However, the cafe. While I was there I began a set of writing exercises given by the writer Ali Smith, who doesn't enjoy giving writing exercises. There are seven of them and I played with the first two. This blog post contains the results. Unedited. One day I will edit something.
I find that both of these results are almost autobiographical.
The triumph (for me) today is that I entered a writing competition. I have a marginally greater than zero chance of winning a prize for the three pieces of flash fiction I submitted. It doesn't matter that there are many better writers than me who will have entered the competition. What matters is that I enjoyed the writing.
The first exercise involved writing a few sentences and emotions in a particular way. The instruction then was to choose one sentence and write from it. This happened:
Separated from her peers, she could only watch each bubble as it burst into nothing at the surface of her drink. It was one of her bad days. A glass of coke was all her mind could process. Falling into herself, falling into an almost infinitesimal galaxy she fought with each heartbeat for her own survival, hoping the world beyond the glass would not intrude upon that centre of chaotic calm.
She shut out the people, the conversations. Shut out the music too. Initially she'd been enjoying listening. Jazz playing softly. For a while. Then it became like a broken cacophony, as if Stockhausen were playing a cruel joke on Schoenberg. She blocked it out, blocked it out, "I WILL not hear it" and shut down one mental and emotional faculty after another.
Now only the glass remained. One focus. One life. One eye in the hurricane. It was as though each single bubble sang one note of a song, sang the language of purpose, shining brightly as it burst. Consider the bubbles. They grow and die in a moment yet God arrays them with joy. She was content to watch. Content just to be with her drink, resisting all temptation to try to impose order, knowing the apparent patterns of popping were just illusions.
And then she realised. The bright light of the bubble was its unfettered death cry. The bubble only had purpose in her drink when it was nothing. The moment it birthed itself, called out its own vigorous shape, that was the moment it died too. Lost in the air they became a nothing of greater or lesser magnitude. She knew in that instant that death was life and life was death and that her bad day and her reduction of the world to bubbles was more real than each time she shouted her own importance to the world.
She wept. Weeping, she saw beyond the glass. Noticed again the cafe customers surrounding her. On her table, a single staple, half folded, and she considered where it might have come from. A staple, failing in purpose as the staper incorrectly stamped it into a government document. A staple, fallen from a magazine. A staple out of place and isolated on varnished wood. She convinced herself she was that staple. She wept again. She was wrong.
A hand on her shoulder. A face, radiating compassion. A query. "Are you okay? Can I help in any way?"
She wept again. Fiercely. A hug replaced the hand.
Bubbles continued to sing their joy.
Unobserved. It didn't matter.
The second exercise was one of those "Here are some words. Choose three. Put them in a paragraph or story or poem." The difference here was that I don't know the meaning of most of the words. That didn't matter for the exercise. The words could mean nothing or be given new meanings.
"I can't do it. I just can't do it. I'm useless."
Jill looked at Lucy with tears in her eyes.
"You can. I promise. I know it's not easy for you but give it another try. You never know what might happen."
Jill tried to calm down, took deep breaths, and bravely picked up the cribble again.
"Okay, I'll try. If you tell me exactly what to do."
Lucy picked up her cribble and pressed it into the obovate.
"Look. Like this. Don't worry about how it comes out. Just treat it as a game."
Lucy pulled out the cribble and pressed it into the obovate again. Harder. So a bigger mark was made.
"Now you do it."
Gingerly, Jill pressed her cribble into the surface of her own obovate.
"This is so scary."
"I know it is. You're doing great. You can wiggle it if you like and swap colours too. Just have fun with it. Don't try to be a grandmaster."
Jill pulled the cribble out and looked at the mark it had made. A small pink circle, fading towards the edges.
"Hey, I'm going to do blue next. And wiggle it like you said."
By the end of the evening Jill was smiling. Her obovate was covered in colour. It didn't look like anything in particular but that didn't matter. It was still pretty and it was her own work.
As Jill was leaving, Lucy hugged her tightly and said, "I'm so proud of you. You're amazing. You thought you would never be able to incarnadine but you did it. That's pretty special."
Jill laughed as she said "And if I can incarnadine, what might I do next?"