Sunday, 30 March 2008

Towing Caravans With Elberry

I should tell you that I once met Elberry. I have pressed the man's flesh. I have looked into his eyes over a table littered with coffee cups, Thornton's fudge, and unsheathed knives.

It was a strange day when I'd made the long journey up to Manchester to meet that keg of pressurised intellect I'd come to know via the comments he'd left at Thought Experiments. I'd wanted to introduce him to the nation via the teatime show but I soon realised that Elberry is not for a family audience. I was frightened of the man as soon as he approached me outside W.H. Smiths' booth on Victoria Station and asked me if I knew if the trains running to Nottingham stopped at Crewe. It had slipped my mind that this was meant to my coded way of recognising him. Instead, I had tried to get away from this apparent madman and began to make frantic signals to the nearest policeman. However, once the confusion was resolved and handcuffs removed from Elberry's wrists, I headed off into the city with a man whose self-professed aim of the day was to buy himself a new copy of Dante. He explained to me that his old edition had fallen to pieces through overuse.

I ask you now: Is there any way to put a man more on edge than by admitting that you've worn out your copy of The Divine Comedy? Pretty soon it became apparent that Elberry was the most impressive example of what he, himself, describes as the condition of so many office temps: the man or woman of genius 'being used to tow caravans'. He could quote poetry that I'd read and long-since forgotten. He knew foreign languages, which have always been my weakness and the source of much of my own envy. More impressive was the fact that he was unapologetically Elberry. He lacked fear whereas I am nothing but fear. His blog provokes others with his strong viewpoints and pictures of naked flesh, there as bait to those people who are simply not Elberry. In the living flesh, he is no different.

My most embarrassing moment was when I mentioned how I questioned my devotion to a certain brand of notebook. Not having ever had this conversation with a human being before, I mispronounced the name. I still don't know why I thought it was 'moleskin' but Elberry was the first person to put me right. 'I believe it's Moleskine,' he said in what I can only presume was the syllable perfect pronunciation for whatever language it was he was speaking. Ever since that moment, a few hundred yards outside the main city branch of Waterstones and on the corner of the square dominated by The Royal Exchange Theatre, I've thought of Elberry whenever I pick up my 'moleskin' notebook. That one little event has become evidence to me of the distance that lies between my ambitions and my failures, the kind of brain I've always wanted and the sort of brain I actually have.

After a couple of exhausting hours in which my meagre intellect retreated before his seemingly encyclopaedic knowledge of literature, I began the long trip home, wondering what to make of the man who had variously left me feeling full of admiration, confusion, despair, and just a little fear. Elberry remained something of a mirror to me. Only, more recently, I have become more of a mirror to Elberry.

I too have moved into the world of the office temp, though I lack the genius to move even a caravan. Without the powers to both write and work, I have been forced to be far too casual with this blog, a project that has always given me great satisfaction. Not only that, I have produced next to nothing. A few pages of a woeful sit-com and a few blog posts are the product of six weeks writing. I had previously written a novel in that time. Yet it has proved to me that the writer's life sits at odds with those of the office worker. To me, the two things are mutually exclusive.

Bloggers exist on the border between the professional and the amateur. A rare few make a living doing what others aspire towards. The majority of us make less than nothing and are lucky to make even that. Yet a cherished few symbolise the woeful gulf that exists between productivity and reward. Despite mundane office chores, they still live a live that isn't compromised by mental exhaustion, commuting, or the drudge of earning a wage. Whatever their achievement, whether it is being deep, difficult, intractable, witty, wise, gentle, or homely, they remain loyal to themselves.

This brief ramble was prompted by an email from Elberry this morning. It made me realise that I'm finally beginning to understand the forces that have moulded the man. He thinks in terms of epochs but lives in a world of Formica and open plan workspaces. In private, he sends the most supportive emails, devoid of all the blood, mucus, and bile. He communicates with me when I'm feeling down and for this I just wanted to thank him. It's as if he fully understands how the prolonged silence of another man who lives to write is really a cry for help.


Anonymous said...

i confess to being a partial fraud - i can only read fairly lucid French and Italian and can't pronounce French at all. My stalker speaks 5 languages and thinks my French is hilarious.

It seems to me that admitting to your fears is itself a brave act. Most people won't admit to being afraid of anything.

It could be that though you can't write during this grim period, your spirit & mind are readjusting. Just as a car has to go into neutral before it can change gear, so you're in quiescence, protecting yourself from an unimaginative & frankly pretty awful world, but inside - inside i daresay things are shifting, adjusting to the stress & torsion.

Temping for 4 years has definitely changed who i am. It made me harder and a little ruthless, not bad qualities for a writer. It's awful and i hate it but it's a refining fire, purgatorial.

i think it's true what old Nietzsche said, 'that which does not kill me makes me stronger'. If you can survive this - even if it means months of misery and silence - you will come out harder, leaner, quicker. Just try to keep writing a little at least twice a week, to keep the channels open, keep the fire burning in the cold & dark places.

Strength & honour.

Anonymous said...

It may be 'moleskin', i'm not sure!

Swearing Mother said...

Richard my darling, you are going through a dry spell. It won't last for ever, your mind is way, way too fertile for that and your writing far too valuable a skill to put away for long.

Just chill for a bit, all will be well, and in the meantime we'll just hang around and wait for the total brilliance we know you're capable of.

When you're ready.


The Twitch said... sounds to me that what you need is a nice cup of tea...the kettles on.

The Twitch said...

..nearly forgot........I've got an old roof rack in the's yours if you need it.

bertas said...

I agree it does sound like you need an emergency cup of tea Richard old chum...
I'll send you an email after I am done with my morning duties...

Anonymous said...

I have ordered an Elberry Bush to plant on the allotment this autumn - between the shed and the peeling bin - its a nice sunny spot for fruits! I am sorry that once more you are failing to give much order to your creative rush Mr M! Others may recommend tea to settle the nerves - May I suggest -man to man - that a hand shandy should do it!!

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