VIII

I’m going off writing. Words are cheap and we’re bludgeoned with them constantly, and finding signal amongst the noise is becoming harder and harder. More importantly, it more and more feels futile to attempt to say anything worthy. Why bother? Wont it simply be howling your throat raw in a screaming maelstrom of voices?

How can I possibly say anything that lasts in this environment? I can’t remember the things I read online today, let alone this week. Let alone this month.

In this environment, where everyone has their own loud hailer, isn’t there a greater likelihood of contributing to the noise than cutting through it?

I’m not anyone special and there’s an arrogance to assuming that, of all the people speaking, I might have something to say that’s more signal than noise.

And yet I come back to it, over and over, unable to stop. In love with words, pouring them out, endlessly, it feels, from the tip of my pen, from the tip of my tongue, from finger tip to keyboard.

There’s a Blank on Blank where Kurt Vonnegut talks about writing being becoming, it being reaching into a student’s mouth, pulling out the tape there and seeing what’s written on it. He talks about it being exhausting and that being why some people refuse to do it any more. It’s one thing to refuse and quite another to know that you can’t. One day, I wonder, will I come to the end of my tape? Will there be a clunk as I come to the end of the reel? What will be at the end? I dread to think?

Norma Mailer said of his novels, ‘each had killed me a little more’. That’s how I feel. Each word written or typed feels like another minute off my life, whether they’re used to shitpost on twitter or write a poem or a novel I believe in, and yet, I cannot stop. Stopping is somehow worse. You might as well ask the sea not to come in tonight, or ask my heart not to beat.

The thing is, you can’t give in to despair. Perhaps each word is a minute off — or a minute spent? — but in the same way a minute spent typing garbage into a spreadsheet is a minute you’re never getting back, either. It’s less about the fact that you’re spending your life — there’s nothing you can do about that, you have no choice but to spend it — and more about deciding what you want to spend it on. Writing, sure, so when you write, are you going to spend time shitposting on twitter or on something you believe in?

Yeah, that’s what I thought.

In the same Blank on Blank, Vonnegut says writers are professional over-reactors, if that helps you out any, gives you more clues.

Personally, I don’t know what he means…

VII

Fragments. They’re allowed, did you know that? Allowed. Encouraged, sometimes, even. People write whole novels in them. This one guy, kinda famous apparently, wrote a whole bunch of philosophy in fragments. Hysterical. There I was, trying to sellotape together my smashed and shattered thoughts into something resembling a cohesive whole, and here these guys are, just tossing out fragments like playing cards. It demonstrates that my woeful education in the scene to which I so desperately belong is full of fragments – a bit of one writer here, an echo of a name that sounds familiar there, an inkling, a sense that something new – new to me, ancient as fragments to everyone else – might be OK, if I stopped waiting for permission and went for it.

And then my mind spins off in another direction, always, always trying to sew the edges of these fragments together, imagining how they could be be together and remain a fragment. What about a database? That ever so sexy literary staple, you know, the database? What if we put all the fragments into a database, and labelled them in the order they were produced, the sequence of their final publication, their topics, their interrelations, made them searchable… what if by dumping fragments of writing into a database, you could use the meta data to produce links between fragments otherwise unrelated? Show me, all the fragments referencing Adorno, database. Show me all the ones written on a Tuesday mentioning chaos. Show me all the ones with ‘allowed’ in them. ‘Belonging’. ‘Music’. ‘Sex’. Show me the ones that mention database, database.

Listen to me performing again; ‘Adorno’. I’ve never read him. ‘Him’. It gets worse. Just call him Theodore, like you met him for coffee and that was how you came across fragments. ‘Yes, well we were having a nice latte in Costa,’ (What’s wrong with Costa? Cafe Nero is expensive, yo) ‘I fumbled my biscotti’ (do they even do that in Costa?) ‘and the resulting clatter onto the plate shattered it into… you guessed it… pieces, and Theodore, he says simply, “that reminds me —”‘

Brian Dillion, is who I’ve read. On my phone, on a crowded, sweaty train from Cardiff in December, with my posterior inches from the face of a poor woman sat behind me, and the remnants of an unusually gassy lunch barreling through me with no thought for personal space or the ban on chemical weapons. It’s a shame these are the circumstances under which I remember Brian’s essay, because he really is a wonderful writer, and the three quarters of ‘On fragments’ in Essayism I read before I manically started googling fragments and their proponents was great, as was every bit of the book preceding it. Dillon deserves more of a namecheck than Adorno in this fragment story.

Fragments, people. They’re allowed.

VI

I used to worry. Sometimes I worried until my personality, my thoughts, my behaviours, were smooth, and all the offending edges had gone the way of windwashed mesas, and other times until my hands were bloody with the effort of the unworryable thought. The clockwork habit, the bedrock personality.

Always rubbing. Picking. Tapping. Turning, looking, inspecting. I worried about worrying.

Eventually I learned what worrying looked like, and learned to stop before the blisters came up on my thumbs.

Some thoughts are disproportionate. They seem to be the unworryable thought, but in reality they’re like candy floss. with a thumb and forefinger you can reduce that impenetrable cloud to a sugar grain. I’ve learned to recognise these, too.

V

After a while the energy required to not be yourself becomes so much that simply living is exhausting.

When the exhaustion got too much, I chose to be myself — sometimes I have to remind myself why — and I hope anyone else struggling on this point will, too.

Some people come to hate themselves so much they would rather die than be themselves. I wish I could take every one of these people by their gentle, calloused hands, lead them to a therapist and make them drink.

IV

Even these fragments are composites. I’ve written them in short stochastic bursts, a line about one topic here, a quick sketch, then editing and chopping. I can still come back later and change things. Insert a missing hyperlink, or fix a typo, for instance. So these things are woven, rather than chunks, and not even in their final form. Or their only form. If I change this one in two months time, there’ll be two versions of it. That’s not to mention all the opportunities for other people’s input – comments, online annotations or simply copying, pasting and editing. I’d rather they didn’t, but what’s to stop them?

The gravel pile of fragments is very very porous.

III

Writing turns me from one person into shards of multiple people bound by nothing but a single skin.

‘Find your voice’, they says, ‘write like you,’ they says, but when you’re several different voices depending on what you’re writing and how seriously you want to be taken, or whether you’re feeling flippant today, or simply just pouring the junk out, feeling like one person is hard enough, let alone one voice.

Fiction is even worse. It requires you to get into the head of a character enough so that when someone reads a voice on the page, they can’t see me moving their mouths or my face behind their mask. After a while you begin to lose track of where you stop and they begin and vice versa.

At least, that’s how it is for me, anyway; it’s probably not a sign of something worrisome.

And sarcasm never comes across properly.

II

Some of these will be bad. Some might be good. Some might be dull, or confusing. I hope many will be interesting, or at least, entertaining. Some will relate to others. Some will stand alone. Some will be strange – sorry, it’s just the way I am. Some might try for enigmatic, but I don’t think I have the right energy for enigmatic. Enigmatic implies something reserved enough to slink just out of sight. Frenetic yeti, vibrating with anxious energy, rarely slink and certainly not just out of sight.

This list is not exhaustive.

I

Chaos is an organising principle for peanut brittle. You spend time bringing together the ingredients, mixing them all up, heating them in the pan until they’re a thick, caramelised, unctuous substance. Then you spread the mixture in a sheet pan and let it set until you’ve got this shining, dark brown plain, rolling with hills of little hidden peanuts. Bringing order and uniformity to the whole mess. You wait for it to harden.

Then you smash it to bits.

My uncle makes peanut brittle at Christmas sometimes, and distributes it in little jars through my grandmother. They’re full of chunks and shards of peanut brittle, some tiny little crisps of sugar, others a nice balance of brittle and nut and others just a peanut or two stuck together with brittle. Variety is the spice of life.

When my brother and I were kids, our grandfather used to buy us pic’n’mix from the sweet shop in town, Ricci’s. They came in little white paper bags (as all good sweets do) and always had a good mix – Raspberry Ruffles, Strawbs, these white mint discs that turned into a fondant like substance after a minute or two in your mouth, and tasted like spearmint at first, then toothpaste (they were one of my favourites), barley sugar, butterscotch, Everton mints, humbugs, fruit jellies. And peanut brittle.

This peanut brittle was two peanuts encased in opaque, beige hardboiled sweet mixture, to make them look like two peanuts still in their shell. They were printed with a peanut shell pattern that was too uniform and reminded me uncomfortably of fabric sticking plasters.

They were possibly the only part of the pic’n’mix that I didn’t like. The type that came smashed up like gravel in a jar, were much, much better.