Mega excitement!

Yep, in my haste to convey how exciting this was I have decided to set aside my penchant for coming up with a slightly (but not too) enigmatic title for this blog post.  This week, for the first time ever, I had one of my short stories read out in public! I might add, this is the first time I have shared any of my stories with any one other than 2 very close friends.  And they each have only seen 1 or 2 pieces of my work.  Sharing my stories is a big deal for me.  But then blogging was quite a big deal.  I wrote this blog for at least a year without telling anyone (and I mean no one, I didn’t even link to it anywhere) I was writing it.  Before that I wrote a journal which is and remains utterly private, but I think I needed the space to write something that no one else was ever going to read before I could even contemplate sharing my own writing motivated by my own interests with any one else.

Anyway, so having my story read out by an actor to a room full of strangers was completely terrifying and hugely exciting.  The lovely people of Are You Sitting Comfortably put on a fun evening of short stories written by local writers.  The event is well organised and themed with tables and checked table covers laden with cakes and sweets. There are often platters of cucumber sandwiches travelling round the room too.  The ‘tea party’ twist is lovely and sets the scene quite nicely for regressing to childhood and listening to some stories.

My story was second in the running order, though I didn’t know that until the title was read out.  This immediately provoked a hiss from me of, “oh shit, its my story”.  Luckily I hadn’t had a chance to drink much of my glass of wine or I might have said that rather more loudly.  When I was identified as the writer I am fairly certain I called out “Hello! I am so excited!”, which may well haunt me for the rest of my days as the least interesting thing I have ever said in public to people who don’t know me.

Hearing someone else read my work was a curious thing.  It was a very emotionally moving experience for me and I spent quite a lot of the story hiding my face behind my hands.  I know every twist and turn of the story and of course I anticipated each development and most of the next lines.  Of course I know it well, I wrote it and edited it.  I was sick to death of reading it by the time I was ready to submit it and I know every little tug each word makes on me as well as I know the colours, textures and shapes of the skin on my own face.  However, it was also like hearing it for the first time.  Writing a story down puts it at a distance from me.  It takes it out of my head and it becomes an entity in its own right.  I don’t know how that happens, but it is both surprising and wonderful.  They take on lives of their own once you write them down.  Having someone else read my work put it just that little bit further away and perhaps a little bit round the corner.  Hearing my story standing on its own was just fantastic!

I doubt very much I could give a good account of how the audience reacted.  There were some laughs in the right places.  There was a feeling of tension in the room at the ending and I sensed a shift in mood appropriate to the emotional shift at the end of the story.  I could have been imagining that though.  I was so caught up in my own experience that my eyewitness account is none too reliable.  My three supporters really liked it and seemed to think the rest of the audience did too.  To be honest with you as far as all the people in the room I didn’t know go, I am mainly relieved no one booed and I didn’t embarass myself any more than I did.  I am grateful that they listened.

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Archipelago

The other weekend, can’t remember exactly when now, I went to the cinema with my lovely friend Ellen.  I don’t often go to the cinema, in fact I struggle a bit with finding the motivation to sit and watch moving pictures on a screen for the best part of two hours.  Every now and then however, I get a craving for doing so and for the first time in ages I chose the film.  I usually fall in with a recommendation from someone else as I don’t really trust my own judgement on such matters.

The last time I watched a film at the cinema that was entirely my choice was about two years ago.  It was The Reader which I went to see on my own and thoroughly enjoyed.  I sat with the intention of watching right to the end of the credits, unwilling to disturb my bubble of contemplation of a film that I had found very moving.  It slowly dawned on me, through the haze of my ill concealed emotional response to the film, that there were two other people left in the room and they were only still there because they were deeply engaged in a somewhat heated embrace.  Feeling sudden embarassment, I hastily got up and went.

I digress, as usual.  Most recently I went to see Archipelago directed by Joanna Hogg.  I wasn’t sure if it was a good choice or not, but I had a gut feeling that it was either that or not bother.  It turned out it was a very good choice and both of us really enjoyed the film.  I now want to seek out the first film by the same director.  My first thoughts about the film were that it reminded me of themes from my own childhood.  Particularly resonant for me were the way the plot and characters gravitate around the absent father who is only experienced through the telephone conversations his children and wife have with him; the evident emotional incompatibility of the characters at this point in their lives and the strain this imposes on their senses of identity; the alternation between absurd politeness and sniping that results from the guilt associated with expressing what they are each thinking.  I felt it was beautifully done and placing the family tensions against the gorgeous backdrop of the Scilly Isles was wonderful.  I liked the way the scenery was always bright and clear whether in the background, through the window, or surrounding the characters as they ventured outdoors.  By contrast, many of the shots of interactions between the family members were shot in low lighting or even silhouetted against a window.

I think the most impressive thing about the film and certainly my favourite thing was that it wasn’t miserable.  Surprisingly, it didn’t leave me with a dismal feeling despite the somewhat difficult and (for me at least, evocative) subject matter.  Somehow it managed to openly explore the characters worries, their difficult interactions and their struggles to orientate themselves without giving a sense of irrepairable dysfunctionality.  This strikes me as a real achievement as acknowledging our frailties in our relationships with others can often be a bleak business.  I found this really hopeful and a reminder to myself that we all struggle with loved ones, ourselves and life in general.  I found it comforting.  I also really liked the last scene, where the family depart in a helicopter from a windswept field and it has haunted my memory since.  Its frequent recurrence in my mind’s eye and my musings on why this might be is what prompted me to write this post.  The shot is held until the helicopter has completely disappeared from view, straight upwards, and then the empty field for a few seconds more.  It gave me a reminder of the permanence of some of the things in our lives; the enfolding backdrop that shapes, illuminates and sometimes implacably constrains us.  And again, oddly, I found that comforting.

(This is actually a shot of mine taken in Porthcurno, Cornwall.  I have never been to the Scilly Isles but this evokes the same kind of feeling as my memories of some of the landscapes pictured in Archipelago.)

(Mis)adventures in the Library

Today I went to the University Library.  It is a great thing, working at a University and having borrowing access to its library.  Since I finished my MA I have not been able to face taking advantage of this situation, except on one occaision on behalf of a friend.  Today however, there were books I really wanted to go and get.  I wandered off across campus enjoying the sunshine and warmth not realising that I was venturing in to the unknown.  I have been associated with the University of Sussex for over 10 years now and the library is usually one of its most familiar and comforting places for me.  As an undergraduate studying an interdiscplinary degree programme I spent vast amounts of time in the library and often felt more at home there than any of the various teaching buildings I visited.  Today I walked in to the library to be confronted with the fact that the layout had changed beyond recognition.  This was quite upsetting; I forget just how much like home some parts of the campus feel to me nowadays.  The layout of the entrance to the library has already undergone some changes over the last year, but today I was completely thrown.  Somehow the place felt completely different and I felt a tug of loss.  It no longer felt comfortable and familiar, instead it was alien and briskly business like.  I didn’t feel that it belonged to me at all any more, not even in just a little way and I realised, with a pang, how sad that was.  I hadn’t considered just how important the unchanging face of the library had become to me.  I just expected it to always be there in the same form.  Naive I know, but that is what I had come to expect.

This made my next mission, my task to find the shelf marks I needed, considerably more difficult.  Before today I knew where to find almost all the kinds of books I would ordinarily be searching for.  I even had a sense, through processes of elimination, where the other shelf marks were likely to be found.  Not today.  I even had to search to find a floor plan – unthinkable!  As I consulted the plan I noted that the shelf mark I particularly wanted (QE) was listed as being in the North Basement.  These words inspired a mild feeling of dread within me.  I had no idea where the North Basement was.  In previous days it was a part of the library only accessible by staff with at least 24 hours notice of which resource you wished to consult.  I had always given up on resources that could only be found in this section of the library and I was slightly persuaded that it was indeed a mythical place.  A place of legend and whispered story.  I was not at all sure I liked the idea of needing to find my way there.  I looked so bewildered that a staff member stopped to ask me for help.  I usually wave away all offered of assistance, but I was so unsettled that I asked if he could tell me how to get to the North Basement.

As it turned out there were very clear directions on the walls to show me the way.  That was fine, but traversing a part of the library I have never seen before seriously added to my feelings of displacement.  I had to go down several enclosed flights of steps and met almost no one else on the way there.  At one point I was going down steps surrounded by windows with workmen on the other side busy with the improvements that were causing so much disruption to the familiarity of the building.  They loomed up above me as I continued down the steps making the environment feel strangely hostile.  It was all very odd and had something of the feeling of the beginning of a horror movie about it.  Real quiet, rather than the quiet of people trying to be quiet, punctuated by the odd sound of drilling or works being carried out was somewhat unnerving. I had a growing, though mild, sense of claustrophobia as I ventured down.

Eventually I made it down to the North Basement and, to my absolute discomfort, I was confronted with a low ceilinged room with a series of moving shelves, 2 rows deep with an aisle between the front and back row.  Each shelf was metal, extended right to the ceiling and had a large wheel on the front of it.  I grasped immediately that the wheel moved the shelf from right to left, meaning the shelves (and many of them were) could be wheeled in close proximity to one another to save space.  I usually keep my imagination more in check than this, but my first thought was of what would happen if I were to somehow get trapped between two of the shelves as they moved inexorably closer to one another.  An poor Indiana Jones style scenario played out in my head briefly, sadly it did not end with me escaping and looking heroic.  I gave myself time to note that at least being crushed by books had some noble sentiment about it.  Then I realised that I would have to walk through a gap between shelves in the first row to get to my target which was the second row.  Then I would have to actually use one of the wheels to access the shelf I wanted.  On top of my ridiculous worries about my vulnerability, I had an irrational fear of breaking the mechanism and had to look to see if there were instructions on how to use it.

Eventually I completed my mission, exited the strange basement room with its unrelentingly bright flourescent tubes and strange shelving machinery that inspired a weak kind of dread within me.  I was quite surprised at myself, I know I can be whimsical but I am used to being less inclined to such flights of fantasy when I am at work.  It did make for an interesting 20 minutes or so however and I also managed to pick up the books I wanted.  Sadly their subject matter is considerably less interesting than my imagined near death experience and feelings of mild chilling doubt about the enterprise of seeking the books out.  If only every lunch break could be as exciting!  I had the feeling of escaping as some kind of library warrior as I ventured back out, blinking, into the sunshine to sit and read.