Sunday, May 13, 2012
There's a scene in Howards End where Leonard Bast is shown fooling around at work, gazing longingly at a map of stars in a book. This romantic moment of indulgence is perfectly articulated in the film as his work desk is transported outdoors. Only moments before this scene we saw him gazing up the night's sky, trying to explain the stars to his wife. I love him for his quiet moments of escape from everyday life and his fascination with the stars. When I was watching Howards End today, I thought of those rare conversations you have with someone you're just getting to know, when they begin to reveal quiet inner things, rather than a list of practicalities about them (what they do, where they work, where they're from, etc.). In those moments, people are like the map of stars Leonard stares at: they are laid out, exposed, with brightly evident sparks of hope dotting their landscape. But then the conversation is over and they wrap themselves back up, with those glimpses of stars carefully hidden behind their job titles. This is why I'm no good at small talk. I'd rather talk about the stars with someone like Leonard than talk about my job with someone like Charles Wilcox.
Speaking of being exposed, I'm also reading the most wonderful book this weekend: The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing. There's something so generous about Lessing's writing. Take for example these lines: 'You're afraid of writing what you think about life, because you might find yourself in an exposed position, you might expose yourself, you might be alone.' The generosity of The Golden Notebook is that it names such a fear and allows you as the reader to be exposed too without feeling totally alone. I've only started the book, but it confirms for me so much of what I like about writing. I once had an awfully long chat with another writer who found it 'indulgent' to write about things like feelings, sunsets, and all that other 'romantic bullshit'. I suppose he'd add my inclination to empathise with Leonard's map of stars to that 'bullshit' list. What annoyed me the most was the implication that such things aren't 'real' writing, and that indulgence doesn't have its place too.
Sunsets are real, as are stars. My feelings are real. It may all be romantic bullshit to some, but for others, it's affirming, reassuring, and a chance to breath. I'm all for generosity in writing, in naming the fears, along with the romantic pleasures. So in the spirit of my own indulgence, I watched the sun slowly retreat in the late afternoon yesterday, charmed by the simplicity of the moment. My favourite time of day in my place is late afternoon, because the sun feels different then. It no longer seems to be a harsh presence at the top of the sky, but a low, curtained presence covering the roof and the rooms with a softer and more tactile heat. It's a strange time of day, and when I have time to observe it, it fills me with a mixed feeling of melancholy and pure pleasure. I've tried to find a word for that feeling, but instead came up with a poem. Yes, I've indulged in some 'romantic bullshit'. And I'll leave you with the poem:
There is a word for it, perhaps, in some language
but you cannot invent it.
And so you move around the room imitating
the random goldenness that permeates
the edges of leaves, the tops of gates,
the periphery of shadows,
pulling everything into its void of static melancholy
and yet, you’re not sad.
This stillness is the erasure of pleasant stupefaction
like being poured unconsciously into rounded glass.
You feel it penetrate through the liminal window
speaking through the warmth of the sun
that gradually cools behind the house,
with a curdled silence that draws a curtain around the room,
temporarily warming your skin,
but leaving you strangely aching when the heat disappears.