Improv No.1 – Of Bundles Of Bones, Books & Other Things...
I scored a major victory in the Guess What The Stranger’s Taste In Music Is game a long time ago whilst sitting on a park bench with a girlfriend watching a girl pass by carrying a record bag (remember them?). I suggested Kate Bush and intercepted the girl to find out – correct!
I was impressed with myself, so was the girlfriend. It’s one of my major achievements in life, along with getting this far. Perhaps this makes my life rather...unexceptional – and it could be – but all things being relative, if I compare my life to the kind spent working 6 days-a-week for peanuts to provide barely enough for the family with whom this imaginary person shares a flat in a Hackney tower block where he sits slumped on the sofa every night, too tired to think, or act otherwise, wishing he was anywhere but there living that kind of life...mine doesn’t seem to bad and my achievements not so small...because, I tell myself, I’ve managed to achieve not living that kind of life.
But do we choose a kind of life or does Lady Luck throw the dice for us? I’ll leave that question right there...
On the bus my fiction came back to me as if I was the character...it took over, you might say, because I saw the people as he did, not as I wrote him seeing them...but I should say that the character was probably ‘me’ to begin with, to an extent, except that he was an agent for a secret organisation about to start work on infiltrating the gang that worked on behalf of aliens who had started taking over the minds of the population...something like that.
The story has long since joined all the sheets of paper packed into draws and cupboards which constitutes my Work (finished and unfinished) – my Life’s Work! I fantasise that after I’m Gone it will all be published and pored over by Lit Crits in ‘papers that have realised my genius too late – ha-ha. Forget Bolano...and Nabokov’s unfinished work...what about mine?
So, that will not happen. I was not born to literary greatness. Few are. Few strike me as Great anyway, and what matters other than our own opinion of a novel? Experts may unanimously praise some writers but their opinion is irrelevant if we do not see it ourselves.
I concede, also, that my boundless enthusiasm will not convince the refusenik that fails to hear the brilliance of, say, Charlie Parker. That is the way they listen. The penny may drop later, I sometimes tell myself. But what does it matter?
I console myself in times of doubt regarding the value of my life that I did once write a book about jazz which, according to some correspondents, sparked enthusiasm for certain artists. OK, it’s not on a par with Darwin or even Kerouac, but it’s something...
I joked with the shop assistant in Oxfam the other day that I was making my book-buying decisions based on their size, these days, because I live in a small flat. ‘Oh, why don’t you move house?’ he said with a smile. To which I replied ‘I can’t afford it, I spend all my money in here.’ I handed over three very slim books to prove my point.
I was only half-joking anyway. I truly do not wish to read anything thicker than two centimetres, on average, although I could be deceived by very small font size, in which case I should be stopping at around page 12 instead of the usual 30.
Fiction is such a bore, but as I told someone the other day, I love the thrill of the chase (as I did when desperate for girlfriends in my youth) – but like them, what follows is so often a disappointment.
I should say that the disappointment was no doubt mutual, except for those I ‘ditched’, as we used to say. There have been a few. But I’m not getting into that right here.
I now lord it over all the writers of novels...picking and choosing as I wish and, yes, ‘ditching’ them at will – the power! There’s nothing like slinging a supposed ‘classic’ away is there? ‘Hah!’ We tell ourselves. ‘Is that the best they can do? I demand better! My taste is more refined...and I am master of my own reading matter of nothing else!’ Well, that’s what I would say to myself, if I thought about it.
Authors have a talent (for pleasing publishers, if nothing else)...but when all’s said and done, most are just a bundle of flesh and bones wrapped in skin...