Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Lost beginnings 1, the beginnings

Every night, when I attempt to re-imagine the notebook, I project myself back into the summer, when it sat beneath my Greek pillow; I remove it and look at its cover (the spine repaired by a black masking tape with a slight thready pattern on it, moleskine's black elastic band holding it shut). I open it and pass over the empty space on the first page where the address should have gone, turning instead to the first entry, a note to me from my daughter.

Her handwriting is growing more oval as she enters her teens, but eighteen months ago it still had a childish roundness that's echoed in a few of the phrases. She still calls me 'Dada,' a nomenclature I encouraged past its usual sell-by date because of its echo of Dadaism, and she concludes with my affectionate title for her, 'Best Bug,' the origins of which even I can't quite remember. In between, however, the message has her characteristic insightful maturity.

Although I can't remember the words exactly, I know what their content was: 'this is for you to look at when you're away from home, so that you feel comforted by the thought that I, we [I can't remember whether she includes Debbie in this or not] are thinking of you and love you.' I was touched and reassured by it throughout the time I was able to look at it: it did fulfil a function of bringing my imagination back to my family when I was, sometimes, very far away.

And it still performs that function now, each time I (partially) recall it, before I turn to the last entry, the phrasing of which I can never quite recall, and have to rehearse; then turn to the crucial missing section in the middle, picturing the drawing of Twisty Jesus from Komsomolskaya, remembering how I went through the entries drawing a circle in pencil around each station, so that I'd be able to find them quickly when I finally got round to transcribing them. I was already thinking of each entry as little sketch poems, like the ones I made the first time I visited the Uffizi, later setting them out in lines.

That reminds me that there are other, more subtly misplaced pieces of writing that I still claim to possess:

That journal I kept when I went to Italy for the first time with James Lloyd, with whom I recently got back in touch after a gap of almost thirty years. I typed up its pseudo-Kerouackian passages and called it Travelovel, circulating it around a few friends, one of whom, James Meek, still assumes I keep diaries with that degree of detail. The 'poems' were immediate reactions to the paintings, something I did in approximately the same manner in Rome, though fortunately those were in my pocket sketch book.

That verse play improvised directly onto an old electric typewriter called, ludicrously, Pannini, based on the painter of Roman scenes that montaged Classical ruins and contemporary scenes for the eighteenth century connoisseur market. There were a couple of canvasses in the Ashmolean by him that fascinated me, and the play, such as it was (it was like The Draughtsman's Contract, but with less happening) arose initially from speeches by the statues and bas-reliefs, before adding monologues by Pannini and dialogues between him and his patrons.

The novella Virtual Sideboard, which I wrote on holiday in Lanzarote whilst drinking cheap Spanish market brands of whisky and staying up all night, which consisted of extremely convoluted sentences about the onset of responsibility anxiety in a new parent, and fantasias-within-fantasias, retreats into the world inside the old sideboard that sat for decades in my grandmother's living room and now languishes in the asbestos-roofed garage of my parents' house. Somehow, I never quite got round to typing this up.

These unfinished, unpublishable, never-quite-relinquished pieces of writing are supposedly among my endless heaps of paper. Pannini turned up, briefly, when I got a young writer in to help tidy things up, and I imagine Travelovel is recoverable, not least because the original journal it was taken from still exists. But I haven't seen Virtual Sideboard for years, rather like the synopsis of a verse novel I mislaid when we had to move out of the lighthouse so its floors could be rehung, and never located again, and therefore can never quite get on with writing.

(The atavism of my compositional process lies close to the heart of this project: how can I proceed if I don't have those very scraps of paper?)

There was an incident which still gives me the cold shivers, when I found my research assistant throwing out letters from the 80s because they wouldn't be of immediate interest -- there had been one day previous to that when I hadn't gone through the material being dispensed with, and I keep thinking 'What if?' in a most unjust and ungenerous panic.

So how do these effectively lost pieces compare with the actually gone notebook I try to reconstruct in my dozing mind's eye? How will the piece of work I'll have to produce without it compare to the pieces I could produce if I were to find and edit those missing items?

No comments: