What Do I See?

Stop adhering to the lines!

I dreamt I was trying to organise a library card but couldn’t find the requisite ID. Then I lay awake thinking of writing. In the end I got up about 2:00 and started a review of the new Juan Rulfo translation. I didn’t sleep again till 5:00. So I’m tired. I’m not used to such poor sleep, not these days. To stop myself obsessing I’ve come out riding, and settled in a courtyard off Gillett Square in Dalston. I’m here, writing about myself in the act of writing.

What do I see?

Hackney trash-collectors haul stinking dumpsters from behind doorways marked “GENERAL WASTE”, which greet the punter/diner as s/he enters along a driveway from the square. The clientele—and staff—here are young, “hip” I guess, though that’s a word I can’t use without quote marks or without a disclaimer: it’s too much like “hipster”, a word the meaning of which everyone seems to have a different conception — and no-one’s saying it about themselves now, are they? It’s a word, I suspect, which is rooted in contempt of youth. (Like “punk” was—though I like that one, since at least it’s original; variations on “hip” have clung on for years now. And punk was embraced by at-least some so-called punks. People claimed it.)

But what do I see?

A young man smokes alone in a corner of the courtyard: red hair (short back and sides) and beard, tight t-shirt, dark tightish blue denim jeans, slightly hunched (it’s the first thing I notice, and I feel for him: it’s hard for me to unhunch myself—a lifetime’s habit is stacked against me), fairly muscular—not unusually, but he works out, clearly. Yet he’s smoking. (I feel for him here too: an awful habit to break, so seductive, yet utterly ruinous to fitness.) He gets up and walks past me as I write this—or he got up, 10-15 words after I started this paragraph.

Meantime, as I wrote the last 10-15 words, a rap song—A$AP Rocky’s “Crazy Brazy”—kicked in on a playlist I made the other day, of mostly ambient-cum-atmospheric instrumental easy-to-ignore music suitable for writing to, A$AP Rocky being one of two or three exceptions:

I’ve got a lot on my mind
Don’t be talking to me crazy
I send ni**ers to the doctor—I don’t care

And the juxtaposition of this young smoking gym-going would-be tough guy—tatoos, it hardly seems worth mentioning, up his forearms and exposed biceps—seems coincidental but it’s not, I suspect, because it’s what I notice. Because I, like this young man, am plugged in on that wavelength—that looped reiterated “red alert” broadcast that says the situation (ie: life) is “critical”—and I can’t unplug myself. But for the younger generation, I feel certain, the signal is louder. I see it in averted, hard-lipped faces when I’m walking in the forest or by the beach in Australia and I bump into young men or couples on the trails: they’re afraid, especially the males, even in that peaceful, relatively crime-free environment. And even I, who’ve led a life almost entirely free from violence, sometimes find myself weighing up strangers as if they’re potential opponents.

What do I see?

Not what is here. There are many people—all younger than me—here, but I don’t feel a need to look any closer. I’ve known people like them. I’ve worked in places like this. It wouldn’t suit me now, but eight years back when I arrived in Manchester aged 35 I was still seeking out such places: “grungey” neighbourhood meeting-spots for young people, the staff and proprietors and customers of which I felt would accept or at least ignore me. Places where I didn’t feel under-dressed or too obviously broke or anti-social.

People walk back and forth, in and out of this locked-door-and-buzzer yoga studio whose entranceway is a few feet from my table. Many young women are here, relaxing—a big group of them at a table nearby, and another on her own closer by, who’s been thumbing her phone with headphones on for the entire time I’ve been here. No feelings whatsoever for them. Only a young man scarfing a late breakfast commands my attention: he’s dressed in all black, hood up and black beanie under it. (Funny: he asserts his toughness by over-dressing—it’s not cold—while the other guy underdresses—there’s a cool breeze.) He too, I guess, is on moderate alert.

Not that I claim I don’t ever notice the women. Yesterday, for eg—again in Dalston—there was a beautiful black woman dressed as if for Sunday church in the American south in the fifties (or at least so my eyes registered, in the two short glances I took at her). She was talking one or two doorways up from the café out front of which I was reading. An older man, whom she evidently knew, was tempting her to her linger with what sounded like trivial banter, maybe just for the joy of seeing her dressed like that, and I glanced up out of curiosity and clocked them, and averted my eyes, but I couldn’t resist another look as she walked past me. Our eyes locked, so briefly. “Morning,” she said, inclining her head. And, pleasantly shocked—“Morning”—I did the same, not knowing, really, since the moment went so fast, whether she was beautiful or her outfit, or just the moment. Ah, but she was! She was beautiful, in her manner, her dignity. And maybe I was too, at that moment: dignified. She was my age, or older, or younger—I couldn’t tell. And nor did I care, since I read nothing more into the experience. I wasn’t asking for anything—hence the beauty of the moment. And how improbable, given that for years I could barely restrain myself from loading demands on every halfway-beautiful woman who happened to acknowledge me. I lead a charmed life now, truly! And I’m thankful for it. But, I suddenly think, it comes with responsibilities. No excuses now! If I’m not writhing in emotional or spiritual torment I can surely achieve (or “achieve”) something! But what?! What I must achieve. And quickly!

This blog—this experiment—is a turning point, or at least so it strikes me today. What ties together a gracious woman in her Sunday best and a scared young man smoking a cigarette? Or A$AP Rocky or a coveted library card or Juan Rulfo? Nothing, except that it’s what I thought and wrote. This blog, if nothing else, is freedom incarnate—or it should be. I should be able to write whatever I want here.

  • I should be able to write, with utter conviction, that a shape-shifting blob from another dimension crept up the stairs last night from a hidden cellar and smeared me with terror-jizz while I thrashed and sweated with sheets twisted around me. And, in a sense, it’s true: I did wake in fright from a trans-dimensional experience, maybe visited by a foreign entity, if only a creature from the world of dreams.
  • I should write “züm forstig hurr hélellâgador”, if only because I can do so.
  • I should celebrate, throw my journal wide, and definitely

… stop

… adhering

… to these LINES!

  • I should think of the PROJECT. The WHOLE. The JOURNEY.

I’ve got nothing better to do.

(Handwritten Monday June 12th)

Like what you read? Give Ben Winch a round of applause.

From a quick cheer to a standing ovation, clap to show how much you enjoyed this story.