10th September 2017
Heaney Homeplace, Bellaghy
Ciaran Carson is reading a poem about lying in the back of an ambulance, speeding through the streets of Belfast. It is early September, still warm enough for open windows. The sound of a siren –police, ambulance, fire engine- shimmers into the room. You note the detail of this and other tiny details: the red of your lipstick, blooding on the coffee cup’s lip, the sterile, white walls, and the thin lines intersecting each other on Ciaran’s tie, forming diamond shaped jewels which also remind you of siren lights, peeling frantically on ambulance roofs.
“The rear window passes by aslant,” he reads, “like deviations to the route, the slope all wrong, familiar buildings rendered strange,” and you have no personal recollections of lying back flat in an ambulance, thank God, no memory of losing the topography of your own place. Instead, you remember all those very many nights as a small child laid across the backseat in your pyjamas, travelling home from church, or grandparents, or someone’s caravan at the coast. No car seat to hold you. No belt either. Only the familiar lurch and yield of the right, right, left, left turns, and the tree branches casting leopard print shadows across the parcel shelf, to reassure you, your are almost home and safe.
12th September 2017
I have just realised that the writer Paul Auster was once married to the writer Lydia Davis. They have not been married for over thirty years now, almost as long as I have been alive. Nonetheless, I am shocked to discover this fact. I count myself something of a Paul Auster fan, having read every one of his books, aside from the latest which is still only available in hardback, and rumoured to be quite mediocre. I am therefore holding out for the paperback.
I do not enjoy the writing of Lydia Davis at all, and yet, reading between the lines of her youthful correspondence with Auster, I find myself beginning to warm to her. She is not as perfunctory as I have previously assumed. She is capable of grand gestures as well as the painstaking description of minutiae. She is occasionally quite funny. I think I might actually like Lydia Davis now.
Then, I remember that this is not Lydia Davis herself I am encountering, or even her work, but rather Lydia Davis funneled through the lens of Paul Auster’s imagination, and doesn’t he pride himself, on his unreliable narrators: deviants, neurotic detectives, New York illusionists, and sleight of hand artists, once, a dog. It is difficult to know which truth to lean upon with Auster’s writing. I remain skeptical about Lydia Davis.
18th September 2017
On a Dublin pavement, stenciled in blue paint, “walkers are the practitioners of the city, for the city is made to be walked.” The W of walked has eroded under hundreds, if not thousands, of individual boots and shoes, but if’s easy enough to tell what the word is meant to be, and isn’t this living proof of the way the city is constantly shaping itself around the people who call it home, or pass through its rain slick streets, dropping cigarette butts, tracking puddle water, littering and refraining from the act of littering, opening and closing external doors, disturbing leaves. They are like small, sticky children leaving fingerprints on everything they touch. Without them the city would not be a city, so much as the idea of stacked bricks waiting to be more than stacked bricks.
22nd September 2017
Cathedral Quarter, Belfast
She says she’s writing a children’s book about a lonely cactus.
“He really wants to make friends,” she explains, “or possibly even fall in love, but every time he gets close to someone he hurts them so much they just leave.”
Everyone in the group falls silent. Some are thinking about cacti. Most are thinking about how the lonely cactus is a metaphor for pretty much every adult relationship they’ve ever had. They begin to suggest possible resolutions to the story. They have a vested interest in finding a happy ending for the lonely cactus.
“Could his spikes fall off?” asks one elderly man. “That was he’d be able to get close to others without hurting them.”
She doesn’t like the idea of a spikeless cactus. She thinks it might confuse her young readers. How will they recognise her protagonist as a cactus if he is bald?
“What if the lonely cactus met someone who enjoyed being hurt?” asks a young man named Simon. “And they learnt how to be happy together even though one of them was always in pain.”
She disregards this idea too, saying it does not sound like a plot suitable for a children’s book. Secretly she thinks it sounds far too much like real life.