Christine saw the stencil, tucked into the corner of the decaying billboard that loomed over her on her walk to work. A pair of red lips, eyes and white gloved hands, essential components, presented in primary colours. The lack of art in her everyday life compelled her to seek it out, so she took random photographs on her phone, kept in a folder to amuse her during breaks at work.
There was a caption underneath.
MAY LOVES FORTUNE, WAIT NOT IN VAIN FOR YOUR CERTAIN ATTENTION.
She saved it and kept walking. Ten minutes late and she was summoning the will to affect she cared. The job paid rent and overheads, but left little else. Christine fed her soul from what was around her, but it was an appetite of overwhelming demand. When life was a series of numb grey and mauve washes, she sought sips of brighter feeling.
On her break, she sat in the corner of the room, deleting the last anonymous penis pictures that marked her attempt to find a relationship on the internet. Legions of disembodied genitals, offered instead of purpose and character. One or two had looked threatening. She opened her art folder on her phone, looking to cleanse her soul’s palate with something beautiful.
The writing remained but otherwise there was no trace of the image. Christine frowned and swiped through, wondering if the light had been bad until she saw the next picture. A willow tree, heavy with blossom and there was the clown, stood beneath it and his hand gestured towards the screen.
She shut her eyes to force the image from her mind.
‘Chris, you’re needed back on the shop floor.’
Ben stood there, peering over his glasses and his jowls wobbling with repressed irritation.
The rest of the shift passed in a chill fog of unease. Christine ignored her phone, detaching herself from the shifting unease through the routines of her day. She left off without speaking to anyone, reaching in her pocket to see if it had all been a trick of the light.
He had moved deeper into the folder.
Stood next to a graffiti mural, studying it with a deep interest. He wore a suit, muted and tasteful despite the choices of green and purple. He looked less like a clown each time she saw him.
Sat on the side of the road, watching the carnival parade with a gleeful grin on his face. Clowns terrified her, but he had become more substantial, more certain and less deranged. She slipped her phone away, wiping her eyes with a sudden, feverish panic.
Her flatmates were out, marked by a sink full of dishes, a shipwreck amidst a sea of grease-saturated water. The mundane disappointment of the real world proved to be a panacea to her gibbering imagination.
Her phone trilled and she answered it.
‘Hello.’ she said.
A soft, low male chuckle.
‘So, it’s you I have to thank, Christine.’
Her stomach roiled at the mention of her name. The sole of her shoe stuck against something embedded in the carpet.
‘I’m sorry, who is this?’
He cleared his throat.
‘This was not a deliberate release.’ he said.
A tinge of sadness washed through his words. Christine fought the impulse to apologise.
‘No, I think you’ve got the wrong number.’ she said.
He sighed with a melancholic acceptance.
‘It looks right from the inside here.’ he said.
The hairs went up on her arms and she shivered.
‘OK, I will go now.’ she said.
‘I’m sorry. Could you do me one last favour?’ he said.
She pulled the phone from her ear, looked at the screen. Her number.
‘If it’s a picture of your cock, then no.’
He chuckled and took a deep breath.
‘No, I want you to put me on speaker. Then I am done.’
‘How are you on my number? Why should I put you on speaker? You will not masturbate’ she said.
He met her breathless litany of questions with a sigh.
‘Please, to do such things without a partner is beneath me. Just a press of the button, then it’s done.’ he said.
She pressed the button. He sighed with pleasure, whispered something in another language, rich with endearment.
The call ended.
Christine went to bed, wrestled with insomnia until her eyes burned with fatigue. She dialled her own number, and it went straight to voicemail. Surrender was the best option, so she went with it.
The next morning was bright and full of song. Christine was awake before the alarm, pleased that she would be five minutes late rather than ten or fifteen.
He stood on the corner, in a suit of immaculate tailoring, vermillion and green material. He had washes of greasepaint across his eyes but nothing across his full lips. A battered hat sat next to his feet like a loyal pet, brimming with coins and notes. She stopped and smiled at him.
He mouthed three words from across the street.
She started to walk across the road but he raised his hand to stop her, tapping his wrist with his index finger and giving a mocking frown. Christine checked her phone, saw that she was already late but five minutes made no more difference than ten or fifteen.
Her heart raced at the sight of him. He grinned as she started to walk towards him.
He sent them to be seen by her. That he had tangible proof of his commitment to his purpose and his growth. Each session, each rejection of easy but costly temptation was there in the heft of his pectorals, the lines and striations in his hip flexors and the way that the softness around his jawline was disappearing. He loved the reaction, knowing that she carried the coiling heat of want within her. A talisman against the bland sweep of days. He could not fake the look in his eyes, in a moment sourced in purest expression of his primal, sexual self. Such awareness and acceptance was rare, he had denied it before, but now he was comforted and protected by it.
She struggled with it. She knew the angles to offset the parts of herself that remained distasteful to her. Her body rebelled with the marks of time, but his reaction cast its magic over her. A litany of informed praise, fuelled by want rather than need. Through him, she saw herself and it rubbed raw against everything else around her. A sweet pain, an eroticized grief that in its rejection, left deep scars that only he would be able to heal.
Now the mirror, the chain of static images connects them both and they pretend it is not there for the sake of sanity.
It remains though, and it would take so little yet so much to pick it up again and feel its comforting, powerful weight.
Brilliant with light
True as anything
Dancing beneath as we
Grace one another
Pores and veins
Magical in it’s intensity
Huge in it’s intention
Mutual kindness continuing
The unspoken heat
Between us seethes
Peering between the bars
Of it’s cage
Yet so often, it’s lust
Is mistaken for anger
But here, we pass one another
The means to set it free.
Wrestling against one another
Mouths blooming where they meet
Hands finding something worthy
To touch, the fragile strength
That grows and swells
Like a stormcloud
Soak me with your rain
Deafen me with your thunder
Burn me with your lightning
It has your eyes
And my voice
To uninvited parties
With solemn expressions
Is not eloquence
And there are those
Who call for no
Fear of acknowledging
Their own powerlessness
But I have
Found my dominion
A battle within myself
Is only in
With who I
The man of tomorrow
And you’re welcome
Only if you
Understand the path
Leads further than you
Might have the strength
But you’re welcome
To keep up
And in the pauses
When my attention
Turns to you
With the force of
A man about
A beast of
Who knows what
And within that
Beautiful in surrendered
There is always a sinking feeling after a book ends, in terms of writing it, where you know that all the experiences, tangential and direct, that informed it will never happen to you again. If they do, it won’t be in the same way. Different, in that you’ve felt them, learned them or been hurt by them. Until She Sings took a lot of work to get it to a point where I had something and it feels like my first book in a way that The Love We Make did not. Nothing Keeps Me Anywhere is more informed by my craft, She’s Here, which I am currently editing is already reflecting my experience in terms of changing some character’s names and expanding on narrative colour.
Feelings, essentially. Tommy’s voice is as distinct as John (NKMA) and certainly different from Caitlin (USS).
Lawful Evil is going well, it’s a more terse, ballistic book and where I’ve expanded on the theme, it carries a sweep that I enjoy. I dive into it and everything, everyone else goes away.
I’ve pitched two book ideas on spec to my agent, both quite different from one another as I’m more conscious of stories and their innate connection and appeal. At the moment, I’m writing for no one other than myself, and my agent. For those of you who do read me, I am eternally grateful and without commenting or liking, I presume that you take an interest in what I have to say or who I am.
Writing saves me every day. People let you down, circumstances change but there is always the page. It’s what drags me out of bed at four in the morning, to get pages and editing done before work. Last weekend, when I nearly died, a small part of me was okay with it because I had sent Until She Sings to the agent and it was out there now, a small piece of me that would last as long as there was anyone willing to read it. It is anaesthesia, narcotic and hallucinogen all at once. When I made it my purpose, which sounds grandiose but it’s honest, I was not sure what that would mean. It means that it becomes something you do when you’re broken as well as when you’re whole. It has allowed me to reinvent and explore myself, to hold up a mirror and not be found entirely wanting by it. It’s great when there’s love flowing through you and the sun is shining but that’s easy. Your purpose proves itself when you can still write and everything is going to shit.
In terms of reading, I finished four books by Joyce Carol Oates, who is wonderful and works with a verve and edge that I wonder at in terms of whether I can replicate it or echo it in my own work. I don’t know what I am good at, these days, it’s taking something across the finish line but she has a plethora of skills and her books are poignant, passionate and the delicacy of them hides some real gut-punch writing.
I also finished Colson Whitehead’s Zone One, which was bleakly funny and entirely appropriate to my mood. It takes the tropes of the zombie apocalypse and wields it to informed, satirical observations on the world that was, or in our case is. I finished that book in a day, and started in on Sag Harbour, one of his earlier works, which is a warm, lovely book about adolescence in the 80’s.
So, at the moment, I am productive. I love the process more than the outcome, it is it’s own reward and with how things are for me right now, the process is keeping me going. Thank you for reading.
Today’s date almost looks like a palindrome.
I’ve finished the last draft of Until She Sings. I have also started editing She’s Here. Lawful Evil is going well, and am now some 250 pages into the first draft. I’ve been doing a lot more reading the last few days, and have ploughed through quite a few books inbetween chores and general day to day stuff. There’s been a lot to think about and certainly my reading has had a stoic focus on the work of Joyce Carol Oates, with three of her books devoured in a weekend when it was too wet to be out amongst nature.
I also got stung by a dead bee but that’s a story for another time.
I am also now on Facebook. So please feel free to add me on there.
I hope this finds you all well, appreciating the beauty and sadness of everything around us and within us. There is a lot of both, and sometimes the latter drowns out the former, but it’s there.
- I ended up writing at around 0230 this morning. I had a minor surgical procedure, and in my usual hopeful bravado, neglected to consider what was actually coming in terms of pain when the local anaesthetic wore off. The answer is agony each time I swallow, not that you were asking the question. I tried to sleep but ended up twitching and restless, so I came downstairs, switched on the VP debate as background noise and wrote.
- Everything goes away when I write. Exhaustion, pain, upset all get the volume turned on them when pencil hits paper or I am working on the computer. It isn’t always the most sterling work, but it gets done, then it gets excited and at some point, you cannot tell the rough pages apart from the good ones. I’m 230 pages into Lawful Evil, there’s other manuscripts with the agent and things are moving in the right direction. Not that you care, and why should you? That is a liberating question for me, as a writer.
- Why should you read my writing? Why should I read yours? I’m not being rude in that regard, but it’s the sort of question that comes up when the initial rush of fear and enthusiasm smooths out into the contemplation of how you’re going to approach things in terms of whether you stay with writing as a hobby or move beyond it. That question of why you should read my writing, is that I believe that I tell a good story with characters that are interesting and my books range from stories of ambition and personal growth through to confrontations with the supernatural. I write, for and about women, and that’s in the obvious understanding that there are no typical women readers out there. I don’t usually go much beyond that in terms of analysis because it feels pretentious.
If there is a special hell for writers, it would be in the forced contemplation of their own works. JOHN DOS PASSOS
- History shows us that there is an ugly seam of the artist, focused on their craft and meaning, getting absolutely murdered financially, both in the short and long term by management or distribution. It’s why Prince changed his name to a symbol. Why The Rolling Stones didn’t make money really until the 70s. The Rolling Stones, who have so much money that they can clone themselves and send them out to colonise other planets with rootsy blues that never got better than Exile On Main Street. I am a Beatles man, myself, mainly because McCartney’s bass playing was a thing of slinky, melodic wonder and I loved the psychedelic period with a passion.
- This is a perfect example: http://www.sfwa.org/other-resources/for-authors/writer-beware/cases/. I’ve said before and will say it again, money should flow towards you. A reputable agent won’t ask for your money upfront. If you’re paying for a service, then that should be explained to you in terms of what you are getting for your money. The problem is that we spend more time poring over the details on a new smartphone than attending to our financial affairs in respect of our writing careers. I’ve not been ripped off at any point, my agent is warm and encouraging and has been instrumental in my improvement in terms of craft and learning. I’ve also had the benefit of working day jobs for far longer than I’ve been writing. I also like to learn from other people’s mistakes or cautionary tales but that doesn’t mean I am smarter than anyone else.
- Passion is wonderful but it clouds your judgement. The creative community is inclusive and warm but it can be exploited, as I have said before. It’s shitty because legitimate practices with transparency and clearly understood goals and objectives make more money for everyone. It’s not something that I obsess over at all. Victoria Strauss does a far better job than I ever could. I work on myself and my writing because that’s all that is within my power to control. It doesn’t mean I am some polymath, just smart enough to know my edge and lean into it without denying or being consumed by it. I know people who work in finance, who can read a contract and explain it to me like I’m five. Some of them, I don’t listen to that closely which is why my marketing strategy is like fighting WW2 with wit and candour.
Thank you for reading. Please leave comments, questions, challenges for rap battles and interesting dancing suggestions below.