the m john harrison blog

Category: lost & found

in search of lost anxieties

I misplaced my current notebook about a month ago. I’m puzzled as to where or how; but even more puzzled that I haven’t begun another one. There are ten or a dozen waiting in a cupboard upstairs–covers ranging from cloth-on-stiff-board bought years ago in Colombo, to the inevitable black squared-paper Moleskine still in its shrinkwrap–but I can’t seem to choose between them. I quarter the house instead, trying to convince myself there’s somewhere I haven’t yet looked. I’m vaguely annoyed I can’t find it, but mainly for the puerile reason that it was “almost full”. At the same time, I can’t really get agitated. That seems like a loss in itself. I wonder where this latest novel is leading me: if you realise that you haven’t seen me for a couple of months, arrest it.

some basically insoluble mystery

Sand came up like a fog from the beach and when I next looked he was gone.

I studied his business card. “Gift Company,” I read.

What had he offered us? I only knew it was unsuitable and wrong. But sometimes, now, when I look through the notebook in which I wrote all this down, and the dust in its creases — just blown from mainland Africa to make a beach in the Atlantic Ocean — I wish we had accepted.

Again, perhaps we did accept. This is how he made you feel. As if there was some residue, some basically insoluble mystery behind or beneath or in some way prior to the rubbishy white hotels, beach bars and endless Cambios. As if even Playa los Americas, one of the trashiest places on earth, had some secret nothing to do with cheap stereos, expensive leather goods and English beer. Something you can sense where a brand new road runs out suddenly in builders’ waste and prickly pear; or at the top of a low hill, in some unfinished concrete building that looks like a multistory car park; or in the amused eyes of the stray dogs of the seafront.

“Gift Company,” we read. Perhaps we did accept.

from “GifCo”, 1997.

victoria adopts

“I hate the noise saucepans make,” she told the cat. “People always know you’re at home when they hear the saucepans clanging about in the kitchen.”

The cat stared up at her.

“You don’t say much, do you?” she said.

Later she went out to the Spa and bought two tins of catfood.

“We’ll try you on this,” she said. “But if you get expensive, off you go.” After it had eaten and licked around its face a bit, she picked it up and took it to the back door. “And out you go at night,” she said.

The cat miaowed at the door until she let it back in.

argument from experience

Recent turns in my life, not directly related, make this, from 2009, seem worth repeating–

I went to one of the infamous Dylan concerts–Leicester de Montfort Hall, I think–as a raw, betrayed, left wing folkie, ready to heckle as soon as that sell-out reneged on his roots, denied his past & picked up an electric guitar. My girlfriend of the time, too. Two funny, smooth, unmarked, optimistic little faces turned up at the stage ready to defend our values, ready to defend our hero against his own bad decisions. By the end of the accoustic half of the show, I couldn’t bear my own anxiety & had dissociated as a defence.

Then a minute into the first electric song, I was electrified too, & so was she. Everyone around us got up & boo’d; but we got up and cheered & danced & kissed each other’s amazed faces. It was Love Minus Zero No Limit & it went through me like a crack in a mirror, & if I played it now–what? 40-odd years later?–& they have been odd years–I would just cry & cry & cry.

So, actually: fuck “Play some old!” Play some old is just very bad advice, which comes from chipmunks & children already afraid of time. Go on! Go where your work takes you, & don’t be forced into yesterday’s postures–already looking strained & meaningless–by an audience scared to move along with you.

Original post, June 6 2009, here.

contents

The collection:

Lost & Found
In Autotelia
Cries
The Walls
Rockets of the Western Suburbs
Cicisbeo
Imaginary Reviews
Entertaining Angels Unawares
Elf Land: the Lost Palaces
Psychoarcheology
Royal Estate
Last Transmission from the Deep Halls
Places you Didn’t Think to Look for Yourself
Not All Men
Dog People
Jackdaw Bingo
Earth Advengers
Keep Smiling (with Great Minutes)
The Crisis
The Theory Cadre
Recovering the Rites
Anti Promethian
Animals
Here
In the Crime Quarter
The Good Detective
Name This City
Crome
Studio
The Old Fox
Awake Early
Explaining the Undiscovered Continent
Self Storage
A Web
Back to the Island
Cave & Julia
Alternate World
At the Seaside
Getting Out of There

& speaking of imaginary places…

…I keep thinking I’m closer to writing this third Autotelia story–

“Every generation has its intellectual obsession: a new kind of politics, a new kind of science, a new kind of war. My generation was obsessed with Autotelia, a new kind of country. We watched with a tense amazement the grainy video of its capital city, the greyish streets so similar to our own. When the first Autotelians began to arrive on our side of things…etc.” His mother’s tea party for the Autotelians is a farce. After it, when he goes to their house, he sees the men in overcoats smashing the flower pot in the hearth, then a “yawning white face” in the hall. He leaves hurriedly. Work up to the tea party through his mother’s descriptions of the Autotelians; some events of little significance in the square; and his interest in the girl. Later, in Autotelia itself, he is taken to a place where a man who might have been his vanished friend Ashman once “stayed for some time”. The room sordid. Some accident–a small fire perhaps–on the carpet near the tallboy; a faint smell of excrement. “‘There was a lot of crying out,’ the landlord said: ‘Always a lot of crying out.’ And he managed to convey with shrugs, nods and grins that we both knew what that might mean. ‘In the morning he was gone.’ While we talked, I could hear someone pacing about in the room above.”

–then discovering I’m not. These are glimpses from the early 1980s, a couple of which remain fresh and clear, the rest being just sentences someone else might have written. It’s odd how this happens, odder still that you won’t give up on a thing even when you suspect the window of opportunity’s closed. You used to be the writer it needed but now it’s just some old love affair which never quite got going.

slight return

Home: the journey itself broke some kind of continuity necessary for you to use the word. It’s not just Penelope looking a little guilty & at the same time too pleased with herself; or all those suitors finishing their jack & coke & slinking off out the back. It’s not just the dwarf in the Macao silk suit & the shoulder holster. It’s that something put an edge between what you remembered & what was there on your return. The story you told yourself to get you through all the crapdscf4578nights–the constant thankless struggle with the dumb shit crew, the whirlpools, the mad cunt with the one eye, the rocks that turned into kings, the kings who turned into junkies, all that singing & indifferent special effects–wasn’t quite enough. Even the word “return” begins to seem undependable, not the weight-carrier you’re used to. It’s the right house but it’s the wrong place. The distinctions are so subtle they’re fatal. Once you’ve noticed them it doesn’t even look like the same fucking country & the only thing to do is turn right around & leave. Maybe in another twenty years, you tell yourself, you’ll swing by again.

at the skyline

Living in Shropshire has brought me closer to achieving this long-held ambition–

Someone arrived here yesterday by typing [m john shoe]. Whoever it was, I say: genius! If I was younger & less trapped by everything I ever did, & could untie from all old versions of myself, I might reinvent as m john shoe. m john shoe would be braver but at the same time slippier than I ever was. You would never be able to tell if he was a shoe-in or a shoe-out, always on the edge of the frame. Would never have capitals. Would be more of a band than me, on tonite then in the morning you would see him no more. m john shoe would always leave you guessing. m john shoe never stares out the window like this wondering where August went & deciding to make another cup of tea. Not in South London. m john shoe is at the skyline & turning back briefly to wave his arms in a moment of charming but meaningless triumph; he’s never the same place twice.

Originally blogged September 4, 2009.

dscf5425

curiouser & curiouser

Poor souls blundered helplessly around in the remains of their lives in the atrium of Manchester John Rylands Library yesterday evening. It was a curious tale, indeed it was two of them. The Rylands would be a fantastic place to read anything, let alone a ghost story. Spotted in the audience: John Coulthart & the fabled Michael Butterworth. Nick Royle took this picture in the modern annexe afterwards–B5KeYHLIUAAfHqu-1Left to right: Alison Moore, Tom Fletcher, Beth Ward & AN Other. Curious Tales: Poor Souls’ Light.

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