We all have them. Invent them. Weave them. Like making up reasons for what we did after it’s already happened, as if there were some considered rationale or deliberate reasoning before it was done. Which there probably wasn’t. But we can be very persuasive after the fact. To ourselves at least. Narratives are hooks. Necessary hooks on which to hang strings of causality, reason and meanings with no real meaning at all. Paper chains blowing about in the wildly unreasonable landscape of absurdity.
I don’t write anywhere near the volume of words I imagined I might when I started Aspernauts twenty months ago because I check the details of description too closely. Edit the ideas too precisely. Wring the flow out of my own narrative until only the sharp creases remain. It’s not what I set out to do. I have this ludicrous notion of handing the narrative back to itself and just letting it go. Like bubbles or dandelion seeds or a ladybird blown purposefully from a leaf about to be pruned with an old, unsharpened, unclean blade. I really should mulch the trees and beds.
I was contemplating a looser stream-of-thought approach to the narrative, as a therapeutic creative process, when out walking with the dog the other day. Thinking how liberating it could feel, how freeing, how potentially bloody awful it might be. I was struck by genius several times over – out there on the old colliery site. Inspired by the reclamation of sump and wasteland by grasses and creeping meadows, birches and berries and dragonflies. The sky is massive out there and invites the lungs to drink it in. Not so the sunken lake. Its sparkling surface of water lilies and skimmers belie its mine shaft origins. Contaminated at source. And gravity sucks the rains from the summit, dropped by clouds, carried from who knows where, over and through the ground where the factory once stood – exactly a century ago plus a year or two either side – concocting explosives destined for mines out in the oceans. Delivering death at sea. The gulls encircling this inland airspace this early September are drawn by the old Massey Fergusons in the top fields, upturning their agricultural bounties to the rolling seasons. I can’t help but wonder if any of these water droplets were transpired out of those first plants which were nourished by the ashes of the locals who burned to death here, or of the American aircrew who crashed down in their Canadian aircraft in 1942? How many times have these same droplets rained on this ground? Where else on this earth have they landed and into which rivers did they flow? Were they propelled skywards with unimaginable violence, with ripped apart flesh, by a chemical reaction somewhere out at sea?
I thought some spectacularly profound and moving thoughts while crossing the limestone grit with the dog. I can’t remember what any of those intensely interesting thoughts were now, obviously. Strange how often that happens. The dog was lost in his own thoughts, triggered by the excitable scents of voles, squirrels and carrion, no doubt, anticipating the trio of labradoodles around the next bend whom we always hear before we see on account of their clanging cow bells, or the terrier, whose own human whistles so tunefully on the descent but much less tunefully so when walking up to those high benches dedicated to a more recently deceased group of individuals who used to admire the view and liked inscriptions.
Narratives and landscapes have much in common and each partake in the other. Neither can be articulated any more clearly than a dream and both are subject to fiction and misinterpretation. The quarry chimney can be cropped out of existence forever with careful composition, a slight repositioning of one’s shoulders to the left and an increased focal length in one’s hands. So too the blots on our own historical landscapes need never make the page if we choose for them not to. Memories are tools. Problem solving instruments. Those which are no longer useful can legitimately be left out as scrap. Those which remain are forged into and smelted out of our own evolving narratives.
Some stories meander with no obvious destination. Or point, seemingly. The narratives of those stories become their own end. Passages of time in which a stranger might stroll, tracing butterfly paths, listening for skylarks whilst rolling plump, marble-like sloe berries between each warm forefinger and thumb until the opaque blue-grey surfaces shine indigo like the night. And to whom the past horrors of human tragedy, where this car is now quietly parked, might never have been imagined were it not for a small stone plaque, West of the railway line.
Lines of poems hang low on the brambles – green, red and purple – inklings of ideas and fully formed thoughts, side by side. They could easily be mistaken for blackberries. If left to ripen they might actually write themselves. Words have limitless potential do that, I’m guessing, If we dare to let them. How far do we trust ourselves to let go? Will my own excursions of thought still look like a therapeutic release to me when I reread them somewhere, sometime down the line? I just don’t know. I suppose that’s the risk you run if you ramble instead of craft. Rambling out there in the physical landscape, in quiet contemplation, where one’s harshest critic is a faithful four-legged friend feels altogether safer than sharing a sequence of strung together, stand alone stills of reflection in the common space of the ideasphere like some dilettante diarist. Not knowing where the next sentence will come from.