When I go to Heaven I want to get there by Ygddrasil, like this:
Who said that the more you know, the more aware you are of how little you know? No matter who it was dear reader; they are the words of a genius. I come across what I don't know daily, and I am often flabbergasted to realise that I lived up until that moment without that knowledge, whatever that may be. I felt it acutely a few days after I moved last month, when I found myself in Daunt's and picked up one of those slim single editions that Faber published to celebrate the launch of its Modern Classics. The one I picked up was How To Become A Writer by Lorrie Moore.
And I am coming to the point: I did not know who Lorrie Moore was. There, I've said it, I've blown whatever pretence of knowledge of books I may have created in here, and elsewhere. So how is this even possible? I read this wonderful short story (nay hilarious how-to, if you ask me) in minutes, then ran out to get the collection it comes from (Self-Help), as well as a very satisfactory tome, The Collected Stories, this thick, this high, and completely wonderful to rest on your chest as you read in bed. And there I was, wondering how I lived all these years without this wonderfully penetrating prose, without these fantastically acute observations. I nodded and laughed like a hyena throughout How To Become A Writer and frankly thought this was a short story written for me. No, more than that. Lorrie must have had me in mind when she wrote it. It is for Steph and of Steph. I am sure you'll have the exact same experience when you read it.
Decide that you like college life. In your dorm you meet many nice people. Some are smarter than you. And some, you notice, are dumber than you. You will continue, unfortunately, to view the world in exactly these terms for the rest of your life.
You spend too much time slouched and demoralised. Your boyfriend suggests bicycling. Your roommate suggests a new boyfriend.
[...] you have a calling, an urge, a delusion, an unfortunate habit. You have, as your mother would say, fallen in with a bad crowd.
Later on in life you will learn that writers are merely open, helpless texts with no real understanding of what they have written and therefore must half-believe anything and everything that is said of them.
Begin to wonder what you do write about. Or if you have anything to say. Or if there even is such a thing as a thing to say. Limit these thoughts to no more than ten minutes a day; like sit-ups, they can make you thin.
HAHA-HAHA! AND YES.
On and on I could go, and perhaps I should stop my blabbing and copying the whole of it here for you. But no, go out and get it; holding this story, in whichever format you'll buy it in, in your hands will be immensely more satisfying than reading it fleetingly on a screen. I keep How To Become A Writer in my bag now and that's the least I could do. I mean, this story was written for me, so... And to think that I did not know Lorrie Moore until last month. What a philistine...
Posted at 21:53 | Permalink
Three weeks ago today I was pacing around my old home, observing a bunch of very willing and very hunky removal boys pack my things at record speed. By the time I swished out for lunch, 80% of my possessions had already disappeared into cardboard boxes. When I returned, only the bathroom paraphernalia and my bed were still in place. Today, I am writing to you from my new study, a 2.5m x 2.5m box overlooking the gardens, oak trees and rooftops of the mews just behind my house. You really would not know this is super central London.
I work with a girl, a fantastic change manager, who displays unequalled finesse in her understanding of human emotions. In our first Skype call after I pitched up here, she told me that it's quite normal to feel hard-done by and unable to bond with the new place, for each change that affects us needs to progress through a period of normalisation in order for its establishment to be successful.
In other words, new must become normal before we ourselves feel normal again. The day after I moved I wrote in my diary, 'I don't like the new house. It smells and I cannot find anything. I cried too'. The day after that I wrote, 'Went to Harrods and feel like myself again. That place can make anything better'. Six days after that I wrote, 'It's great to live here'.
By the time the first weekend was out, I had just about everything in its place, except for my books. Yes because you see, at my old house I found miles of built-in shelving, while here I have some in the study (duly filled with whatever came out of the first BOOKS boxes), but the rest of the house is remarkably stark, walls-wise. Now I have to figure out where the new Vitsoe set-up will go, how tall, how wide...etc...etc... and while this takes place, with a promised installation date 4 weeks from ordering, what makes me me is still mostly sealed in boxes. I have 15 here in the study, 4 in the kitchen, and I think another 7 or so in the guest bedroom. I can safely tell you that until these friends are all on display, I will consider myself in a Place of Transition.
My bedside table is virtually book-less (apart from the beginning of a pile of 10, all freshly bought at the local Daunt's, which is the same local Daunt's as before, as I moved only half a mile down the road), and I cannot begin to tell you the level of anxiety I experience every time I can actually see the bedside table itself, which is a pretty much an unheard of occurrence. I have actually considered to open a box at random and plonk its contents on the side of my bed. I will feel better immediately, at any rate that is what I tell myself, but I also know that there is actually method to my neurotic madness dear reader. It's not any book that gets to sit by my bed you know. That spot is bloody earned.
I realised that, apart from the oft-pedalled 'a book is an object before it is a story', a book is a route right out of this room to elsewhere, no matter where, a flight of fancy that turns my house into a museum, a farmhouse in Yorkshire, a townhouse in New Orleans, an apartment in Baker Street, Danny 's kitchen, London itself, a world of its own, the corridors of the uni; it is Canada, Peru, France, Russia, Italy, the US; it is Spanish, German, Latin, French, Italian, English; it is comic books, it is business, it is The London Library on Chelsea and Kensington; it is my home filled with millions of other homes and other people I want to talk to all the time, filled with images I see only through the eye of my mind or through the eyes in my head. All of these subliminal routes to elsewhere, and plenty more, are sitting right here in this room, in these boxes and I just cannot wait to restore a little bit of order so that their comfort is all around me once again.
On Thursday, I kicked off the Easter week-end with one of the Letters Live performances of 2015. The day before, an electrical fire raged underneath Kingsway, virtually next door to the Freemasons' Hall, and that evening's performance was cancelled. Too bad for the Wednesday ticket-holders and too good for us; the line-up was carried over for a show that clocked up at 3 hours and 45 minutes (with a 15-minute interval) and included Ben Kingsley, Clarke Peters, Danny Huston, Ian McKellen, Sophie Hunter, Ferdinand Kingsley, Simon Callow, Louise Brealey, Andrew Scott, Greta Scacchi, Dominic West, Joss Ackland, Andrew O'Hagan, Benedict Cumberbatch, Alan Rusbridger plus the musical performances of Kelvin Jones and Natalie Calvin.
I've always loved reading letters, both the ones I receive and even the ones I re-read before I send them, and in fact, I have an illustrious past (ahem, allow me) as a letter-writer that started when I was eight, and I wrote to Barbie Magazine enquiring after pen friends (these were the 1980s and no, I am not joking, just ask my mum). They published my letter with my address and I received tons and tons of replies and cost my parents a fortune in stamps because, even though many of these pen-friends dropped away as time passed, a few did not.
One of them has stuck around all this time, and even though we now only catch up at Christmas and for our birthdays, this year we celebrate thirty years of correspondence without ever having met. I wish I had kept all of those letters and even though my gut feeling is that they could not be defined, in any shape or form, 'letters of note', sitting in the audience the other night made me realise that, actually, you don't know whether what you are writing or reading is going to be a letter of note one day.
Consider the wonderful correspondence between Chris Barker and Bessie Moore, a wartime testament to endurance and love, certainly, but also to history being written by supposedly 'unremarkable' people, for neither of them were high-profile politicians, nor entertainers, to name but two categories. Their love story in letters, My Dear Bessie, provides a legacy to all of us but one especially poignant and highly humurous in light of their grand-daughter, who spoke of their primness and puritanism alongside the wonderful surprise of discovering that there was so much more passion to them than anyone could have imagined. On the night, their wonderful, and in places hilarious, longing for each other was brought to life by the effervescent performances of Benedict and Louise, whom you can also listen to on Radio 4 at the end of April. Don't miss it for the world, you will love it.
For all of my love of reading letters, I've always found it ever so slightly intrusive. I know that I would die of embarrassment if some of my letters (make that emails these days) were actually read out or published. There is an element of intrinsic intimacy to the epistolary medium that makes me feel like a nosy snoop, very much in the same way I feel when I crack open Kurt Cobain's diaries and I can assure you it has little to do with his untimely and tragic passing. Even as I read and re-read P.G. Wodehouse's wonderful letters, I feel like a nosy thief of someone else's emotions. As Louise Brealey has said, 'I have rarely felt so close to someone I've never met'.
It is not easy to single out my favourite letter from this event and certainly, the more I think about it, and the more I can only conclude that I should separate my favourite letter from my favourite performance on the night. So I can tell you that my favourite letter was the one from Sol LeWitt to Eva Hesse, read out by Andrew Scott. If you've been around this site for quite some time, it will be evident why I am singling it out. It's a celebration of creating whilst being forceful about not worrying about what the rest of the world says. Just DO dammit! It was wonderful to hear it live, and Andrew did an excellent job, at once tender and forceful. If you go here, you can actually see the original.
But my very favourite performance of the night goes to the wonderful Dominic West, who read the fantastically spiteful letter of Hunter S. Thompson to Anthony Burgess with just the right amount of revolting disgust, which is... an awful lot of.
I should also mention Greta Scacchi's reading of Virginia Woolf's suicide note to her husband as particularly close to my heart, as was Joss Ackland's staggering rendition of Romeo and Juliet Act II Scene II [But, soft! what light through yonder window breaks?], first as the young man he once was, longing to be with the woman he loved, and then, fifty years later, after she passed away. I am not ashamed to tell you that at this point, hot tears spilled over; he delivered a staggering homage to his companion of a lifetime likely to be deeply felt by anyone who has ever experienced love.
I hope that next time perhaps I'll get to hear one of Plum Wodehouse's letters, which I know so well, and perhaps I get to see Tom Hiddleston again, who was so impressive in Coriolanus. And I'll let you what, if I get to marry Tom... that'll qualify me to read on the night as well so if you are really lucky... you'll get to listen to me too...