So there's that amazing sequence in Leos Carax's film Pola X where Catherine Deneuve's hurtling down the road on a motorcycle, crying, and something goes wrong, and then there's an absolutely brutal cut to a shot of the bike on its side, revolving, and then to Deneuve lying in the road and the bike, in the background, pirouetting rhapsodically towards her. And what you want to do is take that shot, but superimpose my head onto Catherine Deneuve's body. Maybe with a Santa hat on. ...Are you digging it? Kind of hot, huh?
Bah, I didn't come here to provide you with your festive jollies, sicko. I was just trying to find the right image to convey the mix of savage chic, road safety shortfall and general horizontal disinclination that characterises my life this evening. Not that you'd know, of course: from the outside I'm just a mild-mannered janitor of the mind, sporting a spruce new M&S cardigan (one of several entirely unwarranted prezzies to myself from today's last-gasp spree), tippity-tapping away at his laptop in a bedroom that a student 15 years younger than him would probably find embarrassingly messy and dismayingly low on the indicators of adulthood; listening to "Something Sends Me To Sleep" by Felt (serendipitously), and eating chocolate pretzels. Hard to imagine you intuitively connecting me with Catherine Deneuve at all, sadly. So that's why I mentioned it. Just so you don't have to get there all on your own.
Thing is, you should know better than to trust how people look on the outside; on the inside, that beautiful languid motorbike accident is a pretty good summary of how I'm feeling. Not in a bad way -- don't worry, this isn't going to be one of my periodic yelps of anguish where nobody understands me and my soul is a wrecked machine so twisted and fucked-up that to imagine it even fleetingly would have made J. G. Ballard throw up down his jumper. I'm just wanting to convey that feeling -- perhaps you have it too -- that the unbelievably rapid approach of Christmas is inducing in me, of having fallen off a moving vehicle that is now spiralling towards my head. I have quite abruptly parted company with the speeding motorcycle of the year, and if you don't mind I'm just going to have a bit of a lie down, and yes I know I'm in the middle of the road, but oh it's so comfy.
It was lunch that finally did for me. Today was the staff Christmas do for Action one19 (which is the name under which Jonny and I make our duo work, though we seldom say it out loud if there's any chance of anyone hearing it). I took J to the Dining Room at Whitechapel Gallery and we had an amazing meal, accompanied by shit Tesco Xmas crackers. (How do you make an apple puff? Chase it round the garden a few times. Boom!) Seriously, the food was so good that for Masterchef devotees like me & Jonny, it was sort of like meeting a bunch of famous people from off the telly. I started to explain to Jonny the process by which foie gras is made but it only seemed to be adding to his enjoyment, which I suppose is a good outcome in a way.
After all that, all I could do really was come home and lie under the weight of that end-of-term sensation, feeling the same odd mixture of serenity and perturbation that you'd derive from lying naked beneath a 9000-tog duvet. I haven't quite cleared my desk -- need to deal with a few last emails and bits of admin before I head back to the no-ho-ho homestead of the Parental Thompson Whom God Preserve tomorrow -- but as far as my body and almost all of my mind are concerned, the shouting part of the year is over and now there's just the crying and apologising to do. Maybe a little making-up nookie, we'll see how it goes.
It's been such an odd time since we got back from Lisbon at the end of the Author tour, right at the end of November. I went straight into a busy week of meetings and teaching and such, and from there directly into a fortnight at the Royal Court, writing what turned out (quite unexpectedly) to be a first draft, or the semblance thereof, of a new play, currently called The Extremists. Last Friday I got to sit in a freezing rehearsal room with six of the most stupendous actors/makers I know, and listen to 60 pages of exceedingly peculiar dialogue come out of their agile and forgiving gobs, and o boy: I mean, I'm not sure what it is, but there's lots in it that I recognize and lots that I don't, and both of those things make me happy. I'm very happy with it as the outcome of two pretty brief weeks shut in a tiny office directly below a toilet -- at least, judging by the sound effects emanating thence, I hope it's a toilet up there -- and excited to think of it as the beginning, now, of a whole new process. The folks at the Court couldn't have been nicer or more solicitous and their responses at the end were largely encouraging. So, we'll see.
But as we all met for the reading on Friday it could hardly have been clearer that we've all had a really tough, draining year. I've been thinking about difficult vs. hard -- at least, noticing that there's a distinction in the way I habitually use those apparent synonyms. I tend to associate difficulty with things exterior to myself, or with my relationship with those things, and I love it: I love things that are difficult, and in fact don't entirely trust things that aren't. Hard, on the other hand, is the word I think I'd use for how things feel, physically and emotionally. I relish what's difficult but I hate what's hard. Difficult can be playful and energising and sexy. Hard is just hard. (I mean obviously it can be sexy too but... yaknowwhatI'msaying.) We've all had a lot of difficult things to do this year but, especially in these past few weeks, it's also been really hard, harder culturally than I think I ever remember. And of course part of what's hard is that this is only just the beginning: a lot of really testing times lie ahead. I've never been so aware of the strain of just trying to deal with -- or even comprehend -- the day-to-day; and of how that strain becomes palpable, as a by-product, or in sympathy almost, in personal relationships. How one of the ways this present political assault seems to create the space for itself to thrive in is to make it harder for those of us who are trying to work together to push back against it to take care of each other as effectively as we should. Even just the volume of concerned, intelligent voices becomes a wearing cacophany: and to turn it off even for ten minutes, to stick your head out of the window and try to breathe the air and clear your head, can feel like a betrayal.
But as ever, the work to be done can only be done by workers with oxygen in their lungs and red blood in their arteries: and though I didn't go looking for it, an unexpectedly empty weekend (after some exciting plans suddenly parted company with their own private motorcycle on another road nearby) gave me pause. ...Ooh, what a great phrase! I've never really thought about that before. This gives me pause. What a gift! Thank you for the pause! I'm going to wear it right away! Normally I suppose "this has given me pause" is a polite way of saying "I'm freaked out but trying to keep a lid on things..." -- not very pausesome at all, really -- which I suppose is what happened at the weekend. And I guess in the end it took me until last night to really turn things around in my head and see more clearly some questions I'd fretfully been trying to make sense of -- those questions that tend to form in the place where the up-and-down shenanigans of personal life meet the really big stuff about What am I doing on the planet? and How can I be of use?, those questions that usually, eventually, turn out to arise not from permanent and insoluble contradictions in the grand scheme of things, but from infelicities in the structures we're using to think with.
And so today, plotting with Jonny and checking in with a few other folks, has been a beautiful, exciting, restorative last push, trying to share ideas and describe desires and reconnect with passions that will help 2011 catch fire, as it ought, one way or another. So many reasons to be scared, so many reasons to be optimistic. Such a lot to do: and in saying that I'm not even slightly thinking about the year-planner with the work pencilled in, which already looks a bit daunting. Such a lot to do just to keep us all alive and in love and moving and together and cared for -- especially when 'together' and 'in love' (and even 'moving') can look like so many different things.
But in order to be able to do that with the fierceness -- and, more demandingly, the gentleness and carefulness -- it requires, everyone's going to have to have a nice Christmas: so, please, do whatever it takes to have a nice Christmas, or whatever you celebrate; or, if you won't be celebrating, I hope you have a bunch of good days in a row while the rest of us have our backs turned and our mouths full. Seriously, have a good one. Forgive your family; watch The Good Life (BBC2, Tuesday 28th, 8.30pm -- unless it transpires they've actually literally finally worn the tape out); don you at some point your gay apparel, you know you want to.
The Bank will reopen in the last week of the year with the usual little clutch of backward-looking posts (which you will kindly attempt to distinguish from the variety of backward-looking posts I stick up here the rest of the time), including a sort of low carb Furtive 50, for those who look forward to such things.
For now, I leave you with the warmest of wishes for these chilly times, coupled with a little video, which I made in 2007 for Dennis Cooper and posted here back then in a really nasty-looking low-quality version; this is a wee bit better, so I figure it's worth a repost. The video is a sort of stitching together of a bit of camcorder footage and some classic porn, with a soundtrack derived initially from John Fahey (grinding nearly to a timestretched halt), plus lashings of noise -- visual and aural -- and a pre-pubertal text-to-speech voiceover. In other words, the perfect handmade gift for all the family -- assuming your family has absolutely no interests other than scopophilia and self-harm. I thought its tone of desolation, melancholy and confused arousal might fit your mood as I think it does mine.
Love to you all, those on the naughty list and those on the nice. (With a tiny bit extra for the naughties.) xx