Last Friday six of us got together at Chase Street to write a marathon. We used Natalie Goldberg’s instructions from Writing the Bones to guide us and modified the times slightly to suit our afternoon constraints. In essence the marathon is about writing and writing a lot in the company of other writers. Goldberg starts with 10 minute sessions and builds through 15 and 20 to 30. To get going everyone can throw a prompt into a pile, you can use or not use this prompt. Some of the writers came with a story and stuck to it all the way through, others like me, just let the prompt take me where ever it could. After a session you read your piece without comment from the others and then you move on. The writing again and again and the reading aloud have wonderful effects, in my case — and another two of the writers — it has provoked pieces I want to now take further. It’s given me material for more writing.
Round 2: 10 mins. Prompt: 3.15 in the morning
It’s hot and it shouldn’t be. This is still winter for God’s sake; and it’s dark and quiet and hot. My hip screams and I can’t find a position to relieve it: neither front nor back nor left nor right. I did that gardening. I got fed up with the pools of leaves behind the car; on the sides of the path; in the corners of the veranda. I love and hate the tree that sheds those leaves. It’s an hadeda tree full of shit machines who take their morning dump on my garden as they fly out first thing cawing and cackling. I don’t mind at all about the hadeda poo and the tree is all the more precious for other hadeda homes being chopped down. But it sheds gazillions of small leaves in drifts which clog the doorways and which are brittle and turn to a fine black dust. This I war against like Helen Mirren in that movie where she was a Polish housekeeper known for her manic sweeping. At 3.15 I blame not the hadedas, not the tree, not the leaves, but the broom. I had a broom that fit me oh so well. But it broke and was replaced by an orange-padded, grip-enhanced fanciness. I put that one aside and settled for a heavy, wide builder’s broom that got left or abandoned here after one set of renovations. That’s the devil that did me in.
Round 3: 15 mins. Prompt: Swimming
You don’t swim in a paddling pool so small your body touches its sides.
You don’t swim in your mother’s womb.
You don’t swim in those thousands of prefab pools sold by the millions in the 70s and 80s.
You swim when there aren’t edges or depth measures.
You swim in turbulence and danger.
You swim at high tide and high wind.
You swim when the waves slap and spray your face.
You swim at Hole in the Wall because the water calls you in and only afterwards read he sign that warns of the suck of the hole of death.
You swim all the way through the year and at the times when it’s much colder to be out than in (but somehow you never manage to think that one through beforehand and plan for it).
You swim with sharks and turtles (reef sharks, green turtles), head down, bum up, backing inelegantly out of coral before you get scratched.
You swim through the vertigo of depth deception.
You swim rivers and reeds and mud-sucking unders.
You learn to keep your feet up.
You learn to occupy the thin space of sunlit warmth just beneath the surface.
Round 4: 20 mins. Prompt: Someone I admire
I admire insouciance
I admire self-possession with just a hint of self-awareness
I admire unselfconsciousness
I admire self-consciousness
I admire sparkling intelligence brought out to dazzle (but only just a little)
I admire deepness and darkness and just a hint of knowingness
I admire easy humour
I admire calculated ridicule (but aim it over there)
I admire honesty, sincerity, contrition, volition, submission (but not too much if it clings and cloys)
I admire independence and initiative (but not over much otherwise where do I come in?)
I admire artistry and artifice
I admire craftsmanship and carpentry
I admire resignation and rest.
Round 5: 15 mins. Prompt: Cage
Cage. John Cage. It was a hot summer night and I persuaded him to come with me to the concert. I didn’t know John Cage either but I’d read the publicity and it sounded interesting. They opened all the windows and doors to get some air in and I thought: that’s going to ruin the sound. The piano was oddly situated in the smallish performance room: nearly in the middle and at an angle. The rows went off from that space in a star shape. Our seats were just behind and left of the pianist, who walked out, to applause, in black. He opened the piano, settled the music, adjusted the stool, settled his behind and sat and looked. We sat and looked. He sat and glared, at me.
I hadn’t paid enough attention to the programme to know how long this performance would last but his thoughts were boring into my brain: “Let’s get out of here, now.” We did (you don’t take chances with a new relationship). Noisily, messily, with stares, we exited.
On the pavement outside he gave full vent to his feelings; it was probably the most interesting performance of 4’33”.
A number of years later, we were married by then, I booked tickets for a Stockhausen concert involving two pianos and a telex machine…
For some reason I had mistakenly read the composer’s name as Shostakovich.