I was struck this morning, walking from the flat to the library, via a book store, a Greek restaurant, past the British Museum, and with a small side-trip to the London Review Bookshop to peer inside and see if they had chocolate guinness cake, in case I needed it later, by the lack of shared words in my life.
My flat is in King’s Cross and with the current heat wave in London and the apparent disregard for filth, it smells terrible, the streets are covered with sticky liquids, actual shit, trash, and other undefinable things I don’t believe I want to be able to define. The filth, though, surprises me. It feels like a disregard for those around oneself, to throw chicken bones, trash, empties, and all manners of plastic in to a street, in the expectation, or perhaps not, that some other person might tidy it up.
It is less bad than Los Angeles in one way though, it does actually rain here. I remember living in Little Ethiopia in LA, one steamy hot summer (eight months of that year), and watching a tomato slice not rot, just become desiccated and stuck. I moved away before it did. Nothing washed away, no one washed the sidewalks, as they did in other cities I’ve lived in, NY, Boston. London could use a good power storm, but we may have to wait until the heat wave breaks, and by then, the stench may have floated up to my top floor flat.
But while my mind watches the filth as I walk to avoid stepping in it, this is not the musing I was having this morning. This morning I was pondering how much I miss writing … somewhere. When Tumblr was still tumbling, so many of my friends wrote, shared, and pondered. It hasn’t really been the same since it shifted policies and crashed out of the center of the world. With the algorithms of Instagram, it too is an invalid place for the joys of writing, because I cannot make it show me the people I want to see. Some how it just chooses a few people of the many. Sometime it tells me I’ve seen all the posts, and I know this cannot be true. The words or missing. Or we’ve all gone mute.
The isolation of the pandemic left me with all my words, to myself. I did not write almost the entire time, I barely spoke, I didn’t read. As a human who usually does write all the time, in retrospect, this is all a bit strange. So many things unsaid, unshared, unexposed. It’s not that I want to tell you how my day was, or that I haven’t managed to finish a book, or that I don’t know what to eat for dinner. (These are things I seem to say these days, which often make me think I have become a shell of my former self.)
To return to the ramble that resulted in these musings, my route to my library cubbyhole today took me first to the Waterstones on Gower to buy Tom Jeffreys book, The White Birch. Somewhere in the beginning or near beginning of pandemic time, we’d exchange some emails about me writing a ferry story for his magazine, while he was off to train across Siberia, and we’d be in touch later. This was probably slightly pre-pandemic, when I was living in Rome for a bit, and drowning, to be honest, in indecision and self-generated complexity. The emails and possibilities fell apart, but my desire to read his book was simply stuffed in an internal storage box of the mind. Every now and then since arriving in London in January, I have peered in shops for the book but not seen it. The post he made, of its photo, is three minutes from the cubby, and so I stopped to buy it.
Looping across Montague by the back entrance of the British Museum, in search of water after the Senate House cafe appeared mysteriously empty of all goods today, the line was surprisingly long for the backside. But also, it is destined to be hot today, and all that marble does stay cool. Failure to attain water so, unwisely perhaps, I traveled south to the LRB Bookshop, to see what shop on that street would sell me water and to investigate the cake holdings of the day. At the first table I am stopped by a Jarman collection, introduction by Tilda Swinton. I pick it up, I read the first bits, and then on to more musing. Where does art happen, she asks. But for me, where does writing happen? I write and walk, quite a bit. The words tumble and move, relocate, wrestle, play musical chairs, and sometimes, if I am greatly inspired by a particular set of words, I pull out one of these damned small devices and put them in it. Mostly I just let them dance because, it seems, I have no where to put those words, no Tumblr, no blog (yes, I know), no publishing desires, of the moment. No newsletter, no desire for twitter, no love of the photo bits or the algos on Insta. So what now? These words?
They do, in fact, go in files in my computer, now and again. I started keeping two journals on arrival in London, one a project journal (for my PhD), and one in a file called Evalicious, which is all the deep and dark, the dreams, fantasies, frustrations and amusements of my life. I have started keeping a third one which is called Glump, into which semi-essays get written, but with no desired output. Or maybe I do desire output, but you’d have to check Evalicious for that.
My musings this morning, about all these words, the conversations I am not having, the friends I haven’t seen in years, the dislocation that comes from not having places to share words– and not the rushed words of a text message, or a quick comment on some media, but the kinds that can take hours, to share or to make, whichever. Sometimes I catch glimpses of people’s lives, like in Kevin’s Lily conversations, which are just beautiful, but which require me to open Facebook to read and I rarely remember to do that either. All these places are ads and ‘sponsored’ and full of noise, or hate. I’ve never had a dinner party where every third comment is some one yelling out BUY THIS, or where someone melts down into a stream of jibberish and the irreality of truth and the absence of trust are larger than the humans themselves.
Words. I love words. I bought a dictionary the other evening, and it was so delicious I posted pictures on instagram and twitter, sent screen shots to friends, and laughed aloud sitting on the floor, not only at the words and definitions, but the juxtapositions, the worldview, and the promise that it was ‘self-pronouncing’ and from 1932. So I self-pronounced, in American English, British English, and with assorted other accents, rolling the words around in my mouth savouring them, and remembering how good it feels as well, to suck on small stones from a clean cool river in the height of a hot summer.
Suck rocks, I recall, seems to have been an insult from my childhood, now that I think of it, but clearly, not from someone who had ever done such a thing as a lazy summer child, before they were watched all the time, and had rules in the summer. And what now? Perhaps I shall watch my words, and seek a river, not just this one that flows within, but something crisp and clean, with stones to lick and light to ponder, and I shall share my words with that river, and await a future with different spaces.