I wish my mind could settle.
It’s on some kind of fever-track, circling with demented repetition – like carrion birds over a carcass – and at such speed that I cannot even appreciate the beauty of the dead beast. The lush landscape of rotting flesh. I can never just do one thing, never just be occupied on one level. Even now, as I write this, I have a half dozen tabs open and my eyes keep flicking to my phone, waiting for it to light up and there is a book splayed on my desk that I only just put down: it is one of dozens.
I have, at a conservative estimate, some thirty books lying around the house in various stages of being read or re-read. It’s getting worse, this fever-track, it’s speeding up every day, and even when I sleep it does not stop (though it has the decency to keep the shades closed, providing me with at least the illusion of oblivion, however briefly) so I wake up at full-throttle but entirely spent. But the books, yes, I was talking about the books:
I just need a taste. Every now and then, I recall the echo of a flavour on my tongue: it will stab sharply enough to draw blood and I’ll suck in a breath and think – I need to read Huckleberry Finn again. Need to feel the Mississippi swelling beneath me, need to hear that Southern drawl, to get lost in another age, another boy, another world. So I pick it up and I find that all I need is a taste, just a touch on the tip of my tongue and I can be transported there again. I’m trying to think of where I got this idea of tasting books – it may have been Zadie Smith. Or someone else. It doesn’t matter.
Books used to be my only reprieve: I could settle in them, and stay settled, for hours and hours at a time and the voice inside would finally fall silent, overcome by the wonder of another narrator.
I saw a Woody Allen film.
It turns out I haven’t seen many. I had, in fact, prior to watching this new flick, seen just the one: the recent ‘Midnight in Paris’, a remarkable portrait of a city, of a writer, and the interplay of nostalgia between the past and the present. I went to the cinema and waited for a friend – I hadn’t seen her in perhaps a year or more. I was waiting on the sidewalk, just far enough removed from the stream of people passing by to truly hate them. I hate the bustle; the constant noise; the stink of them; the broken fragments of obnoxious conversations that snag my ears with the viciousness of idle fish hooks; I hate that they see me; I hate when they don’t, and most of all, I hate the incorrect use of semi-colons.
I’m standing there, one foot up against the wall, knees sagging in time with my attention-lapses and I am struck with a thought. A line in a poem perhaps, the kind I note down on my phone in their hundreds, like little lost children. Or more aptly, and gruesomely, the limbs of children waiting to be put together. (I’m going to take a moment here to scroll through my phone and find the message). It was:
He stood there waiting,
occasionally unfolding to his full height
like a sail in the wind.
It hit me with Biblical force, that thought, and now I look at it with despair. I had only just put my phone away when my friend leapt into view, salmon-jumping out of the stream. We exchanged an awkward hello — it had been a while, after all — got some food and wandered off into the park to sit and eat. It was just getting dark. The urgency of the crowds did not abate, though we were removed from it now. Sat, talking amidst the leafy green, the occasional street lantern providing light. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a dark furry shape move and noticed with some shock that there was a raccoon-like creature watching us. (I say raccoon-like because I’ve since been informed we don’t have raccoons in Sydney and it was likely a possum but that can’t be right. I’ve seen possums. Sometime. Surely. In a cartoon, perhaps.)
The explosion of panic this event caused is hilarious only because nothing at all happened. That is to say: we froze.
The following conversation is too embarrassing to replicate. It was mostly a series of ‘Oh my gods’ – delivered in increasingly higher pitch from my friend and the higher her voice went, the more the volume dropped; so that by the end, as the raccoon approached us with its nose twitching, eyes alive with curiosity, she had devolved into a razor-thin whine almost beyond perception. It was, in a word, reallyfuckingadorable. Mostly because it was exactly how I felt and I was spared having to exhibit it now that it had already been voiced. The raccoon, for its part, was totally not bothered by our motionless rapture: it remained blissfully unconcerned with us and all too intrigued with the chips it could smell.
Oh my god, it’s coming for my food!
Nor was it bothered by my half-hearted kick, and belated ‘shoo’, the only attempts I could muster to aid gender stereotypes.
Don’t, don’t, don’t! You’ll aggravate it.
So we watched in silence, praying it would leave us be (a process not helped by the couple on the opposite bench, clearly amused by the whispered hysteria, and not at all bothered by furred creatures of the night that may or may not be raccoons).
I meant to talk about the Woody Allen film. Fuck.
It’s just too hard to hold onto tangents. I always have a dozen threads in my hands and each one bucks in my grip and slips between my fingers and sometimes, they’re not the colours I thought they were, and sometimes they’re not cotton or twine but silk and sometimes, I can’t even identify the material. I’m a blind man weaving a tapestry.
There are rare, beautiful moments, when I have the good luck to stumble across a snarl in the weaves and even rarer moments still when I have the patience to gently unwind them, to work thick fingers in skilled exercise and to understand how it all got so tangled.
I was driving with mum the other week.
We’d just stopped by the house to pick something up and were off again in moments.
She said, ‘Do you know what he said to me? Your grandfather? Do you know what he – oh that prick. I can’t believe it. I can’t fucking believe it. You see, he only needed five seconds and he went and fucking did that.’
‘He asked me for $20. I usually pay for the gardener, right, and last time he was there, I only had $50 on me, so I said, Dad, could you give me the extra 20 real quick. I pay for everything, you get me? I buy all the food, pay all the bills, everything, over $400 a week and he has the nerve to ask me for that $20? I’m not even supposed to pay the fucking gardener in the first place! Or any of it. And it’s not the money – it’s the principle. Oh, he roots me, he does.’
Her eyes flick up to the picture of my late grandmother, taped to the sun visor.
‘Sorry mum. I forgive you. For marrying a monster.’
After watching ‘Blue Jasmine’, I’ve since watched ‘Annie Hall’, and it’s safe to say I’m on a Woody Allen kick.
His stories are never settled – I think that’s what I like the most. You jump from past to present to mental reflection and everything in between – always handled with the commensurate skill of a master storyteller to be sure – but never settling. The story moves in leaps and bounds and for once, my mind isn’t jumping twelve steps ahead and dancing in dizzying circles and thinking about the assessments I have to do and work the next day and the laundry and the characters in this movie, in my own stories, and the books I’m reading, and the phone in my pocket that may or may not be lit with notifications, and the state of the world — for once I’m just comfortably keeping pace.
Weaving between here and there, now and then, between narrator, audience and the world.
I can settle there, the way I used to settle in books. I still can – more than any other medium, any other activity, even sex, which comes with its own myriad distractions – but it’s more of a labour to get lost in them now than it ever was before.