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Archive for October, 2008

  • Spend more than a half hour at any time away from my new favorite couch in the lounge
  • Clear out the kitchen for the painters tomorrow
  • Read Jane Austen
  • Read anything
  • Write
  • Go for a run
  • Go for a walk
  • Do the dishes
  • Fold the laundry
  • Look at my to-do list
  • Take a long, lazy bath
  • Go round to the shop to buy a bottle of wine

Things I have successfully done:

  • Listened to the same music over and over again
  • Nearly cried over an episode of Gossip Girl
  • Thought about how lazy I’m being
  • Eaten dinner
  • Answered the door once (next-door-neighbors letting us know about a party tomorrow)
  • Fallen asleep on the couch at an awkward angle, leaving my neck sore
  • Wondered whether or not I’m suffering from a temporary sort of ennui, or at least having a minor existential crisis, as everything just seems to difficult to bother with…
  • Wondered whether or not I can be bothered to go upstairs and get into bed or not

…and when I say “tried to do” I mostly mean “thought about doing”.

Oh boy, it’s half term…

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October

There is a rhythm. On Thursdays I am always slightly late chugging up Divinity Road, and then, seven hours later, I come back down. Tonight there is a mist, and a bracing wind that makes me think of being on a ship. I buy soup and a toothbrush at the shop on my way home.

Our house is being painted, so all the mirrors have been taken down. I live an existence without reflection; I don’t know what I look like when I leave. In a way it’s liberating: I take less care getting dressed, am quicker, more decisive. There’s a strangeness in the house: the table from the bathroom in our bedroom, the bookshelf from the hall in the spare room. I have to climb over a trunk to get to my clothing. In class I ask if I smell of paint, because I imagine I can still smell it. There’s a ladder on the stairs. There’s no point in cleaning up the clutter in the study because everything is uprooted anyway. We float around; we sleep in; we take a nap on the couch side-by-side even though the couch is, technically, too small for such a maneuver. I would say it was a sense of upside-down-ness, but it isn’t an unpleasant sense, if that’s what it is.

I watch the laundry dry in the lounge. In our Lewis Carroll universe, all of this matters; but outside things go on as usual. Friends are coming to stay; we are going to the country for half-term; our vegetable box continues to come every Tuesday. In the mornings when I cycle to work I am often doused with a showering of leaves; they coat the pavement wetly. I read that in my hometown the temperature is 95 degrees Fahrenheit; here there is a chill in the air and it is almost not October anymore–you can actually feel this, even if you didn’t know the day.

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Here is what I know (or what I have learned?): writing requires immense courage.

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Here is what I know (or what I have learned?): writing requires immense courage.

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And A Piece of Advice…

The Man has just given me a piece of advice that I feel worthy of sharing.

“Don’t try to scratch your nose with a cupcake,” he’s advised me. “I just got cake in my nostrils.”

I’m going to join my cake-snorting love in the lounge, and resist the urge to scratch body-parts with baked-goods. I suggest you do similar.

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If I wasn’t already consumed every moment by anxiety, I would be by now. Even The Guardian had a “Crisis Special!” in its Money section. When The Man’s parents dropped by yesterday evening for tea, pizza, and some draught excluding, his mother casually wondered if the credit crunch was going to impact people’s essential curiosity (actually she’d wondered if it was going to impact the success of TV show/business QI, but as I’d just suggested that the reason such an enterprise works is because of people’s endless craving for knowledge, it was as good as).

If I played a drinking game–one sip for every time the word “crisis” comes up–I’d be pissed before breakfast. If I got a penny for every time, I’d be rich–but that wouldn’t be very credit-crunch-likely, would it.

So, all this in mind, alongside my constant awareness that I am a relatively new adult and, as such, perpetually poor, I volunteered to invigilate the SAT examination yesterday at St. Clare’s. As one of my co-workers put it: “It’s mind-numbingly boring, but by midday, you’ll have made £50.” Every word of that is true.

What my co-worker couldn’t have predicted, however, were the flashbacks. I took the SATs, you see, not so very long ago (although long enough ago for me to have forgotten how many HOURS the process takes), and trapped in a room with fifty-odd teenagers and their No. 2 pencils, it’s impossible not to remember the Dunn School edition of the same exams.

Then, I remember envying the proctors. At least they’re not taking this god-awful test, I thought. Yesterday I would gladly have taken the test. At least they’ve got something to do, I thought enviously of the students. I kept having what I believed to be brilliant wisps of thought, one-after-the-other, but as I had no way to write these thoughts down, they’ve all gone. I’m a writer, not a thinker, you see. To fill the expanses of time, I started coming up with names for the students. I played with my bracelets, my ring, my earrings, and it occured to me that possibly jewlery was actually invented not to adorn women but to give them something to amuse themselves with. I lamented the fact that my new wool tights are a full size too big, and therefore slightly saggy at the knees. I stared deep into the eyes of the two enormous drawings of handsome, well-cheekboned youths, and tried to decipher if the one on the right was a boy or a girl (the lips were all woman, but the nose unmistakably masculine). I got very, very hungry.

When I was taking the same exams at 16, I was as these students yesterday were: nervous and well-behaved. The SATS are designed, I’m convinced, to make pupils so anxious about whether or not they’re filling in the tiny answer bubbles correctly or have written their name down correctly that they forget anything they’ve ever known about reading, writing, and mathematics. “Nervous and well-behaved,” I said to my father when he asked me how the students had been (“Did you catch any cheaters?” he wanted to know, but the closest I’d come was having to tell an especially anxious-looking girl that she couldn’t have her ruler on the desk. “Why not?” she rightly asked, and for some reason, although it would have been completely out of character, I desperately wanted to tell her: “Them’s the rules, sweetheart. Them’s the rules.” Instead, I shrugged and apologized six thousand times.) “Gee, who does that sound like?” he said back.

Nervous and well-behaved. Yep, that was me at 16. For the entire third year of high school, I moved around with tiptoes and whispers. Constantly afraid. I don’t remember taking the SATs; but I remember dreading them. I remember finishing them and thinking, well, thank God that’s done, now I can actually get on with my life. I had stopped caring about my scores long ago–all that mattered was that I put the experience behind me.

Yesterday, I walked out of the testing room enveloped in an early-afternoon gust of wind, cycled into town, and flopped down exhausted next to The Man while we waited for lunch.
“I feel like I’ve just taken a test,” I told him. By evening I was so weary that I didn’t know what to do with myself. To counter my oncoming headache, I went for a run, but it started to rain middway through and by the time I’d gotten home again I was drenched, so I took a bath and finished a particularly mindless book, and ate cold pizza whilst browsing through vintage clothing online. I tried to have a glass of wine, but after a few sips I was too sleepy to go on, and crawled upstairs to wait for The Man to come home from work. Cash crisis. Energy crisis.

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I found this article, (it’s a bit of an oldie) on Sadie Jones, author of the bestseller The Outcast, rather interesting:

“She is every publisher’s dream – good-looking, husky-toned and, what’s more, she can actually write. Her debut bridges the tricky gap between literary and commercial writing: shortlisted for the Orange Prize, picked as a Richard & Judy Summer Read (which sent it to number one in the book charts), and there was even talk – which eventually came to nothing – of a Booker Prize longlisting. “The Richard & Judy/Booker Venn diagram crossover – no, I don’t think they’ve ever done that,” she says wryly today.”

As you may have guessed, I’m not an enormous fan of the divide (no, make that abyss) between what’s perceived to be “academic” type literature (i.e. cryptic at best) and what’s perceived to be “trash” (i.e. anything found on your way out of Tesco). So I like that Ms. Jones, as a successful writer, is willing to make a wry comment or two about the perceived disparity between Booker-worthy literature and Richard & Judy-selected books.

What worries me, though, is The Outcast itself, which I read some months ago (one of the perks of being attached to someone in the book industry is the acquisition of proofs) without judgment. I knew nothing about Jones, and I knew nothing about how the public would react to her book. All I knew was that I read the book fast, and obsessively, and that I didn’t like the writing very much, but I thought she could tell a damn compelling story. It’s not that the writing was poor; it was perfectly adequete, even lovely at times. But it lacked the sparkle of well-used language, and I fret that, though we’re making steps towards the “The Richard & Judy/Booker Venn diagram crossover” what’s got lost in the meantime is appreciation of craft, and that what we forget to value is an exceptional ability with words, because, unlike an exceptional ability with characters, such an ability cannot stand alone.

***

On a more political note, we can hardly find this surprising, though it’s refreshing to see it in print:

“In 17 countries, the most common view was that US relations with the rest of the world would improve under Mr Obama.”

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