Woke early, yawned through an unthinking 45 minutes of meditation and sat down in the study just as the sun was thinking about getting up, brutally eliminated three chapters and began again on the straggly library story. I now have a single paragraph I like, but not much more than that. Went out to water the garden and grappled with the Big Dog for possession of the watering can, admired a tumbling Cecile Brunner rose in the hedge. Came inside and ate some muesli, wrote another paragraph and erased it. Should my character Loup voluntarily enter the looney bin or will the clinic director lure her in on false pretences? Why did her mother disappear in autumn 1977? Who is the young gay man stealing books in the library?
Some days are all about writing sentences and crossing out sentences.
Caught up on the news, chatted to the housemate, had some more tea, played with dogs, wrote emails, sat down at my desk and thought hard about the story. Wrote three lines and crossed them out. Gave up and began editing a chapter on political economy and funding crises in the Third World.
Fortunately I then came across a review written by some poor sod trying to make sense of Roberto Bolano’s just published Antwerp with an opening sentence that reads:
“In Antwerp a man was killed when his car was run over by a truck full of pigs.”
Which sets the stage for absurdity, senseless violence, resistance, fantastical outcomes as shown via our fumbling efforts to make sense of our separate and random destinies, sometimes helped and sometimes hindered in this by literature and art. It is now eight years since Roberto Bolano died of liver disease at the age of 50 and there has been a steady flow of translations and posthumous publications that either baffle or enlighten readers. Initially there was considerable hype, romantic or disturbing rumours and the curse of media fame, but now the hype has died down and the works remain, difficult and rewarding for readers willing to persist. Last year I fell into the digressive darkness of Bolano’s neverending novel 2666 and only fought my way to the surface after six weeks, wishing I could live in Bolano for ever and wrestle with strange coloured fish in the subterranean depths but emerging without so much as a handful of glittering scales to show for all that immersion.
So often writing feels as if we are in pursuit of futility — plots are just trapdoors into nowhere, characters remain cardboard, motives wear thin. We can’t write and we can’t not write. Then, in a moment, an instant, it all changes and elements click into place, exciting possibilities appear, characters step forward and begin to speak or act in ways we could not have foreseen. The story tells itself.
Not unlike the way we stay sober day and after day, muddling along, trying and failing to make sense of our lives, stumbling and wavering but not falling into relapse, holding up torches for others and hoping we are pointing them in the right direction, holding hands in the dark, grasping after elusive meanings and consolations, the trudging that often makes more sense in retrospect and yet occasionally gives up a view from the top of a steep hill, the landscape radiant with yearning, splendid, spread out below and beyond — so on we go, just bumbling and searching, lonely at times, misunderstood and misunderstanding, misguided in our loving and clutching at resentments, missing the sign posts, reading the map from south to north and upside down. If we don’t get there, wherever there may be, we have still experienced the journey.