Thursday, 15 July 2010

Take a chainsaw to our future plans

There we stood, you and I, in the rectangle of lawn, blinking up at our future plans which stretched infinitely out above us. You, with a chainsaw hanging from your fists; me holding garden shears, twitching, overwhelmed.

Our future plans had been left to grow unhindered, and now branches forked and sprouted in confident fractals. For quite some time now, I had known that I had to do something about them. Birds were nesting in them. One branch of future possibility (the idea of working abroad for a year) almost reached the side of my house. It could cause structural damage and invite squirrels, you said.

We set to work. You tied the ladder to the trunk of our future plans, and then lodged yourself amidst the branches. I climbed the ladder to pass you the chainsaw, and then stood back to watch your artistry. One by one the boughs of our future plans fell to the ground: plans to
write, plans to emigrate, plans for our children dropped and covered the rectangle of lawn. A sawdust of ideas never dreamt snowed down over my head and garden furniture.

When we reached the branch that contained my gap-year plans we paused to take stock of the situation. The branch was pointing in the wrong direction. Whichever way it was cut, it was going to fall towards the house. We didn’t have a rope that we could use to direct the fall, so
we came up with a plan: as you sawed the branch, I would push against it using a ladder with all my might, therefore encouraging the branch in the right direction. It was worth a try: you sawed, I pushed. Nothing.

So you sawed a little more. This time, the future plan creaked and I began to feel the force of it looming down above me, threatening to fall. It was at this point that I spotted the flaw in our plan.

‘It’s leaning towards me.’
‘Push back. Harder.’
‘I can’t.’
‘OK,’ you paused momentarily, reviewing our options, ‘I think that you need to put the ladder down, carefully, and run away.’ Unquestioningly, I did as I was told. As I ran, my future plan crashed down behind me, mauling my TV aerial threateningly as it went. So it went on, all through the afternoon. Sometimes the plans fell in my garden, sometimes they fell over the neighbours' fence, and I would retrieve them. Eventually, you climbed back down the ladders, and we stood once again, you and I, looking up at our future plans, now trimmed back to much more manageable trunks. I felt relieved, but still you sought to reassure me: ‘They’ll grow back.’
‘I know.’
Our focus then shifted down to the ground where the now amputated plans lay in random, angular, bifurcated piles as deep as our hips. Neither of us spoke, but clearly the thought occurred to us at the same moment: ‘What are we gonna do with all this stuff?’

Thursday, 8 July 2010

Blank canvas

A blank canvas stood, as it had for the last two years, on an easel in Guy’s front room. Guy held the sable brush across his top lip and frowned at the empty white space before him. His shoulders dropped a little as he realised that he had nothing. The inspiration the he had been waiting for was a train that would never arrive. Resigned, he put down the brush, and walked away. Maybe I should try something else, he thought, maybe I should write. How hard can that be?
With a beep and a grinding whirr, Guy started his old PC which lay beneath a frosting of dust and A4 paper in the spare room. For inspiration, Guy picked up an old paperback and flicked through the pages while the computer slowly booted up.
When the PC was finally ready, Guy opened a Word document, and for the second time today was confronted with an intimidating blank white sheet. He remembered hearing that, in his later years, Kingsley Amis would refuse to read anything that didn't begin with the words ‘A shot rang out.’ This seemed as good a place as any to start, so, using only his two index fingers, Guy tentatively poked the words onto the monitor in Times New Roman, font size 12:
‘A shot rang out.’
Satisfied with his beginning, Guy paused to reread his work: Yeh. This is good stuff. He was about to continue, when the words of another Amis (this time his son, Martin) came to mind: ‘A war on cliché’ - hmmm. Perhaps his opening was a little clichéd. And maybe it lacked description – an adverb might be useful. Guy moved his cursor back to the beginning, and changed the sentence:
‘Exquisitely, a shot rang out.’
Still not quite right. The ‘rang’ is wrong. With a click of the mouse, Guy returned to the sentence:
‘Exquisitely, a shot shot out.’
But it needs some conflict in there. Something to pique the reader’s attention:
‘Exquisitely, a shot shot sexily out’
Well, sex sells, he thought. He looked up once again at the sentence and sighed, realising that he was wasting his time. As a first sentence, it was fairly incomprehensible, and (he saw now) he had used the word ‘shot’ twice. Without even saving his work, he switched off the old PC at the wall, and left the room.

When he left his job two months ago people said that this would be the making of him. It would give him the space that he needed to create again. Time stretched ahead of him indefinitely, promisingly. Excited by his new freedom, he had left the office on his final day and rushed straight to the art supplies shop to buy a canvas - the canvas, still blank, that he now confronted once again in his front room. Guy tentatively picked up his paintbrush. Suddenly, a shot rang out.