Tuesday, 28 August 2012

The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things

I watched this film last week with Daniel. He took me out to lunch with his fiancée and we both sat opposite him, over a tiny vase of pink flowers in Bumpkin, which is an overpriced restaurant in Notting Hill. I think its name is meant to remind people who have country houses that everyone else does too, or we all ought to and then be home from home; it’s a reverse metaphor, because no real country bumpkins would ever go there, being too busy slaughtering squirrels and snatching apples from the trees to nourish themselves in the long, furious day battling the elements or foraging for leaves in the rank wilderness. ‘Foraged leaves’ is actually an item ON the menu, as is samphire. Daniel had to ask me what that was. ‘It’s a kind of plant that grows near the sea, like a soft cactus. I know that because it’s in King Lear, ‘one that gathers samphire, dreadful trade’ - because it’s so dangerous, you might fall off the cliff and crack your skull. Near the end, the fake suicide bit with Gloucester.’ ‘Oh yes,’ says Daniel, who’s read King Lear and has a good ear. Outside there are hanging baskets with geraniums and petunias, and it’s always quite interesting for me to look at these things as I never go in there and rarely leave the house anyway. Daniel was limping, because he had glass in his foot, and I nearly got run over, ‘you don’t understand roads,’ said Daniel, ‘because you never leave the house.’ He’s got used to me now. Of course WITH Daniel, all fear and alienation drifts away: Bumpkin doesn’t look like ‘something I can never have,’ it looks like something I could have if I wanted and don’t. He’s so cheery, so easy; the world has never been for him a glittering wall of hate; he’s never known what it’s like to stare up at a house and know he’ll never get in; he has never seen the sin behind the smile or the skull beneath the skin, and sometimes I hope he never will.  

Thursday, 23 August 2012

But I Have No Garden

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      23rd July 2012

Dear Charlie,  
As you know, I no longer feel elated when your ‘boyfriend’ scratches on my door, and today was no exception.
I thought it was just easier to send you an email rather than text you anything.
HE comes up, and is moaning about the smoke this time, because he’s now sleeping in the upstairs bedroom because you’re away and busying himself trying to open windows, one of which is painted shut (on the outside, it turns out). He asks for a knife (he always does that) and sets himself to thrusting through the painted-shut window frame in the hall, which, after I’d say quite a lot of effort and after he nearly shoved his hand through the stained glass, does succeed in opening, in triumph. I clapped. Then he decided to change a light bulb (I provided the light bulb) and that worked too. You can see he’s going up in my estimation, because I only need to watch basic symbolism unfurl before me such as a light bulb going on and filling the world with radiance to feel that the person who did it must equally be full of radiance. (This is one of the reasons I don’t go out, because I am so easily influenced by trite acts that nonetheless describe bliss, and exactly why I had my heart and mind broken to smithereens so many times before and why I am so grateful for your protection, and value things like you weeping over my not perhaps coming to the wedding and writing me nice notes, all of which your boyfriend is entirely indifferent to). Then he sets to on what’s wrong with my flat and how it needs cleaning, and things throwing away, and I say I can’t cope and have started to have bad dreams, about stabbing myself to death, and he says he’s not surprised and it’s a shame to see me this way and I need to go outside, and go to the park and ‘read your book there (he pronounces it as if remembering a strange habit that ‘foreigners’ do) and I say I did that yesterday and he doesn’t hear me, and then he says he himself felt a bit bad last week and I say he’s too banal to feel unhappy, and he says he didn’t come here to be abused and his telling me to tidy my flat or sit in the park or get a leg-wax isn’t abusive but calling him facile IS and OF COURSE he is a creature of depth and I am NOT ALLOWED to ‘float that word banal’ at him because it’s NOT TRUE and yes he might be a little frivolous on occasion but ‘...but that’s what keeps you buoyant. Yes, Daniel,’ I said. ‘I used to believe that superficiality was just a convenient facade hiding an aching quivering soul of tragic sensibility that no one understood and I alone was uniquely available to a profundity everyone else ignored’ (including your long-suffering girlfriend, who has been much maligned by this cheap posturing, by the way), ‘but I don’t think that any more. My opinion has changed.’ Irreversibly. He went bustling down the stairs being bright and happy and blond and sweet - ‘I am not cross,’ he fluted - leaving me feeling mean. 
Then he came back up again to ask to borrow a ladder. We had a conference about this because I actually had a free-standing ladder (‘it has to be FREE-STANDING, it can’t just LEAN UP against the WALL, like the one YOU have’) in the corner that was tall enough for the job, and eventually he wrested this from its hiding place, cloaked in dust, there were puffs of it arising as he turfed the clothes onto a chair, and then I had to use my brains to work out how to get it down the stairs, an optical illusion that I’m capable of being an artist, and good at visio-spatial ratios etc, and a good thing I am because he was just about to do something ridiculous like throw it out of the window or scrape the walls in frustration or bang it over the stair rail because he has no foresight. Then he changed another light bulb (using another one of my light bulbs, a screw-in rather than a bayonet - of course he said, ‘can I have a SCREW this time,’ making me feel doleful - you have to talk to him about his language) and I had to hold the ladder because he’d otherwise fall off, and again I thought he was marvellous, like a weird, manipulated slave who can only stand and watch and cheer. Like a cheerleader in fact. Then he told me to clean the ladder - ‘GET a J Cloth and a bucket’ - so I went upstairs and filled a bowl with washing up liquid and started sponging. The ladder is so old and rickety that I got a splinter - ‘Ow!’ - and he was unsympathetic and told me to just get on with it. He was on the phone now, having cheery conversations, this time with someone called ‘Steve’. The light was flooding through the windows - he left your flat door open - and also from the front of the house, now he’d opened both doors, and I continued my dreary task, getting into a trance about it as the ladder belonged to my ex-boyfriend (the heroin addict one, who doesn’t count), just as the other ladder (the UN-free-standing one) belonged to my other ex-boyfriend (if we can call Mendel that, which we can’t, so who also doesn’t count), and I started to wonder why do the men in my life - once they have actually arrived in my life, and stayed, for several years, rather than run away day one - give me ladders, unlike other girls who get nice things like orange skirts from Marc Jacobs and diamond rings (hint). More sorrow.  
I went and got a pair of tweezers and removed the splinter, in a tiny dot of sunshine outside that I found and went and sat in - and then I finished off cleaning the ladder. I nearly fell off it as well, but no one was there to catch me because no one cares. I even sung a little song while I was doing it:  
Nobody loves me, everybody hates me
I’m going down the garden to eat worms  
but no one heard me.  
Then I looked at the knife, which was all twisted, and I tried to bend the blade back and couldn’t so I thought He might be able to, and went down with it - ‘it was already bent’ - ‘YES! YES! Because YOU bent it breaking into your own flat in the winter using the very same technique!’ - ‘I don’t remember’ - he never remembers anything - and ended up having to hold the ladder, again, while he changed more light bulbs, again, this time in the bedroom, and then (continuing the theme of light), after I was checking the shelves in the drawing room for MY books, he managed to break the foot off your desk - ‘why did you try to move it’ - ‘because the lamp was unplugged’ - so we had to spend a while holding it up off the floor and pushing the broken foot under it - ‘Charlie has crap old furniture’ - ‘yes, you need my haut-boy. But that looks as if it’s been mended before’ - and then putting the lantern back on it and making it look pretty again after everything had fallen off it, and I then collected a few of my books because he never reads them - ‘where are the Coovers?’ - no reply - and disappeared upstairs. 
I then read the bit about the enucleation of Celia, the little girl in the Kevin book, which reminds me of another book I keep trying to persuade you both to read which also involves enucleation, which is the only reason why I know the word (Asylum). Daniel issued instructions: go to the park, draw a picture, tidy the flat, dust - he sounds like the lists I write myself - but I have to say he’s won me over again, which just goes to show how weak and tractable I am. I can’t work out whether he’s a curse or a river of bright promise; what do you think? He doesn’t understand me, however.
And I don’t think I really understand him, either. I said, when I was holding the ladder (which he broke, he smashed a rung) that I couldn’t hang around doing this all day because my depression was missing me and I had to get back to it; I could feel it getting lonely without me. This is just Serbo-Croat to Daniel, and also to his flat, which has no depression in it AT ALL. I know depression isn’t the same as depth, but all the same.  
Now you’ve phoned, also setting me tasks but ones I equally can’t fulfil because I need to know the date of return from Edinburgh to Stanstead, and also if you even want to return to Stanstead because you may prefer Gatwick, or maybe it doesn’t matter, and also what time you want to get into Edinburgh from Stanstead and what day.
I hate my flat. Just five minutes in the bounty and beauty downstairs has made me never want to set foot in my own place ever again. It is dark and dusty and full of shivering creatures that bleat and moan whenever I try and walk anywhere because they start crying as I crush them, and if I try to pick anything up they cling and act bruised and betrayed, and I can’t bear their pain. (‘Er, yes, Daniel, I do KNOW about hoarding, yes I am aware that it’s a psychological as well as a physical problem, yes. I am attached.’ ‘Well get DIS-attached.’) Unfortunately I have to stay here because Tescos is delivering between 4 and 6, and I doubt I’ll have gathered myself together to leave and then come back before 4, so all this park business will have to happen after 6, or 4, and I’ll just stare at the dust in the meantime.  

P. S. Daniel hid my Tarot cards. That is not tidying up, that is just making things worse. I had to phone him to find out where he’d put them. He also put a lot of boxes on the floor and told me to fill them.    

P. P. S. He thanked me for helping him with The Best Man’s Speech: ‘Yes, I heard it went well; Charlie said it was brilliant’ (giving him an opportunity to say ‘yes, only because you encouraged me to cut the Vietnam bit and sorted out the most ludicrous, rudimentary errors of grammar and figures of speech and turns of phrase, or I’d have sounded like a right moron’, but Not A Chance). ‘You can’t teach literacy to the masses’ he said, ‘and the masses is what I deal with’, which just makes me despair; on the other hand, I don’t think I’m in the business of teaching anything to the masses or even communicating with them. I don’t think I like the masses and I don’t think they like me. But he agreed with me about the twins (‘they are macabre,’ he said, after having encouraged me to ring them. He met them in the street. ‘Sometimes, Daniel, I get rid of people not because I’m mad or morose or an isolation addict but because I am exercising good judgement’), and The Alchemist (NOT the one by Jonson), which I wasn’t expecting. ‘It’s not alchemy, it’s shoplifting,’ I said. ‘He pinched the entire story from some old Polish fairy tale I happen to have read, and he is not some important spiritual thinker, he is a capitalist thug who just pretends to be mystical and makes the rest of us pay.’ Daniel mumbled on about Brazilians which was not the point, though on that subject he was pleased I’d got my legs waxed: ‘I hope you got your beaver done too,’ he said with refreshing zeal. That is the kind of comment that freezes me to the floor, so I just stayed there, stuck, until he started demanding things (knives, light bulbs, ladders). This is a boring note to end on, even though it was actually the beginning of the story in terms of chronology, so I shall try to be more exciting, but... I just... can’t. There is no food in the house and I am starving. I’ve also run out of coffee. But, to conclude:  
I am terrified of your boyfriend and just do anything he says and the sooner you come home the better or he’ll have me involved in endless domestic chores and further and further away from my life of woe and miscellany. I explained to him he was too trivial to ever suffer disaffection and leached away my copy of The Waste Land but I don’t think anything daunts his joyful purpose in the world, which is honestly something because there are a lot of sinister people about and he’s at least not that. He hasn’t returned my ladder though, and I think he’s just going to throw it away, so I am going to spend the rest of the day crying in my pink bikini on my own.
Love from Jessica  

Thursday, 24 May 2012


Oooooh dear.

So I wake up, as I generally do at 5.30, after a dream about an animated video of snow and mountains, and am thirsty so I go in the kitchen for water, and the sink is full, full to the brim, and the floor isn’t wet, and I pull the plug out and think: ‘why isn’t the floor wet with the tap dripping all night and the overflow bunged up so the water has nowhere to go? The floor should be awash. How COULD I be so stupid as to do this again?’ And I look on the floor and realise it is covered with towels, from when the last time this happened, and the towels are soggy. They are very wet. So I take them off to the bathroom and put them in the washing machine and pick out some other towel that is clean and dry and put that on the kitchen floor that I can see is a little damp, and I think: ‘I shall check downstairs, to see if there is water dripping through the ceiling, because I am pretty sure there must be, despite all this towel business.’ And I find my keys and go downstairs and of course there are these great drops plopping through the ceiling onto the floor and a little wet patch where the drops mainly go and I go upstairs and find a flower pot and go downstairs and put the flower pot under the drops to catch them, and mosey around because there other drops coming down from somewhere else and I stand under them and get wet, and fiddle around with this feather duster I’ve got with an old pillow slip on it, wiping the ceiling, and then I go upstairs again and think: ‘it’s five thirty in the morning, so if I basically stay up, and don’t go back to sleep again, I will hear when they get up, and will be able to scamper down the stairs and remove the incriminating plant pot before they get into the hall, and by that time anyway the water that is now living in between the floorboards and the ceiling will have stopped dripping through, and perhaps... no one will... notice anything and I’ll be safe because otherwise Daniel will kill me, and also, everyone could gang up on me and get me thrown out of the house for being ‘an endangerment to private property’. I’d better phone my plumber, and indeed the only reason why I haven’t phoned him is I haven’t got any money and thought I could just carry on with the overflow not working and needing washers on the taps and that would be fine if I remembered to take the plug out, but the problem is I never DO remember to take the plug out, not at night when I am in bed or mainly in bed and not rushing from room to room. Oh dear. Maybe I am drunk, or maybe I am senile, and if I’m not senile yet, I will be senile soon, and I’d better get that plumber over because this can’t go on.’

OK so now I am awake and alert - alert for any sound of noise in the house - like a mouse in a wainscot, and I have a skirt on and some pink top, and the moment they start clunking around I will whip out that door and retrieve the flower pot.

This is just so embarrassing.

Also, there was only one cup left to wash up, and I could easily have pulled the plug. I don’t even know why I didn’t. Am I trying to save water or not waste washing up liquid? I have a real problem chucking things out, even when it’s only dirty old sink water.

Why is this?

Because I... don’t... like... the idea of death. Or loss. Or something.

I sent that letter to Mendel. 

Ooooh (\(ˈ)ō\ /-yo͞o/), I just went down to check again, and I have to say the water is rising in that flower pot. It is right above Daniel’s ceiling, and will have been dripping on that floor all night, so it’s absolutely itinerant that I don’t fall asleep and whisk it away at say, 6.30, when all the water will have dripped through and there will be no evidence, or no ahem obvious evidence as there is now, because basically the ceiling is raining.

I feel so guilty.

This is what happens when you put combinations of incompetence and lack of cash and household maintenance all together. I suppose I’d better phone up John Lewis about carpets, and a few other places, tomorrow - oh I can’t, it’s Sunday - to show willing and to make some recompense for the abuse.

There was a whole streak of water down the wall near the door. Still, I’ve seen worse.

OK so what’ll happen with Mendel is that for a week or so I’ll feel really mortified and ashamed and unable to think about him at all, because I’ve ‘made contact’ and ‘made a demand’ (when by rights I should be dead), and this will mean that the guilt will prevent me from thinking about him as I normally do, not him exactly but this invented spirit I’ve dreamed up to look after me when things are terrible which they are nearly all the time, so I call on him A LOT and imagine light and peace and so on, and now I’ve called on him in reality, I won’t be able to do that spiritually, as this time he might be able to hear me, and get bothered by it. This means I have to ‘change the names’ or think up someone else fast, like maybe this time God, or an actual angel, or a fake boyfriend, so I can use them instead but I’m terribly bad on names and boy’s names are all dreadful anyway unless you’ve met the person, but if you have then it is a bit of an imposition. Maybe I’ll just stick with Mendel, but since he’s become real again he won’t really do in his angelic capacity, but, because he won’t reply, there’s a time limit on this, maybe a week or so, and then he can stop being a banned angel and turn back into a functional one as the reality gets less sharp and more blurred and the visionary aspect can march in and take over. But it will be a week I think, for my guilt to subside, and maybe we could use some other name, but not Daniel, in the meantime. Or Robert. Why? Heres Graces letter:

I also feel guilty about Charles de Chantilly because I corrected the grammar in his novel, and there was loads of it, and he didn’t really want me to do that, he wanted me to read it and have a nice chat. I think he’s nice, and I also think he’s nicer than the sum of his parts - he actually has ‘a good spiritual effect’ - you know, makes you feel alive and not dead, and your dreams start to change, and not have demons in them any more, and there just are these trickles of life around the place that beat down the paranoia and that’s the kind of effect he has. I will grow gradually dependant on him and not be able to say rude things about his grammar or be beastly to him on Facebook, and then he’ll guess, and then he won’t come and see me any more, so I’d better carry on being nasty or he’ll start feeling what Mendel is probably feeling, which is ‘imposition’ which is the only way I can describe - no, it’s something I can’t dissociate from the notion of thinking well of someone, because all my feelings of love and optimism are tangled up with the idea of imposition, so even when I like someone I have to murder my heart and appreciation because it’s all to do with taking something from them even when it’s giving, because I can’t tell the difference because Mendel fucked me up. Which is just really annoying, because I’m not in love with Charles de Chantilly, I just value him and think he has ‘a good effect’. So, what would this be like if it actually were some sort of boyfriend figure? Far, far worse. The whole house would be flooded then, it would be underwater and we’d have to go and build an ark.

Though, as it turns out, Charles’s girlfriend is annoyed with him for coming to visit me, even though it’s work and I told him to take her a picture or something so she knew I was bona fide. Because he does need someone to talk to about his book, and art and so on. She’s having a baby – it’s due in a month, and I think he wants me to draw some pictures of that and the mother which I wouldn’t mind doing. Anyway, I don’t think I am treading on anyone’s toes there, and we always have Mendel to fall back on and throw water over and drown or parch or overwhelm or fizzle out - we can do anything we like with him. So I don’t think anyone is in any danger of being ‘loved’ by me but him. 

The snowy mountainside animation dream was quite good, because I’d actually done the animation myself - some sort of art thing - so it wasn’t photography but more like 3D art, like virtual reality but much more beautifully painted. And you could actually go under the trees and over the mountaintops and get into the dream, which was romantic and mysterious. And I’d made it. I’d quite like to go to some art school where they take the talents you actually have and turn them into what is viable electronically and you can put these things together and make interesting films, or ‘worlds’ instead of just having a boring time dithering around with ‘concepts’. 

I just thought of something.

Žižek says in The Birds that the birds essentially are ‘murderous maternal rage and incestuous jealousy’ and they keep appearing because of the love between Tippi Hedren and the Mick character and it’s all the fault of the mother, which sounds pretty true - projected outwards, because her son is being lost to the blonde. And I think that sort of thing goes on around me, you know, when I try to do something, like be happy, or draw a picture, or fall in love with someone, or even LIKE someone, there’s this demonic revenge enacted. This got doubled with Mendel because he actually HAS got a murderous incestuous mother, so she will have been in full play when I was around; in fact there were two. So Mendel is kind of fatal. Fatal for anyone, but most particularly for me - I suspect maybe that other girls have ‘terrible fathers’ and there’s a load of malevolent male masculine energy surrounding them, but that’s not quite so bad, because it’s paternalistic and to do with protection, and makes them think the world of themselves and not go screwing every Tom Dick and Harry, but sit in front of the mirror all day thinking they are God, which is why all the men like them and buy them flowers and diamond rings and furs, instead of trying to humiliate them, which is what happens with the malevolent murderous mother side to things. You’d know a bit about that. So. No birds here, but definitely water. And…

I’ve warned Charles about ellipses, but he won’t listen. I think his novel’s quite good actually; I’d forgotten he was a poet (No it fucking isn’t: I’ve wasted another two hours marking his excruciating grammar) you know, good in a charming, innocent way. I said he was good at ‘mis-en-scene’ and he asked me what that was. It’s a bit annoying that I can’t actually write and tell him the nice things I think, because I am worried about ‘the murderous, malevolent, incestuous maternal energy’ so I’ll just have to shut up instead, and maybe think about orchids or plumbers.

That Mendel. Someone should horsewhip him.

I’m going to check the flower pot again, it’s 6.32.

It’s quite weird this: I go down there and actually listen to the water: you can hear it sliding through the floorboards, like it’s in a box that’s being tilted, and water is running in and sloshing about, and I stand there, drab with guilt, and then there are few more loud drips into the flower pot - quite a little pond in there, and then there are other bits dripping - the ceiling is festooned with droplets - I wiped them off with my feather duster in the pillow case but I can’t reach very far - and then I thought, ‘best leave it for another half an hour.’ So I’ll keep writing this to stay awake and then hike down to remove the flower pot at 7 and pass out, after writing ‘phone plumber’ on a piece of paper that will get lost.

So I think basically I am surrounded by ‘murderous maternal incestuous energy’ kind of ALL THE TIME, whether there’s a romantic swain or not, and even when I’m not planning to do anything nice for myself that will let me live: it’s always there whatever I do. I could do with some ‘beneficent, gentle, energising, delightful, creative maternal energy’ instead. Charles has a very nice mother, he told me, and they have good conversations and get on well. See? This will be why he is nice to me and I have good dreams as a result of him, and everything is sunny. He doesn’t, however, get on with his dad, whom he told the story of his novel to, and who told him to change the ending so he murdered the girlfriend, who is in the novel a rather horrible old woman admittedly, but I said, ‘it’s CALLED The Death of the Artist and is about his psychological death, or at least his death AS an artist, that’s the point. You don’t want another death, and especially not one of someone who isn’t an artist. That’s not the story you are writing. He’s got it completely wrong.’ And Charles agreed. So he has this annoying boring father with all the money, and this rather nice mother with all the love. 

I just have a feeling this may be quite crucial, these men who have mothers they get on with, or at least vaguely like, and these men with ‘terrible mothers’ who want to ‘screw them’ and ‘kill them’ and it sounds awful but the second bunch may have to be avoided, because while it’s patriarchy and misogyny we’re up against, if the son is rebelling against his boring conventional dad, in a no doubt primal Oedipal scene but SO WHAT, and has this mother he’s in cahoots with as they both loll around talking about emotions and being submissive and subversive, that’s the kind of guy who fits better into the ‘feminist paradigm’ or whatever it is that stops me, personally, from dying due to ‘vicious maternal raw incestuous energy’ or whatever it is La Mendel has going on. He is The Birds really. Or Marnie, maybe. Anyway, that sort are the ones to avoid, and maybe it almost ought to be the first question asked, though it tends to be pretty obvious anyway. 

I wonder how the water’s doing. It’s 6.49. I wonder what time everyone wakes up and starts putting on suits and slamming doors. I wouldn’t miss all that for the world.

Mendel had a very nice grandmother however, so he’s acquainted with the idea of being adored and cherished, and treasured, but he apparently keeps jumping between the two ideas of being spoilt and being abused so there’s very little hope really, he can’t be straightforwardly grateful for anything. However, I think my ‘if you think YOU got problems, take a whiff of this’ arsenic type approach might just stop him thinking he’s the only one with expensive tears. Pay for my sorrow, I feel like saying. That’s a lot of cash you owe me on the capital investment of pain. Perhaps this is what the house is doing. It is CRYING. It is crying over Mendel. Or something.

Charles is good at analysing art, and good at descriptions of smoke, and I think he is a little dear and a strong character, and he likes the leaves on the trees.

Do you think people leave at ‘exactly seven o’ clock’?

OK. I went down. There were no drips. I stood and listened. I picked up the flower pot. There was a dark patch underneath but not if you weren’t specially looking out for it. I wiped the drips off the ceiling with the feather duster in the pillowcase. I think a casual observer just rushing through on their way to work wouldn’t notice anything amiss.

OK now I have to deal with everything else.

Oh yes – they’ve booked me in for a ‘procedure’ in the hospital in a week’s time, and they’re going to anaesthetise me and send me to sleep - Charles can’t pronounce ‘ennui’ but again it’s ludicrous he knows the word - and this is to find out what’s going on in my ear. Which is waterlogged. That is the essential problem: inadequate drainage. So, what are we saying here? A LOT OF WATER. Water in the ear, water in the house: it’s got to all mean something and I think what it means is sorrow: I think it’s all about tears: clogged tears, or tears that aren’t given a chance to float away naturally and are locked in, and then pour through the ceiling. Tears everywhere! And tears that make you go deaf, which is a new one on me. I don’t know. Frozen tears in the snow dream. And of course my electricity doesn’t work either. Do you know an electrician? I’d say, were we talking psychologically, everything is pretty dim and dark and wet around here, and it all needs brightening up and drying out. Maybe a hair dryer: maybe a grommet of the soul. 

Slavoj Žižek: http://youtu.be/8sFqfbrsZbw

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

If you only knew how dry my life was before I met you

I read Proust for the first time two weeks ago, which I agree was an educational lacuna. I was put off. I was put off because my mother used to bang on about this bit where he shoves his Madeleine (biscuit, not girlfriend) in a cup of tea and all the memories of his childhood return to him, and she would invoke this in that slightly glassy-eyed, over-reverential tone people adopt when they either haven’t read the book at all or someone else has told them to say this. ‘Far too fond of his mother,’ she would say about Hamlet, but I knew she was just fooling around with that one. Normally I’d already read all the books my mother talked about first and was able to cross-question her, correct her quotations which were nearly always wrong, and explain to her the actual meaning of the text, but had I not been an avid reader many, many books would have been ruined for me, because you just do not want to read something that sounds as pretentious and self-indulgent and point-blank boring, not to mention horrible, as the whole of one’s childhood returning with one bite of a Madeleine. I ate one in France once and it tasted awful, and no doubt if I ate one now, my memory of it tasting awful would return to me, because that’s the only memory I have connected with a Madeleine, which is why slightly stupid people believe that if they eat a Madeleine something wonderful will happen to them, when in fact you need the mnemonic equivalent, and God, most of my memories are too unpleasant to warrant recollection anyway, whatever triggers them. 


I was also put off by the fact that the idea of reading Proust as something fashionable literati, or pseudo-literati do is in a book by Aldous Huxley, Eyeless in Gaza, which was full of intensely horrible people so I figured anyone who liked Proust was intensely horrible too. I couldn’t find ONE person who’d actually read Proust who could tell me a thing about him which was delightful or true or exciting, they just repeated this Madeleine cup of tea incident, from which I conclude that most people either don’t read or don’t know how to discuss books when they do, and just recite the blurb on the back cover. Also, my parents had a cat called Proust, which died before I was born. I thought, ‘Proust will be one of those writers I don’t like. He’s part of a bourgeois elite that will really really irritate me, and it will be like The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock (which has a lot of tea in it) in terms of mundaneity, but without the broken heart and the beautiful language.’ And things got worse when I actually tried to read Proust. I make an effort every ten years or so and it’s exactly the same thing, this annoying brat of a child lying in bed trying to sleep, or falling asleep without realising he’s asleep, waiting for his mother to come and kiss him goodnight, and whining, and on and on it goes and I always give up after page four because I’ve actually gone to sleep myself. 

This from me, who has no trouble with long words and long sentences, and spends her life in bed anyway, trying to sleep, or not knowing whether she’s asleep or awake. ‘Proust was just like you,’ said my mother. ‘He lived in bed, writing, being in love with people who didn’t love him back, surrounded by darkness and a suffocating aura of claustrophobia and disconnection. He read constantly, and never saw the light of day.’ ‘Yeah does sound like me.’ But what she and I thought of what that meant were not likely to be the same. 

Anyway, I decided to go on holiday. I know it will bankrupt me but breakdowns are even more expensive, and I was getting cabin fever. So, because I’d bought a paperback copy of Book One of Remembrance of Things Past, or A La Recherche du Temps Perdu, or In Search of Lost Time (and I’ll use all three possible titles throughout) off The Bookman, and it was lying around the floor with a picture of Jeremy Irons and Ornella Muti on the cover, I wrote to Andy The Fantastic Academic and said, ‘so… shall I take Proust on holiday?’ and he said, ‘yes, there’s this marvellous description of the exploding cup of tea.’ Actually I have this theory that serial killers drink tea, and it is true, because if a man asks you out for tea and not out for a drink he’s either over seventy or up to no good, because he’s attempting to make himself sound more innocent than he is – I can prove that there’s something at least a little weird about tea drinkers from my research on this dateline I belong to, and from personal experience, indeed ‘cup of tea?’ - a phrase used as a tutorial in My Fair Lady (significant) - is more or less a euphemism for sado-masochistic sex or attempts on one’s life, in my opinion, so be wary of it when someone uses those words on a text message. Or the more abrasive, cursory and overtly demanding ‘Tea?’ - you’re facing the abyss if you get that one. But Andy knows my theory so I thought, ‘well maybe he’s just being encouraging because he knows I associate cups of tea with the sinister and the deviant, and will therefore enjoy the book,’ but all the time I knew it was just that old beleaguered reference to the Madeleine and the tea that my mother had gone on about and everyone goes on about, as if that’s all that is in Proust, and I nearly left the book out of my suitcase as I already had Suttree and Othello and something by Alice Oswald and was planning on drawing trees anyway, but it was such a scruffy, pathetic copy with the spine off and the cover fallen, and bits of dried glue splintering off it and ripped pages in the middle, and that nice photo of Ornella Muti and also, something about ‘the most powerful evocation of obsessive love ever written,’ on the front in white spindly Mills and Boon handwriting (it’s on the back I see now, in plain script, and doesn’t really say that, sorry. But this IS an essay on the subtle and inimical interventions of memory), so I thought, hmm, THAT can’t be bad, we shall see about this obsessive love aspect. THAT doesn’t sound like some wimp trying to get to sleep or dunking bad quality biscuits into cups of tea to recall not being able to get to sleep as a child. THAT sounds like PAIN, agony and torture. Let’s give it a go. 

Is Proust a psychopath is one of the many questions I asked myself after reading this book, as well as am I a psychopath, so you can see it isn’t that dull, and, in all of my holiday notebook, which was dense, there is not one reference to cups of tea, so just as a taster that bit was of no interest to me whatsoever and I don’t really understand, even though it is a great paragraph, or set of five or six paragraphs, why it is singled out so vociferously when there are so many other things in the book, far, far more interesting. Is it maybe because England is a country of tea drinkers (so that was the only thing they found in common with him) or that England is full of serial killers? Whatever, no one who has ever read Proust properly would ever bother mentioning it. I’m not even entirely sure about Part One, Combray, which is mainly about the narrator and his rather vile family and aunt – they all sound dreadful – but has beautiful descriptions of Nature. ‘Not enough torture,’ I wrote. But then we get to Swann, in Part Two, and the pages open onto agony. I had to write to Andy The Fantastic Academic right away to say, ‘why didn’t you TELL me?’ and I feel like saying that to everyone else, including my mother. ‘Did you, er, just not read this bit? Why tell me this tedious tale of the tea and the biscuit when we have page after page of the most grotesque and punitive love affair I’ve ever read save my own? Why suggest this is a book for tame intellectuals who lounge about doing nothing but admiring china and I dunno, table mats and doilies in an atmosphere of repressed protocol? It is boiling with passion.’ But, hélas, my mother is dead, and Andy The Fantastic Academic hasn’t replied. Well, not to the ‘why didn’t you tell me’ bit, only to contradict me about my opinion of Odette, who he thinks is lovely. This kind of thing makes me gnash my teeth, but we’ll get onto that in a minute. 

Because I am fresh to Proust and have done no reading around him, I thought we’d get even more naïve about this and put in a page of my Art Notebook so you can read what I thought about it when I first read it. 

I’d actually seen the film, many years before but not bothered too much with it. I’m watching it again to go with this, but so far it seems to be rather like my initial impression of Proust when I hadn’t read him – fey and limp. It reminds me of why I never liked Jeremy Irons (except in Dead Ringers) and found him so annoying in that other pontificating upper-middle class drama, whatever it was called, that went on for ages, not Middlemarch - Brideshead Revisited, that was it, sounds a bit like A La Recherche du Temps Perdu – this is part of my theory that they keep giving the same actors the same part - and I always fancied Anthony Andrews anyway, not him, because Anthony Andrews is a) blond b) hysterical and freaky, not trying to buy his way into the aristocracy by ‘behaving well.’ GOD. 

Anyway, I shall just watch a little bit of Jeremy writing a few notes about his love for Odette and trying to grope her in the charabanc through the cattleyas (orchids to you and me, I thought they were some sort of broom to begin with) and generally being humiliated with a lot of wicker chairs and jardinières about. Music features, or at least does in the original, and there’s this dreadful part where he gets her to play the music of his love and she plays appallingly - ‘she played vilely’ - and this adds to the charm (for him). I know how he feels, having been in love with incompetent people all my life. As a matter of fact, I think we are all in love with incompetence. 

Empyreal celestial sublime Memory – glass 
Odette drinks tea and she has the flat I would like
Film nothing like the book, and rather like Andy’s conception of the novel 

What they do in the film, which is wrong, is muddle up the times (not in the way Proust famously does it) and the chronology so you get Odette behaving in all these different contradictory ways all the way through, whereas in the book she certainly has a crush on him for a while and then goes off him, and he discovers her infidelities at the end – the book therefore makes sense, and shows Swann as a man devoured in a roughly ‘sensical’ way, whereas here it’s just some addiction to a trollop and the anguish has no grounds, nor is the anguish demonstrated (except for the bit where he refers to Odette’s coterie as living in the lowest level of Dante’s Inferno, a line I often use myself, but that is filched verbatim from the book and sounded a lot better when I read it out loud, punching the air as I did so. Basically, I could have written Swann in Love and probably have. I could not, however, have written Combray, but that is because I am not an utter wimp, and also because I haven’t gotten round to descriptions such as this: ‘When, on a summer evening, the melodious sky growls like a tawny lion, and everyone is complaining of the storm, it is the memory of the Méséglise way that makes me stand alone in ecstasy, inhaling, through the noise of the falling rain, the scent of invisible lilacs,’ but that’s the one difference. Watch me). It’s a trivial film, and slightly unpleasant to watch, because why change the original? Why change something that follows logic and has genuine feeling in it, to something that doesn’t? It annoys me. In fact the film is a selection of mis-en-scènes from the book, with all the beginnings and endings mixed up so they don’t have resonance and look arbitrary and dislocated, which doesn’t happen in the book: his passion actually follows a step by step, ordered, systematic narrative of a plight that worsens according to external as well as internal events, but here he’s already aware of her courtesan ways right from the start, which doesn’t account for the growing horror or the misery of his jealousy, which, for most of the book, appears unfounded and unprovable, making his torture COMPREHENSIBLE and JUSTIFIED. So, a passion worthy of telling its tale just becomes a redundant piece of French frippery and that is not because you can’t transcribe Proust to film, you just can’t if you’re this particular director, or, as I would say, this particular reader. I talk to a lot of people about Hamlet and they don’t understand the play either, so in my opinion, people don’t know how to read, which is fine if they’re just people (ish), but not fine if they’re trying to teach the damn thing or depict it for the world as a fair translation. On top of this it is incredibly tedious and you can’t wait for the end, which is the only bit I remember from having seen (or rather missed most of) this film many years back and that’s when he says, ‘it was my misfortune to fall in love with a woman I didn’t even like’ (which turns out to be a mistranslation) and we see her walking across the cobbled square in an enchanting little outfit of lavender ruffles with a matching parasol and she looks just lovely. I liked that one scene so much I wrote about it, in a piece called Like Lavender which Scottish hooligans don’t have any time for, not even any recherche du temps perdu for, and out of sheer adulation I now in fact own a enchanting little sun frock of lavender ruffles that looks exactly like her parasol, AND I bought it in France. But on the whole this film really does Proust a disservice and also Swann, who is seen screwing a prostitute right near the start and WHEN he’s in love with Odette – something he never does in the book, even when he’s found out what a tart and a liar and a selfish cad she is. I mean if that’s not defamation of character I don’t know what is. And I don’t think Jeremy Irons helps. They should have used Viggo Mortensen and one day they no doubt will. More insidious is that this film is probably exactly what most people think OF Proust, and it’s just so dismissible. My assessment, however, is not. 

UNWRITTEN: Now I think how it should continue is I ramble on about my lack of love life for a bit and meeting Kevin from Queen’s Park, and snogging the fat Scouser till four in the morning, put some more Proust in and a few more art notebook pages, come home, evening with Sarah reading the art notebook, everyone likes the art notebook, drivel on like this, go on about Madeleines and memory (I had a clever idea about this but can’t remember what it is now because I HAVE FALLEN IN LOVE and FALLING IN LOVE DESTROYS MEMORY BECAUSE YOU LIVE ACHINGLY IN AN ETERNALLY BEAUTIFUL PRESENT AND HAVE NEITHER PAST NOR FUTURE), get the plumber in to fix my loo and discuss my useless sex life with him - he said he could tell I was getting no action because the loo is absolutely filthy round the back, but there’s no male pee there and normally when they are that dirty, that’s the reason. He told me not to bother cleaning it because it wasn’t rank and didn’t matter but said a lot about my chastity - anyway that’s all connected up with Daniel because it’s my loo that’s leaking, some washer or other, it needed bandages, anyway, that is why I have sprung to Daniel’s mind, but it does NOT explain why the beautiful, wonderful creature that is he took it into his head to rap on my door last night and basically SEDUCE me. THE END. Of Jessica In Love. 

Daniel looked at one page of the art notebook and cast it on the sofa. He doesn’t understand art at all, and doesn’t like the books I lend him, he also doesn’t like my novel and spends hours crossing words out. He doesn’t even like my letters: ‘too long,’ he said. ‘Was the postcard too long as well?’ I said impishly. 

Daniel is so interesting he doesn’t need to speak: he conveys emotion and thought soundlessly, rather like Viggo Mortensen in fact who he doesn’t seem to have heard of but when the Sky job falls through, he could be an actor for sure. I’d happily stare at him sitting on that sofa for the rest of my life. He’s so expressive. I will have to do more than just change Daniel’s name to publish this as a blog post and maybe will have to change my own too, then I can be a fictional character. Trouble is, I do not know how to do that yet. 

I know I am in love because everything tastes so nice: the coffee, the banana, the pineapple and the world is full of sunshine, twinkling like bars in music and also because I feel blessed and spoilt and not deranged with misery. Also, I listen to The Carpenters all day long, viz.: 

Why do birds suddenly appear 
Every time you are near 
Just like me they long to be 
Close to you 


On the day that you were born 
The angels got together and decided to create a dream come true 
So they sprinkled moondust in your hair 
And golden starlight in your eyes of blue 

Sunday, 17 July 2011


It worried me, the similarity, because this ‘personal interest’ factor interferes with my plans, yet in some obscure, cruel way, validates them. I mean, here it goes, this is the awful truth: 

You sit around, more or less miserable and incapacitated, absorbed by your own genius and what a ruination it makes of your life in any way that matters according to everyone else, and even to you, mostly, captured by solitude and living in dreams or nightmares and for so long now you can’t tell the difference and hardly care, watching the dust fall and the moths twang about, never cleaning your cooker or anything else, and only just about getting out of your twilight realm for a leg-wax, and writing a novel about a man who writes misogynistic horror novels in a cellar, because he can’t face the light of day or his mother, because that is what YOU are, and his love for his muse who is his ideal victim, because knocking around in cellars with arty misogynists who can’t bear to kill you is what you mainly think of when you’re not thinking about butterflies and little white clovers, and THEN, out of the blue, you stumble across Deadgirl and happily watch the thing, because it’s practically a blueprint of your novel anyway, and probably of your life on as many levels as is possible to realize, and then you watch it again, and again, and AGAIN, and somehow or other you fail to notice, with all this watching and identifying and general bliss at recognition and empathy and finally being understood, that the hero of the film bears a remarkable – in fact an almost exact – physical similarity to the very person you based the novel on and are in fact still completely in love with even though you’ve not seen him for two years. Not that Time has relevance. That one tiny little fascinating and formidable detail escaped your notice did it? Did it? Hell it did.
‘Thing is, Poppy - no, Grace, I’ll do your Tarot cards in a minute - I think I didn’t notice this because Jay Tee is too similar to me, and the problem with the er, other one was that he bore no resemblance to me whatsoever. He wasn’t interested in any of the cellar stuff and the world of divine horror I’ve got dreamt up round here, well, not as a real vote, just as a ‘leisure activity’, like drugs or whores or parking tickets. He was – shall we say – not a disciple; in fact he was more like JoAnn if he bears a resemblance to any of the people in that movie. But you can see my trouble now. What looked like a pure identification with personality and character – and value system – now looks like the turgid repetition of some morbid crush on some empty aristo with floppy hair. Noah is far too good for that sort of thing, he’s not a love object, he’s someone I could actually talk to. He’s too intelligent to be dehumanised like this, precisely why I didn’t objectify him to begin with, nor did it occur to me to do so. I’ve never considered him in this humiliating regard, and now I have to. It’s bloody irritating, like some infernal curse coming true over and over, like the Oedipus complex or something, in fact very like Oedipus. I’ll never be able to write to him now. I’ll just get tongue-tied, suspicious of myself, self-conscious. It is so fucking annoying. We were getting on so well. And he’s an intellectual, probably would be quite keen on reading my views on Deadgirl, but all that’s over now, if he’s just a stand-in for some mediocre charlatan with the pointless, brainless beauty of a poisonous vetchling - even you admitted that stupidity was harmful - and NOT the powerhouse of subversion and tortured genius we wanted him for in the first place. Now we all have our time wasted. Frailty, thy name is woman, is all I can say. God gave you an example of bona fide brilliance and you turn the whole thing into some pin-up poster for a petal long fallen. And lilies that fester smell far worse than weeds.’
Poppy told me to stop worrying: ‘get Noah to collaborate with you on the script of The Dark Game, star in it, direct it, and model for you since he looks so like Lucian or Mendel or whoever it is anyway (you can play Matilda), and do it NOW, since you’ll be another five years writing the novel, given the quality of the writing and the momentous nature of all these people sitting around brooding and wondering what to do, analysing Cranach paintings, checking grammar, doing hand-embroidered facsimiles of Durer’s Melancholia’ – ‘and illustrating it,’ piped up Grace, ‘that’ll add on another three years’ – ‘so bring the movie out first, get Trent to help you. I like the name Trent,’ and went off to do things in the kitchen, whereupon I told Grace about Deadgirl, with a plan to watch the movie later, something that failed to happen because I had to read her the whole of Eloise and she had to write four essays, mainly about ME. Heres one of them:

After all that, I thought I’d better crack on anyway. The truth is dismal – the truth is shocking – but – maybe it isn’t. Maybe, there’s a reason for all this. After all, I myself don’t look like the demonic creature I am either – nor does Grace, who appears to be an incredibly cute nine year old with lovely hair and a dear little face, but if we could see her soul it would be bleeding from weird wounds and utterly psychotic, as she herself registers – so all of us can get away with charming looks and manipulative aesthetics if we wanted to. We could exploit our God-given advantages if we wanted to. People could think us good and sweet and innocent, were it not for the fact that crushing, irresistible, coruscating, chthonic talent refuses to bed down with the silver bells and cockleshells and MUST BE HEARD. In which case, it’s just an accident of birth, not the point, or at least not the point of concentration, save that both Noah and I have defeated and contravened our basic prettiness to such an extent that it’s almost impossible to even notice these things, most of the time. And anyway, Andy, The Fantastic Academic’s immediate remark when I sent him a picture of Noah at an award ceremony was ‘he has an interestingly sinister face,’ so, NOT, ‘he looks like a sweet little flower,’ or ‘not another one of your boring pretty boys, give it a rest.’ We’re safe then, because Andy is wrong about nothing, and Noah looks satisfyingly enough like a serial killer for me to stop feeling anxious. We can consider the oddly amorous leit-motif in another way, surely. And in our own time. We have plenty of that.

So… BITE. I once called a girl I had a fling with ‘a flower with teeth,’ and she said this was ‘the nicest thing anyone had ever said to (her)’ (sic). But it’s easy for me, to come up with good lines, and if I’d been born a man I would have little trouble with romance, none at all in fact. Grace thinks I still don’t have any trouble: ‘you’re beautiful, you do etchings, which is more important, and you’re intelligent. Just go down the pub and grab a cute one.’ I felt like saying, ‘there are certain provisos: the cellar, for one thing, and charisma. I just can’t be fagged with yet another lame doll who can’t talk properly. It’s too depressing, and besides men hate intelligent women,’ but I didn’t. There seemed little point. I mean where does one begin? I have to say I wasn’t too gloomy around Grace. She cheers me up really, and just laughs when I threaten her with being tied up or having to stand in the corner with a dunce’s cap on her head; in fact she’s only too willing to get tortured which puts me off my stride somewhat. Poppy meanwhile, cleaned my kitchen. I am still so gobsmacked by this I can barely speak. She had to remove what must be, what I know to be, YEARS of dried-out, gummed down, burnt-in and solidified cooked food from the surface of the cooker – I know what you’re thinking, you’re thinking she worked as hard as Jay Tee did to prise open that door in Deadgirl, which had rusted shut, and you’d be right - it looked like a sty – and years of grease from the oven – and she did all sorts of other things as well – wiped down the sides – washed everything up – cleaned the blender - that’ll be useful - wiped down even the doorway – the place is transformed, even generically transformed, as I told her. It was a horror story, now it’s charming and rustic, with lovely yellow walls and herbs in hand-painted terracotta pots, dinky little Mexican tiles – you can see all this now, now that the dirt and the drab has been mopped away.

What THAT means is that gradually people will come to visit. Gradually I will tidy up my bedroom and hoover and hang things up and clean the skirting boards and shoo away the spiders. Gradually I will get accepted into polite society and my flat won’t look like a neglected dungeon any more but a beautiful bijoux indoor garden of delectable colour and flowers. I’ll be artistic and interesting and not a lost God from the burning ulcers of Dante’s Inferno. When that happens, someone else will have to play my role. I am crying now, losing my rightful position as The Dark King, what I was born to be, always meant to be. It’s not fair. But ‘everybody’s gotta learn sometime.’

Or do they. Surely NOT? Surely the point is as it ever was, the marriage of Heaven and Hell, not this upstairs downstairs world above world below, either pretty pictures, or death in the cellar, but both? Do I have to keep saying this over and over? Why does no one listen to me? ‘Listen to me, please, listen to me, just for once, for once pay me some fucking attention, please,’ cries Rickie, desperate, drooling with lust and frustration. Then he has to apologise, because that’s all just too hands on, too loud and visceral and true - too dark, too unusual, too experimental, too brilliant - which is what agents say about my novel, and I quote - for the nice girl with her nice hair and nice life and nice boyfriend and nice legs (though nowhere near as nice as mine are): ‘I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m so sorry.’ Is the whole world just made up of JoAnn Skinner clones? Is this what we have to put up with?

If it is, I am not moving. I am staying here with the rats and the rabid, and about to read Let’s Go Play at the Adams’ (again) for further clues about what I plan to do with the next bloke who comes my way, because all that sensitive romantic stuff just bores me stupid. And, just in case you were thinking, the flowers don’t like it either. They get really annoyed when I deny them their screaming status. They’re totally sado-masochistic, what do you think creation itself IS? Peaceful?

This is Deadnettle but could just as easily be called Deadgirl, as should be obvious but I know won’t be.