Days and daze

In Others
August 24, 2009

Oof. I have spent today elbows deep in the past, with only brief excursions to see what Seaham’s made of itself in the 14 years since I was last here. The answer is: since the terrible days of Mrs Thatcher and the aftermath of the miner’s strike and the closing of the collieries, it has pulled itself up somewhat. It’s got a shopping centre now – and if you think that shopping centres are the curse of the urban landscape I sort of agree with you, but it’s brought much-needed jobs and amenities to an area that I remember as having a lot of boarded-up shops and houses.

Some of the houses are still boarded up, but the shops are livelier, if a little on the eccentric side. Here is a greengrocers we went into today. Well… a greengrocers-with-a-twist:

I swear this picture hasn’t been photoshopped. It’s a greengrocer-and-knitting shop. I like to imagine that the owners are a husband and wife: she wanted to start a knitting shop, he wanted to continue his dad’s greengrocer’s business and they hit on a happy compromise. Here’s another angle:

Other than that, it was mostly sorting through piles of things I kept for little discernible reason from various periods of my life, which my parents have moved up here. Exercise books, school projects, Girl Guide magazines, Oxford papers, my old stamp collection… I’ve thrown much of it away, keeping the odd treasures that I happen upon.

Intermittently throughout my life I’ve worried about this philosophical problem: if, a year from now, I won’t be able to remember a single thing that happened today, in what sense was today worth living? I suppose just worrying about this means I’m a slightly melancholic temperament; I’d hoped that studying Philosophy at Oxford would help me get to the bottom of it, but we never seemed to get to our own personal philosophical concerns.

There are two answers, I suppose, and both of them apply in a small way to writing too. The first answer is: you might not remember anything from that day, but in some way it’s gone to make up who you are. I was never sure I bought that, though – I’m pretty sure there are many days of my life which, if I’d just skipped right over them, I’d be basically the same person I am now. The other answer is: you live through the pointless days because they’re what you have to do to get to the intensely meaningful ones whose occurrence can never be predicted.

I’ve spent today throwing out museum guidebooks and theatre programmes and primary school notes from friends and taking books to the charity shop. And just occasionally picking one out and going “no, this is really meaningful to me, I’ll keep it.” And I guess: you have to go to a lot of museums and plays to find the ones that mean something to you. And you have to meet a lot of people to find the ones who’ll be your lifelong friends. And you have to read a lot of books to discover which ones touch you. And you have to have a lot of lessons to learn what topics are of special interest to you. You have to kiss a lot of frogs, but the princes are out there.

So. As with life, so with writing. It’s always annoyed me on the same philosophical level that one can’t produce a perfect first draft. I mean, why not? They’re just words – why can’t I get them right first time round? But, I can’t. Because you have to kiss a lot of frog-words to make good ones. Because most of the words you write won’t be great. Because most of everything isn’t great. But we write today because maybe today there’ll be some great words. And if not today, then maybe tomorrow.

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