(Which is a good word, whether it exists or not.)
I write, I tell stories. Sometimes these are short, scant and brief, mere sketches of ideas designed to stimulate and provoke the thought process. At other times I write longer pieces, novellas and novels broken into digestible chunks, chapters and line breaks punctuating the manuscript.
My life is like this. At times I can see events unfurl that will become a chapter, a longer tale, perhaps a theme to be reintroduced later in life. At others I know that pause is permanent, this is over, put the book down, breathe and move on. Some chapters overlap, where one is defined by place, another can be predominantly about relationships — but these two things are not exclusive, they both inhabit the same temporal plane, after all.
When I write I sometimes plan, outline what needs to happen to characters, to the plot and the over-arching tale, but not always. Sometimes I can be merrily tap-tap-tapping out the words, safe in the knowledge I am moving towards the correct conclusion, following my own guide who has gone ahead and left waymarkers when, all of a sudden, I am off the path and into the deep woods. I follow a barely discernible trail, clutch at something so faint as to make me wonder whether I did witness its call, whether I heard the whisper of music that has pulled me in a different direction.
Again, my life is like this. I have my plans — I am currently sharing some of these with you in my travel section. I have other thoughts and ideas, the warp and weft of my days, all the fabric that at once warms, protects and occasionally threatens to suffocate.
Sitting working in a city, for the first time in months, I listen to the sounds those who dwell here rarely notice. Distant alarms, sirens, traffic and the creaks and groans of an entity brought to life through the experience of countless souls, living out their allotted time and perhaps failing to realise how they are a part of the whole hive, a crucial cog in the machine. I am reminded how each of these noises is a moment in life, a siren can mean nothing to millions, but everything to you or me. A train leaving the platform carries commuters, but also harbours stories and real and true emotion. That face at that window, what is he thinking? Why is he staring out from there, standing alone and motionless? Tales and tales and tales, within tales, planned and unplanned.
On my journey down here I spent hours (eight and a half) thinking about plans — my plans. I thought about how I have altered some ideas, started other plot-strands and ended yet other chapters. I dared to think of whatever days I have yet to come, imagine new ways to live, new places and routes into a deliberately uncertain future. But this is only a part of the whole — the world has a habit of doing strange things, throwing people together in a seemingly random fashion when, at times, I can almost believe there is nothing random about it.
When I left the city all those years ago, I would have thought nothing of talking to my fellow travellers, those sitting at my table or beside me. I would always gauge them, try and work out how much conversation they desired, if any, and then act accordingly. As I journeyed south last week I realised I had not exercised that muscle in a long time. I was rusty, unsure and shy. True, I talked with the first train conductor for longer than most, but she initiated the discussion by asking for my ticket and, somehow, that doesn’t really count. On the second train I found myself looking at my table companion, knowing I wanted to talk, thinking they wanted to too, but finding myself forgetting how. It was an odd experience and, as I passed through a landscape laden with memory and association, I spent no small time deconstructing this.
Eventually we did talk. And talk. The conversation flowed, moving quickly beyond the usual train pleasantries and into more serious, more interesting, deeper realms. When the train pulled in we were not finished. We went for a coffee and, when the moment came to say goodbye, exchanged contact details. As regular readers of mine know, I am not a fan of regret, but I wish we had started the conversation much earlier — I felt like there was still much to talk about, more to share. And I am sure we will continue our discussion.
This encounter was not planned, it was not plotted or outlined, it just happened — and it happened despite my brain’s attempts to stifle conversation before it began. It tells me a few things.
Firstly, if you pardon the rail-pun, I am on the right track — my self-imposed exile, a hermitage I have spoken of before, is indeed reaching the end of its days. It is time to move on, write a new chapter.
Secondly, my ability (is it mine, or that of the universe?) to find new friends in strange places is still with me, despite being rusty. This makes me glad in ways it is not really possible to detail here — I have, over the course of my years, been privileged to have shared conversation and space with truly remarkable and extraordinary people, and I am so thankful (to the universe?) for that.
Thirdly, a continued policy of 100% honesty and, well, simply being me seems not to scare the right people. Of course there are things in my life I don’t really want to talk about, whether with strangers on a train, or friends of old — but that should not influence the direction of conversation and I imagine it is the same for everyone.
Fourthly, like any muscle, this one needs exercise and training. And I have neglected to do so for too long.
Finally, I need to revisit curation of those I meet, those I know, and those I love. This is a clinical way to discuss this issue, but it is important. I have long avoided facebook, after it degenerated into, at best, a stream of inanity, through the casual bigotry of people on my timeline* to what is best described as personal and cruel abuse from people who were “friends”. Perhaps it is nearing the time I give it one last try? Or perhaps the other places I am present across the internet will suffice? I will give this more thought in the coming weeks.
I had not intended to write this piece. I have a plan for my blog entries and this was not on the list. Instead consider it one of those sketches I mentioned, a brief tale, but one that involves the same characters and settings as the longer novel. For this reason I think I will still categorise this in the travel section, despite not being in order, or crucial to the overall plot. See it as a bonus.
It is odd how talking to someone I have never before met can spark my mind into new and interesting directions and I thought it wise to share, just in case it helps others. It certainly clarified a few things in my own head.
Normal service (whatever that means) shall resume shortly.
*(Honestly — at the time I found it easier to leave the site than call out individuals on this. Now, however, I would probably simply delete them, perhaps sending a polite message along the lines of “whilst you are still a racist/homophobic/misogynist fucker, I wish to have nothing to do with you. Bye.”)