"Day 3: Write a setting based on the most beautiful place you've ever seen."
It's monday and I'm in a shite frame of mind. Utterly, utter gash. It doesn't help that the fucking hour went back or forward or whatever the fuck it did, the bastard. I'm completely out of sorts. What a complete waste of my time, literally, that hour change is. I'll spend the next three months as grumpy as an Irish politician in public, start slowly getting used to it, and then it'll go forward or back again, whatever the fuck it does in winter, and completely fuck me up again. I take it personally that this kind stupidity occurs, in much the same way as I take it personally that people don't like more of the same things that I like.
Feeling like I'm feeling makes it awfully difficult to care about beauty if I'm honest. It's like seeing happy people when you're pissed off. Or attractive people when you're feeling fat.
But in the spirit of continuity, I laid this ugly challenge down for myself and so I'll do it. But it means I hate you, reader, just a little bit more than I used to.
I couldn't hate you any more than I already do.
So. Beautiful then : "Having qualities that delight the senses, especially the sense of sight."
Okay, so let's take a moment to breathe, let's make that all important fourteenth cup of coffee, let's have a slice of chocolate cake, let's take a moment to watch daytime television and realise there are worse things in this life than beauty, and let's regroup. We're getting needlessly upset and it's only making us look like petulant and angry children. And by us, I mean you too reader.
Beautiful places. I don't know what that means, quite. These exercises aren't bad, not really – but like me, they're under-qualified. There's no explanation as to what we, I, you the writer are supposed to get out of them. They don't tie together, so far. Maybe they will. Why do I have to describe something beautiful when I'm feeling the way I'm feeling? Can't I describe something horrific? A car-crash, or the time I was interviewed by some children's television lunkheads and felt like I had died and was now in hell. They contrived happiness through loudly squawking and I hated them for it.
Beautiful places. Where can beautiful places be found?
Well I've been to a fair few other lands besides this nauseously claustrophobic small town I'm currently residing in, so I don't know, let's start there. Let's see what we can't find.
I've been to London. Great for CD shops and awesome for food, but an ugly city really. Always moving, festering, twisting and turning and never catching eye-contact when a good shoulder bump can do instead. I like London. It's my kind of city. But beautiful? Nice parks maybe, big buildings, pretty hectic art scene but nah. Not beautiful.
I've been to Vienna. Amazing food, amazing amazing food. Great sites but a grey, short city with people of similar personality. Not beautiful. Also I was there during 911, an inconvenient piece of timing that kinda wrecked an otherwise entirely pleasant day, and as such holiday. See it wasn't just New Yorkers that Osama's merry band put out. It was my holiday in Vienna, too.
I've been to Venice. Gorgeous, gorgeous city – to look at, to be a part of. Travelling everywhere by boat is far more romantic and stomach tingly that it has any right to be. I squeezed down the mono-streets, I caught up on my art, I ate McDonalds, and got caught up in a real-life low-rent mafia dinner party ( that's a fact my friends! ). I travelled to the hotel slightly sozzled, by midnight moonlight, by boat, and it was certainly exciting. But it feels like Disneyland after a day. It's a tourist haven and truly only exists to feed the beast of commerce. The people seem like robots and the tourists remind you that you are simply there for the ride.
I've been to Paris. I hated it and it hated me. It was mutually respective loathing. Never again.
I don't know, maybe I'm being too literal about this, thinking specifically about countries, cities, towns etc when I should be looking further outside the box.
I could go towards an extremity of obscurity : the night sky. But I live in Ireland and in Ireland most of the time the night sky is just that; obscured.
My DVD collection when I'm in the middle of reorganising it. No, that's panic inducing, I have far too many films I'm never going to be able to rewatch before I turn Ninety-Seven, and when I'm surrounded by the covers, split out across the floor, over the couch, on the table, and in the kitchen, anywhere in fact other than the shelves I stupidly took them from to re-order, they make my head spin like I've had too much Gin. And have too many DVDs.
Eyes-closed, listening to my favourite music? Not always a beautiful place to be, my head. But that's not somewhere I've ever really seen so can that count? And how do you write about that anyway?
Today I hate these exercises. I hate me for starting it. I hate you because, well, you're you. It's not your fault but that doesn't make it any easier. I hate conceptualism. I hate bananas. I hate everything and if anything's at fault, it's that stupid hour going forward or backward or left or right or up someone's arsehole, wherever the fuck it's disappeared to. Some people's phones and watches automatically alter the time without them even realising it. They just get on with it, never truly realising that time is fucking with them.
Mine doesn't. Mine just stares at me, waiting for me to acknowledge that I have to physically alter time myself. Maybe if I wasn't aware of this ridiculous, short-form jetlag, it wouldn't bother me so much. Maybe if...
AhHA!!!! I have it. The most beautiful place. It has occurred to me.
I went to Taiwan once. It was a hell of an experience. It was ten days of random, bizarre twists, turns and escapism. It was industrialisms clashing with traditionalism. It was people who looked Chinese castigating me for calling them Chinese, then calling me English because that's as close to Ireland as they understood. Ironically, I'm English. Fuck them.
It started with a panic attack and ended with the greatest sensation of zen I have ever experienced, based on my experiences in the country, a twenty hour flight home, sleeping pills and a strangely comforting jetlag.
I shall try to describe this then, as the most beautiful place I have seen.
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The Most Beautiful Place
I had lost all sensation. All emotion and feeling. The plane could have crashed right now and I would have merely smiled beatifically and accepted it.
Instead it glided gently, as the ground rose up to meet it. I closed my eyes and breathed. I let my breath join the roar and thud of the plane. I let them fade. Somewhere between Frankfurt and Dublin I had found this place, this gentle emptiness that happily accepted me without judgement as I curled up and climbed inside. It was a numbness that went beyond the tingling of pins and needles. It was a carelessness without guilt. It was as though I were laying on a cushioned travelator and being brought, slowly, forward. I had no need for worry. I didn't need to concern myself with triviality. Nor anything beyond my scope of reasoning. The travelator would take me there. Wherever there was. It didn't seem to matter.
Lost. That was the wrong word. I had become all sensation. In the space between deep sleep and stupifying consciousness, I was nestled. It felt easy. Everything felt easy.
The plane bounced as it landed. Around me there were gasps, someone clutched the knuckles of my right hand, someone I did not know, someone who shared only the outer journey with me. My eyes lazed open, and I closed my hand across her's. It seemed the right thing to do. I tried to focus on my fingers, on the blood pumping through them. I looked up at this frightened woman, her eyes darkened by her rising pupils. I whispered something to her and it ghosted from my lips to her ears. She smiled. When the plane began to slow, I let her fingers open and slide out from my own. I felt as though she were still holding my hand. She seemed embarrassed, now that the moment had passed. I felt only the warmth that had enveloped me as we crossed the ocean and had lingered, a whispering breath of lips upon my forehead.
Sound and images comfortably blurred around me. Moments compressed so that almost as soon as I had stood to remove my bag from the overheads, then I was standing outside in the cold rain saying goodbye to the friends I had travelled with, I was stepping from the taxi and saying thanks, I was lying in bed in the darkened room embracing every pin-prick of perception, even as I lay awake, jetlagged and over-tired, listening without trying to the sounds that enveloped me.
I had found a perfect moment of simple comfort. Of course it wouldn't last, it couldn't. But then what is joy and pleasure and beauty if not a fleeting moment to be savoured long after it has disappeared.
Something to chase when the travelator has ceased moving forward.
I lay awake until I drifted. I woke, groggy, grumpy, graceless. I ate breakfast and dribbled milk down my beard. I looked at my surroundings and realised the floating had been replaced by heaviness. Familiar faces felt too familiar. Those unknown to be feared. Even open-wide spaces felt claustrophobic. Bodily functions announced themselves with urgency. I spent that day, and the next, dropping things and cursing my stupid fat hands. People spoke to me. I couldn't understand them. I tried myself to speak and the words fell to the floor, bounced and rolled away. Nothing seemed to fit me, not my clothes, not my shoes, not my life. Sensationless beauty replaced by guttural desire.
It got better of course, but not since have I felt that sense of serenity, that inner calm, confidence and light. And even if I had, I'm not sure it would ever feel the same.
I close my eyes sometimes, when I'm tired, when I've lingered too long in a bath or I'm travelling on a far journey outside my control, and I try to recall, try to retrace, try to find that travelator once again.
I've yet to return to this place. I still try. Maybe I'll never get there. I still try.
The chase. I know that I should give up the chase, I know that in truth that is where the beauty lies. Beyond the chase. Somewhere else.
I also know that it's worth the chase, if only I can find that beauty once again.
"Twelve steps of addiction, step 3 : Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves."
So I don't know if I've described beauty, or faffed around in a memory I'd lost until today. It's made me feel slightly melancholic if I'm being honest. Bittersweet. I'm feeling a little bit of buyer's remorse now that I've written this, too. I wonder if I should have picked a place and just described it.
Went to Venice. It was green and blue and beautiful. Seagulls and ice-cream, the ocean without a beach. Every sound carried by the lapping of salt-water in the sun-heated breeze.
I don't know. If beauty appeals to your senses, how do you quantify it? What's often beautiful to you, is hideous to someone else. How you often remember something, is not always how someone else remembers it. Our bodies and minds lie to us, tell us what we want it to tell us. Was it easier therefore to simply ignore the remit of the exercise in favour of writing what I WANTED to write about, all the while telling myself I'm being clever, I'm taking the exercise and subverting it?
Or did I take the exercise in its essence and do what I was told? Writing about it has done two things - it's left me with that feeling of melancholia, that odd and sweetly deflating sensation which comes with a happy memory that only exists now as a past moment; and it has made me determined to get beyond the Monday blues. What good is this fucked-off feeling, other than to surpass it with something altogether more pleasant and remind myself of the melancholia in passing.
So I'm gonna make my thousandth coffee of the day. Have another slice of chocolate cake. I'm going to ignore the rain, I'm going to ignore the hour in favour of the day, and personally, I'm going to listen to some god damn good music.
Maybe I'll find that travelator again, maybe I won't.
Remember that old saying, it's better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all?
So fuck it.
Tomorrow, "Day 4: Write a letter to an agent telling her how wonderful you are."
That shouldn't be too difficult.