31 July 2003
Two stories in which I am in the real world but splash about at the shores of others, displaying an inability to live in the moment:
The London Underground smells because it's summer and it's hot. The carriage is about half full, and I'm sitting waiting on the bench for the station to arrive, trying to read a book. The's book's hard, and I'm not doing very well - it's referring to philosophers I've never read and often never heard of - and I'm being distracted by the conversation to my left. Sitting there are two women, talking about whether to go to America. One tells the other that she must go because she (the other) can always come back and she might meet a millionnaire. I look at their reflection in the window (we're in a tunnel). They don't look any different to anyone else on the tube. As well as not reading my book, I'm not listening to music. I only listen to music on crowded trains if I'm feeling rude or when the train is only half full, and never when sitting down. A person might decline a seat because it's next to me and they'd have to overhear my music.
Something in the book catches my attention. It's about Freud and writing, and how the written word extends memory, much like glasses and the eyes. Then he says how actually it's more complex than that, and provides two further analogies. They're pretty good, and trying to understand them occupies me until my stop.
Going through the barrier I pass my ticket over the reader, there's a beep and the gate opens. Later at work I'll do the same with my work swipe card. Doors open for me by the laying on of palms. I wonder how far the event travels? It's so disproportionate. I could be changing my credit rating so I can never buy a house or I could just be counted in the big number of how many people have used the station, but it alters nothing to me. The crack that starts the earthquake (or not), the grain of sand that causes the pile to collapse (or not). I guess it's like that. It's not like a lever, which is proportionate, certainly, or like knots or gardening, both of which tend to order or disorder. Something else. Something poised between cascading and dying away. A thing that continues.
My musing stops as I play my music and look at the buildings on my walk to work. I don't think of anything in particular except for the little things that catch my eye, and I don't think about where the music came from, how it was recorded (or how far away), or economics or anything. I'm just listening to the music, and walking. Some things I see:
A paint can on the road and some coloured dust scattered underneath it. A bright green and red neon sign. A leaf that looked like a moth, that might have been a moth, in the corner of the walls and the ground on the tube train, near the door. An upsidedown beetle. To the right of the pavement, on the other side of a black fence, a trench in the ground that gives light to the basement windows, and at the ground floor an open space demarkated by a beam at ceiling height. For some reason this shape reminds me of a protein shape, in that the shape isn't just the physical thing but its position, and context (distance from and relation to the universal substrate), and the time in which it exists, and this shape has never existed before and never will again. Every few minutes I see a configuration, or a trajectory through history, or an object, or a man with hands in his pockets walking through a doorway (which itself represents property, and place, and cities, and so on), and I'm almost overwhelmed with the sensation of witnessing beauty. It's hard to breathe, my chest is tight, and I feel as though if I let go I'd drop to my knees and weep with the awe that fills me. I swallow it down as a hard knot, knowing I'll never have these moments again, and knowing I'll never have those same thoughts again. What I remember didn't happen. I walk to work in a procession of cathedrals I'm visiting for the last time.
A few weeks ago I was in the New Forest on a walk, on the telephone, talking to a friend in Nottingham. The scenery there is pleasant and rests easy with itself. Looking around and talking it wasn't easy to be in the right frame of mind for a conversation, or at least it wasn't easy to be in the usual, London, frame of mind.
I was standing near a herd of horses and one very near me, about three metres away, looked up suddenly and winnied. Then he ran, directly at me, his eyes furious. Nervously, I stepped out of the way, and he thundered off over the rise. I think, on the phone, I said "Um".