. Sometimes the words slammed my face into the keyboard, other times they kept themselves hid. ‘Hmm, this could be quite good,’ I thought to myself, but then – ‘It’s a piece of shit. You’d be better doing something else. You’re no Anton Chekhov.’ As if the universe was egging me on to do the right thing, Katie West wrote me:

‘Speaking of sharp – your poems. All backward language and pop-elegance. I'm making up words to describe them, but it was the first time in a long while I'd read poetry and not felt like the author was trying too hard to be clever, or to impress. Your poems are just what they're meant to be: compulsive.’

This stranger had just done her bit. I felt a little revived; and, what’s more, was that she understood – in one word – the choiceless labour of writing that I carry out, perhaps because she carries it out, too. Compliments never linger, but that did. Thankfully so. I was filled with uncharacteristic confidence and determination.
I liked being underwater when swimming. The water was clear, though it stung my eyes. Studying the sounds underwater interested me. I would tap the side of the pool, checking the timbre and the pitch. Then I swam lengths without breathing. I experimented with breathing out enough air that I could float in the middle of the water without either rising or sinking. I got it right just once. Meanwhile the ripples cast sunlight nets over me and everything I saw.
Then in another moment of doubt, a friend sent me a quote by Robert Hughes:

‘The greater the artist, the greater the doubt. Perfect confidence is granted to the less talented as a consolation prize.’

And I owed the universe a drink. There are some things I haven’t achieved this week but it has still passed nicely. My first story is in the final stages of edit and is clocking in at just under fifty pages (if it were to be printed) and the story is unlike one I have read or written before. It was very early Thursday night … Friday morning, before the sun had risen: I was drunk and trying to get a poem with a harpoon off the side of a boat. My dad was up, having been woken by a pain in his arm, and was sat in his office – ‘What are you still doing up?’ ‘I’m trying to nail something,’ I told him. He went to bed. The night was cool and black and there was a thin wind blowing through the houses. I lay down on the floor and stared at the stars. They went up and on forever. There was no stopping them. Wine & whiskey heated my veins but it was a good heat that made me feel nauseous when I was horizontal. Staring at the stars made me feel even sicker and I thought that I might vomit. Something had been instilled in me, though, and I was able to finish the poem. Sometimes it goes like that.

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