Saturday, 27 April 2019

Day 365: An ending fitting for the start

I so want this to be a great post. It would be so handy if this was a great post. But I’ve got no game tonight. I’ve had no game for approximately five months now, I’ve felt emotionally drained, creatively spent, like I just had to press on to this final post like a long-distance runner limping towards the finish line, long since lapped but determined to complete the race.

But here we are, regardless, at the end. And I cross. And it is done.

Hello, by the way. I’m Rob, and I set myself the goal of quitting boozing and writing a blog post about it every day for a year.

I set myself that goal 365 days ago today.

I wrote about addiction, and depression, and growing up with acne. I also wrote about eldritch cults, bank holidays, and the boss of Wetherspoons. I wrote essays about Apu from the Simpsons. I wrote dumb movie scenes. Dumb songs. Dumb I don't know whats. And I wrote one or two film reviews, as well.

Screw it, I’ll do a big old analysis/lessons to take away blog post sometime soon. I don’t have the energy tonight. I’ve made it over the line. Put a foil blanket round me, squirt Lucozade Sport into my mouth, hug me and tell me I did OK. Then take me to that big bed in Elrond’s house where everything is white and overexposed, and let me sleep for a month.

Yes, the Rivendell thing feels apt. I’ve pushed myself out of the comfort zone of my Shire, made it to the meeting spot that was arranged, ever pursued by Black Riders, and now I need to collapse.

But it will only be a rejuvenating stop off; there is a longer journey ahead. I’m going to get through the Snooker World Championship, the busiest fortnight in my pub, then I’m going to give myself a week to recover, to wander in the gardens of the world, taking photos, drinking coffee, reading, refilling the creative well - and then it’s back to work.

I’m going to redesign my blog. I’m going to continue writing every day, but move to posting only once or twice a week. Perhaps one film review, and one mental health/mindfulness/life musings piece. It’s been such an important exercise to be forced to post something loose and unfinished and often just plain bad every single day, and let it go, and move on - I needed to face the fear that sits at the root of my perfectionism, to show that the world doesn’t end and you aren’t run out of town on a rail just for making bad art. But having experienced that, Christ am I looking forward to having more time to actually sculpt my writing, rather than simply vomiting it onto the page and flinging it at the internet.

There are other things I need to do as well. It’s time I pushed myself further in my life. I need to start seeing a therapist, because I’m willing to admit I don’t have the strength to overcome my mental health issues on my own. And that is absolutely natural, and fine, and right. But I need to stop talking about it and get it arranged.

I need to learn to drive. It’s not like I can afford a car, or insurance, or petrol, or even those little furry dice - but it does feel like a mark of adulthood, a coming-of-age event, and if I’m being honest I’ve put it off for so long out of fear, and facing fear is the only way you can grow.

I need to sort out my skin. I’ve had acne since I was 14, and only the strongest drug you can take for it, Roaccutane, cleared me up when I was 24. But, as with the majority of patients, the spots eventually started to come back. I had five years completely clear, then the acne has been creeping back ever since. I’m using another treatment now, but it involves smearing cream all over my body every night, which is far from ideal. It’s not hugely efficacious, and it only masks rather than cures the spots; it’s like snipping up the biggest weeds in an overgrown flower bed every day, where Roaccutane is like altering the makeup of the soil.

All of which is to say I want to go through another course of the Roaccutane. It’s a horrible drug, and has a list of side effects long as your arm, but it was easily the right decision the first time, and most dermatologists seem to agree that a second course is no worse.

And what else? I want to get myself to a stage where I feel confident making money from writing and photography. Not all the money, and I’d be happy making none - but I don’t want to feel like what I create is too weird and insular and ugly to even try to sell to anyone, which is how I feel now. This is one of the things with which I think a therapist could help.

There are more, of course. And there is more to write. But it is late now, and I have work tomorrow, and it will be another tiring Snooker shift.

So it is goodnight, and goodbye, and, for just a little while, the end.

Stay lovely. And one last:

Hug xxx

Day 364: Lampglow

In bed with the wool blanket over the covers, the old covers from bottom of washing basket over the wool blanket, with my toes shivering. I've always had cold toes. The room is painted in lampglow and the rain is falling against the skylight. The rain falls and my toes shiver.

At Mike and Emerald's for curry and crumble this evening, joking literary jokes and spooning custard. Their stairs have fallen in. That house is sinking, ghastly terrace falling into itself. But they are happy, and loving, and that makes up for wonky walls and cheap wood laminate.

Meant to sleep hours ago, on the open tomorrow, but stayed up staring into the internet's abyss in a holding pattern with old dreary depression since 10pm, feeling glum and unlovable and alone. And it's the Big Day tomorrow - the end of my year of daily blogging, the completion of my challenge, and instead of riding in triumphant I'm limping to the line and tumbling over it, burned out and blank and lost for words.

But completion is completion, and don't let those negative voices say any different. May not feel proud right now but I should be.

Anyway, leave that for tomorrow. Sleep now. Rain a sporadic patter now. Toes: still cold.

Friday, 26 April 2019

Day 363: Golden light

OK well it is very late and I've felt beat to shit today, buttered over too much bread, and I refuse to stay up hours thinking about this, so you've got ten minutes, and then I'm out of here.

Wrecked from closes at work and snooker finals across the road and writing and no sleep and photographs and photo editing and ready meals and being 34 and running up and down cellar stairs shifting barrels for a decade. I'm old and I'm broken.

But I walked with my camera today and I went down streets I don't usually go down, and I looked up at buildings at weird angles and poked my lens between rails and got down low and got up high and it was good. You go the same roads your head hanging at the ground or in your phone and you're not alive. You go round that bar and you drink devil booze and you're numbed fugging stupid and you're not alive. You make the same jokes to the same dumb bartender hipsters and you're not alive.

But you take your lens and you watch for golden light hitting brick and for sun rays down dark alleys and you scramble round your city and that's a little bit alive. And you read old grappler Bukowski's letters in a coffee shop and that's good too. And you drink coffee, dark, strong coffee, and we're getting somewhere. Hell yes. You watch good cinema. You watch colour and texture in Rothko. You write your winding thoughts and day by day it accumulates, fighting back the blankness: thrumming vibrant life.

I don't know how it sustains, whether it wins, but there is life, and you have to remember. In the hollow times you have to remember. Life is here and it is good.

Thursday, 25 April 2019

Day 362: Wednesday Reviews - On Chesil Beach

I had no time to find a suitable film this week, so I went with On Chesil Beach, which my friend Michael recommended to me as being about the sadness of sex and the impossibility of communication, which sounded excellent. Although now I think about it, my friend Michael says that about every film. "What did you think of Toy Story 3, Mike?" - "Yeah, it was good. All about the sadness of sex and the impossibility of communication." Past a certain point it starts to say less about the films and more about you, Michael.

But in this instance it turns out he was bang on the money, because that’s exactly what On Chesil Beach is about. Adapted from the novel by Ian McEwan, with a screenplay by the same, and directed by theatrical stalwart Dominic Cooke, it is a lyrical and sorrowful examination of thwarted desire, sexual shame, and the folly of pride in the repressed England of the early 60s.

We follow young honeymooners Florence (Saoirse Ronan) and Edward (Billy Howle) on the night of their wedding in a seaside hotel in Devon overlooking the windswept pebble beach, the narrative creeping forwards over these integral few hours but spinning away in flashbacks at each locus of difficulty in the conjugal event - the two are still virgins - to explore the couple’s upbringings, their burgeoning relationship, and the decisions that lead to this point.

Florence is from a pompous upper-class family, Edward less well-to-do. She is a prim classical musician, he an intelligent but rumpled history graduate. Her parents are domineering and elitist, his mother is brain-damaged from a head injury, seemingly unable to make new memories, in need of constant care.

They are rich characters, pin-sharp in specificity, wide in universality. The script clearly benefits from its literary origins. The relationship is believable, the world of 60s Britain, on the cusp of change yet not there yet, is brought vividly to life, and the sense of the many lines of their lives converging on one mortifying moment in bed, then spreading out from it again afterwards, the feeling of life sometimes coming to a head in a single flash, the actions in that moment colouring and informing decades to come, is a powerful one.

If the story focus is on character, the filming is theatrical. Cooke’s background as a stage director (he was awarded CBE in 2014 for services to drama) gives scenes the feel of a play, the plot focusing on character interaction and dialogue more than visual event. It’s a good fit for the material, especially with central performances from Ronan and Howle so involved and complete. Ronan especially really inhabits her role, and a key event regarding Florence that explains much is only hinted at, handled deftly, the ambiguity and the uncertainty increasing the horror.

It’s a grand, sweeping film, about a single night but also about a whole life, with an ending crescendoing into such emotion that it is hard to hold back the sobs. To be honest, on paper it sounds like the kind of film I would despise - I have a prejudice against period dramas, I find them enervating; some voice in the back of my head huffs when it’s suggested I watch one - the cinematic equivalent of a bowl full of steamed broccoli. Boring! And anything with a whiff of worthiness or Oscar-baiting about it turns me off. And films that attempt to play on large, bold emotions I have a tendency to find false and manipulative.

On Chesil Beach is very nearly all of these things, but in the end is none. The characters are too well developed, for one. It looks fantastic for two: bunching graphite clouds, bobbing boats with peeling paint, tumble-down houses drowned in shadow, and a camera gliding through in measured movements as tightly controlled as the repressed emotional states. As you'd expect from a director of such theatrical calibre it has some wonderful staging, and much that matters unfolds through people talking to one another. But it is lively and vibrant as well, and certainly cinematic. And that ending is, yes, a touch cliched, and altered from the book, but it brings out the tears effectively as well.

... I'm covered in grime and bin juice, again, from work, and I can't keep my eyes open, so that's it for tonight. On Chesil Beach is an admirable and deserving adaptation, an elegy to regret and clumsiness and tragedy. Much like my friend Michael. He picked well. 

Wednesday, 24 April 2019

Day 361: disgorging

I been watching film for tomorrow and pub working and such, only time for blog is now, in bed, eyes droopling. big struggle to get any words at all. Bin bags tonight. Bin bag night. Fifty bin bags to take out, piled to ceiling in bin store, some with ends untied, some roll and rip and disgorge contents across sodden floor. Dripping juices. Cocktails sticks and glass shards sticking outwards. Yellow vomit food splattered across my new shoes. But a job's a job.

Four days blogging after tonight, then my year is out. I'm running on fumes, skidding over finish line with tires blown and doors hanging off. Need some time recuperating when I'm done. Get through Snooker and then book a week off, sleep, read literature, take photos in afternoon light, see friends, bed early nights, remember how to be human and refill that creative well.

Last few posts, i can do this. No more now though. I sleeping as I type. Bubye. Going now. Sleeping. Bubyeee. x

Monday, 22 April 2019

Day 360: Slime

In this coffee shop thinking about Art. Like the Buddha. Say my name and wash your mouth with soap. It's nothing. Words. Shut up thinking art or nirvana and get making and living now.

Old Bukowski had it right. You spew up what's in your gut and if it's bile and saliva you cheer the same and move on. Go down to the soil bed and create your pottery and then haul it in the trash. You don't snuffle around building a cathedral of poetry with perfect pillars and starched white walls polishing your marble pretending to be finding God in the blinding beauty. Just work with what's there. Worm guts and peat and slime. And if on occasion you find a glimmering opal, well, you kiss its sweetness - then fling it over your shoulder and move on. You move on and you move on and you move on.

This is art. This is life. Photography - you don't sit shining faces with radial dials and bringing down green saturation and making the perfect preset. Go fucking out and click that camera button. You look at light and you look at lines and you look at life. Keep clicking and failing and trying and going. Make bad art. Make it and make it. Love the making - not the having made.

Time for polishing, for sure. Polishing a jewel has its place. But that's 1% of your job. Don't do it all the day, as an excuse not to go down to the soil and get your hands dirty. Art is haggard lowly poverty work, it has to begin this way, or it'll never be worth anything at all. You have to love it when it's poverty work, have to be able to give yourself to it then fully, or you don't want to do it - only want the feeling of having done it. So roll sleeves and thrust hands in mud and don't ever dare speak of Art.


Hand Made in England, wall sign says. The light is coming in largely through those front windows. The burnished bronze backplate wall is shining and lamps hanging in front are just little lights hanging in space. It's all wonderful. The light is shining across her face as she watches yabbering on her phone, her friend sipping big coffee, handclasped, and they chat. Green sneakers. Silk shirt of mustard and coral and amber. 

16 people in this coffee shop, 7 of them staring phones this very moment. 7 laptops screening out. Including this 1. And there I go a buzzing in my pocket and reaching before thinking for that smooth black obelisk of attention.

World happening away from our screens. Greenflies borning and dying in droves. Light filtering. Old patchy men in windowless rooms sipping beers in forlorn night. Heat coming off these city streets. Gentle music mumbling. Here's helical-striped drinking straws in jubilant bouncing reds and whites spinning static in moulded cases. Staid young lovers dancing motions saying you pick, no you pick, maybe we'll just order in. Lines a chimneys. Eggshell periwinkle sunset and smell of riping blossom and keys of Chopin tinkling out.

All to haze. Sun fading to one colour. Sad calling caterwauling duskset. Night belongs to insects now.

Day 359: powder sparks

Viscera perturbing deep bass tunes rumbling from within OHM, Vodka Revs, the meat-market bars of West Street. Girls squashed into starched denim mini skirts queuing outside, tottering on heels; lads coiffured and glam-muscled and broken. The world broken, cracked some place deep within and then hardened into plastic, congealed, stuck in a calcified state of material possession, accumulation, ego. Everyone trying to give themselves away, desperately burdened with existence, trying to lose it in the wild cackling haze of booze, coke, sex, chart music...

How I remember all that. How glad I am to be through that vortex, ambling on with my torn bag on my back, my straw hair, my words. I want to be lost to literature, lit by the lambent flames of poetry, of art, of pellucid passion and clear spring water love.

I want to not escape but countenance existence, stand and stare the menacing reaper in the face, slap daisies in the stifling heat…

... NO more of that for now. Had to go work, slugging down to the pub and sulphur crowds and slow stagnant hours. Round and round that damn bar. Beer in plastics. Money in till. Plastics in bin. Round an round an rou

It’s late night/early morning now. House is empty. Dancing keys in bed and hamstrings wailing and thinking am I gonna sleep through my day off tomorrow?

Or will I up and touch the crackle of existence seeing with present eyes not the ever opinions but the facts as they are - this is a tree, this is the hard ground, feel the sun warming my skin, here are my thoughts, emotions each with a valence, always in the Now don’t ever leave this one moment which is still the moment of being born - still coming into existence, still becoming, blossoming and blossoming a star eterna burning the universe all together in a state between breathing in and out?

Looser. Write looser. Let go of notions of good writing and correctness of wording and blabber catherine wheel powder sparks onto blackened page.

And on...