We start long before dawn, in deep frost and darkness, driving up the winding track towards the mountain. At the snowline we stop and put on climbing gear, harnesses, packs, axes, and we trudge up the hill as the eastern sky begins to lighten. The air is still bitterly cold but we are warmed by the climb, our exhalations clouding as we breathe heavily in the thinning air.
We crest the last ridge before the icefall we are to climb and in front of us lies a frozen lake, smooth, silent, impossibly flat in a land otherwise without horizontality. The ice is thick and we start to walk across, westwards, booted feet crunching as we stride. And just as we reach the middle of the lake, the sun rises behind us, and the surface all around lights up with a million tiny diamonds, a million ice crystals glistening, reflecting the rising sun. I have never seen anything so beautiful.
There is no more lovely music than the soft fall of rain.
nordic fjord, slanted midsummer light
polar bear rolling in the warm shallows
white coat flowing, disclosing hidden currents
chewing my arm playfully, friendly black lips
I jump in the water, fear of death overcome
...once pollinated, the single flower’s petals enlarge and fuse to form a protective sac surrounding the stamens and pistils. Only the calyx remains outside, rooted close to the ground. The sac grows over the course of several weeks until it is a hand-span or more in diameter: as it does so, it loses its pigmentation and acquires a milky translucency, through which the flower’s reproductive parts can only be vaguely seen. These parts are thus protected from the fierce daytime sun and the cold nights of the mountainous regions where the plant is typically found.
During this first phase, the sac is filled with moist interior air with a rich scent which is not wholly pleasant. As the summer grows hotter, a shift in photosynthetic metabolism takes place and the air inside slowly becomes hydrogenous, while at the same time the protective sac enlarges still further and its translucence thins until it is acquires an iridescent transparency: the stamens and pistils are thus revealed to the sun, and the combination of the atmospheric composition and the intense heat desiccates the interior parts, the seeds of which are now fully developed yet tiny specks that bake in the heat.
Then, as the late-summer storms approach, the flowers’ stems, which by now have dried and weakened to mere threads, release their swollen, hydrogen-filled sacs; and lo! they rise into the air, swirling on the storm’s updrafts, the afternoon sun glinting on thousands of spheres rising to meet the dark clouds, ever faster as they are swept into the anvil head; and in the seething electrical dark they burst, sometimes in flames as the gases within are ignited by lighting: and the seeds within spill out; and the cloud’s gravid vapour nucleates around each seed, surrounded by its own tiny ocean, a raindrop which nourishes the seed as it falls back to earth, to begin the cycle anew.
I’ve been listing books I’ve read for some years now, but magazines and web-garnered material haven’t been included. I think it’s time that changed, because more than half the reading I’m doing now is of that nature – and often (particularly in the case of non-fiction) it’s more timely and more relevant than that found in books. So expect more notation, in the future, of this ephemeral reading [insert here if you wish, dear reader, a reference to Ballard’s “invisible literatures”].
I’ve always regarded Alain de Botton as my alternate-life doppelgänger: we were both born in 1969, we’re smart, philosophically inclined and educated, and we’re both successful authors. Except that he is alone on that last thing. His Architecture of Happiness is superb: beautifully measured prose, restrained photography, insightful argument. I am at once inspired and deeply envious. Every time he publishes a book, I feel, for just a moment, a tiny poisonous emptiness inside my chest, an emptiness that can only be assuaged by buying and reading the book in question. Alain himself would no doubt understand.
All I can do is derive superficial satisfaction in the fact that I have far, far more hair on my head than he does.
Alphabetise the whole document by sentence, creating a work which is perhaps more fun to write than to read.
Awake in the middle of the night with what at the time seems like a brilliant idea.
Consider ending each phrase with a semicolon, but choose full stops instead.
Consider the geographical and cultural clues which inhere in the choice of phrases such as “full stop” over “period”, and the use of “s” in words such as “alphabetise”: is this disconcerting to American readers, or cause them to read the piece with an English accent?
Decide to go to bed and pick this up another time, but worry about whether I can regather momentum.
Enjoy and declare (while knowing that this will date, geekify and/or reduce the universal applicability of the piece) that the act of writing in the dark using a laptop with a keyboard whose letter keys glow is deeply pleasurable; so too, the use of software, downloaded just yesterday, which fills the screen not with a standard document window but with softly glowing green text on a black background, thus achieving on a far more capable machine the effect of a thirty-year-old dumb terminal.
Enjoy the circumlocutions which, while not particularly satisfyingly demonstrated in the current phrase, the chosen format for this document demands.
Get up and write the piece, despite the cold, sitting cross-legged on the couch in the dark with a blanket over my head.
Keep the original file with the original phrase order for later editing and, perhaps, biographical reconstruction.
Lie awake for a while wondering whether to get up (for it is cold, the middle of winter) and act on it, or to drift back to sleep and risk losing the moment.
Realise that an author, if that is what I want to be, needs to be as honest as s/he is able to be.
Realise that the chosen format will mean that sentences may not make sense until later, but accept and embrace this ambiguity.
Realise that this might not seem such a good idea after I wake up.
Resolve to learn to type faster to allow capturing of moments like these.
Resolve to write more experimental works, but to also explore conventional narrative.
Resolve to write the piece in a linear fashion, not going going back to edit previous sentences, which, given the choice to alphabetise it later, is not as rigorous or formally demanding a choice as might be otherwise envisaged.
Ruminate on how the substance of this document has yet to emerge (for the writer: for the reader, it may well have done so, given the affordances of alphabetisation); or rather, that the ostensible substance is merely a pretext for writing in this fashion; and that in any case the substance, if it can continue to be called this, was a dream, no doubt longer in the recollection than in the having, and whose veracity is more in doubt with every passing moment.
Ruminate on writers of experimental formats whose work I enjoy, including JG Ballard, Jorge Luis Borges, David Markson, Alex Crumey, David Eggers, David Foster Wallace and Nicholson Baker; note also that these writers are all male, the significance of which is unknown.
Speculate on the effect of reading, immediately before going to sleep, a novel whose chapters start in the middle of sentences and whose format has just changed to sonnets (the novel is Ali Smith’s “The Accidental”).
Speculate on the likely distribution of initial verbs (and hence alphabetised order), given the strictures of the chosen format and the subject matter; “recall”, “remember” and other cognates of recollection are likely to dominate.
Speculate that at present the payload of this document is a lot smaller than the formal posturing.
Start to get tired and wonder if the moment has passed, but continue for at least a while longer to capture the thoughts which come out so much faster than can be typed.
Uncross my legs occasionally and stretch, realising how bad for the Buddha it would have been to sit cross-legged for such a long time achieving enlightenment, if my recollection of the story (or more likely, if I am honest, Bernardo Bertolucci’s film “Little Buddha”, starring the somewhat unfairly maligned Keanu Reeves) is correct.
Wonder if this is what it is like to be an author, and to like it.
Write the whole piece in imperative sentences, which in practice means commencing each sentence with a verb.
I like to read them in order length, shortest to longest. Short stories allow the author and the reader to explore ideas to the length which they deserve, and not bloat them into novel length. Short stories can be written quickly, to catch a fleeting emotion or explore a current event. Short stories allow experimentation with style without risk of wearying the reader.
Thank you, Italo Calvino. Thank you, Jorge Luis Borges. Thank you, J.G. Ballard. Thank you, Ray Bradbury. Thank you, Will Self. Thank you, David Eggers.