“I am much better at saying how I feel when I no longer feel it.” ― Jeanette Winterson, Gut Symmetries

When I was 17 I used to write down words I loved. I wrote them in books. On scraps of paper held together with an elastic hair band. On the back of school textbooks. On cassette inserts and CD inlays. I wrote words I found inside unfeasibly tiny postcards and sent them to my boyfriend. The stamp was almost as big as the card.

I used these quotes, other people’s words, because I couldn’t say my own. Pushing them out took an effort that I just couldn’t muster. I couldn’t do it. They sat in me. Growing. Degrading. Dying. I could never say what I felt. Maybe because I’ve always found it hard to know what I’m feeling.

The weight of words. Anchored by them. Determined by them. Hanging on to them. Never forgetting them. The cruel words that nestled in between my collarbones. The praise that slid off my shoulder and sank into the campsite grass. The words that clunked around in glasses full of whiskey, melting like ice cubes. The glibness of words said and the breaths in between. Made up of them. Joined like dots. Hung from them like pictures on wire. Words have owned me. Broken me. Defined me. Held me. Armed me. Hidden me. Saved me. Made me me.

I’m thinking about all of this because of James Jones‘ designs for Jeanette Winterson’s new Vintage covers. Jeanette Winterson gives good quote and I wrote down a lot of her words when I was young.

“I began playing around with the illustrations as vectors – as I wanted that really digital look to set them apart – and it was at this point that they resembled Jeanette’s writing the most,” says Jones.

“Her writing is like no one else’s: passionate, punchy, lucid and lyrical, and each cover aims to represent a tiny bit of this to the reader. The clash between organic materials/objects and something a bit sleeker helps portray the sexual nature of some of the subject matter and its surreal tones.”

Beautiful.

JW_James Jones

JW_James Jones

JW_James Jones

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Playfulness

Putting this here so I never forget:

‘Playfulness is what makes us human. Doing pointless, purposeless things, just for fun. Doing things for the sheer devilment of it. Being silly for the sake of being silly. Larking around. Taking pleasure in activities that do not advantage us and have nothing to do with our survival. These are the highest signs of intelligence. It is when a creature, having met and surmounted all the practical needs that face him, decides to dance that we know we are in the presence of a human. It is when a creature, having successfully performed all necessary functions, starts to play the fool, just for the hell of it, that we know he is not a robot.’ Matthew Parris article in New Statesman

Also reminds me of Kathleen Hanna in Frankie magazine – do more weird shit. (The bit about toxic people is also spot on. SPOT FUCKING ON.)

Kathleen Hanna

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The way that I am

While I was busy pretending my cat could talk and answer the phone, and running from the Hulk, who lived in our hot press, I was losing control of a small, and once well-defined world to forces beyond my control.

I was making up stories and creating imaginary worlds and friends that I could hide inside. I would make myself remember moments because I thought they could steady my course. I thought I could cling to them, string them together and be held up by them. Standing in the kitchen chewing Wrigley’s Spearmint Gum, ‘I will remember this moment.’ And I did. I remembered all the moments: pretending to be a witch in the rain, my knee-high socks pulled down by the weight of water; burying the dead bird I found on the walk back from the swimming pool; sitting under a slide near a field that shouldn’t be crossed, picking flecks of scented orange polish from my fingernails. I remembered for a while. My eyes snapped shut, and I mouthed the words, ‘Remember this moment. Remember.’ Now, I can barely remember anything. Memories became too heavy to hold.

While I hid under the bed, eating Jammy Dodgers and rubbing the green stained patch of skin left by a beloved cheap pink flower-shaped ring I bought from the ice-cream man, everything was shifting and turning away and I would spend the rest of my life trying to catch up. The world was being pulled apart, stretching and expanding, pushing me further away from me, until now.

Now I sit in a well-worn chair in a room with half-full boxes of tissues, talking to a woman who looks like she likes pashminas about the way that I am. Or the way I think I am.

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There’s a woman

There’s a woman who arranges her books based on colour. She had to buy more blue to create the perfect ombre. The violet of du Maurier’s ‘Rebecca’ makes her heart sing.

She wears red lipstick but doesn’t reapply it. By lunchtime a red outline remains while the colour wears off the best flesh. She looks like one of the dead women on TV. The women that are murdered by men hiding under beds, men secreted away in cars in underground garages, men who clench their fists while sleeping.

She reads the blogs of women who make austere jewellery with woven thread that wraps around a life to be captured, eaten up, PayPal-ed and now there’s a customs charge. Women who curate their lives. Women who take selfies with a bright flash that softens their face, that rubs away the lines that life has left.

She started making dresses but they were thin and hung from her bones like a sack. The sewing machine has pride of place in the study that’s full of books she’ll never read.

She rides a bicycle a man helped her pick and now he acts like she owes him. At the pub he breathes Scampi Fries onto her neck as he rattles in her ear about chainrings.

She buys mid-century modern furniture and talks about going on protests but never does and instead scours the internet for cats to adopt.

She wears white tights and picks off green nail polish that nestles between the ribs of the itchy wool. She wishes she had worn jeans but Instagrams the tights and the brown brogues.

Later she buys more brogues, these ones are red. She clicks ‘Next Day Delivery’ on the MacBook Pro she stole from the boyfriend who wanted to be a character in a book but the pages never turned.

She makes gnocchi and cold brews her own coffee.

She trawls eBay trying to find the right faux fur coat but the sleeves are all wrong so instead she buys some more shoes. She imagines wearing them on a dinner date with a fantastically entertaining man who will later pull her dress up.

Daddy stopped paying the mortgage so she cancels all her magazine subscriptions except the one with the cats in Japan, that’ll be a collector’s item someday.

She puts a record on and tries to remember why she bought it.

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Ruin Porn

‘I love ruin porn.’

I’m staring at a photograph of a load of chairs shoved into an Art Deco swimming pool and pins and needles have started in my hand. The pulsing works its way into my arm and I clench and unclench my fists, hoping it doesn’t spread. Once I felt it in my face; I thought it was the end. It was in my tongue. I imagined a robot virus from the future but it had passed by the time the bus got to Elephant & Castle roundabout. I turned up the music in my headphones and dreamt I was in a film about something.

‘Don’t you love it?’

Little flecks of spittle collecting at the corner of her mouth. She’s standing too close, expectantly swaying on maroon high heeled brogues with thin little laces. Red lipstick that’s a bit too orange. I remember The Simpsons: ‘Toreador, oh, don’t spit on the floor. Please use the cuspidor, that’s what it’s for.’

The tips of my fingers are buzzing and all I can think about is lifting that framed photo from the wall. I imagine smashing it into every other photo in the endless white room. I wouldn’t care if my hands got cut to ribbons. I wouldn’t care if the blood dripped from my fingers and seeped into my brand new white Vans. I wouldn’t care.

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Headaches

I get headaches when it’s warm.
I get headaches when it rains.
I get them in spurts. A week at a time. I went years without but now they have come back.

I wonder if it’s because I smacked my head against the tarmac that time I jumped too high and was unable to successfully navigate my way back down. My brother laughed at me, more because I was wearing my mum’s culotte suit from Jaeger, and he thought I was weird. I was 11.

I remember when I had my first ocular migraine and it went black and I fell down the stairs. My boyfriend laughed at me, thinking I was stoned. I thought I was blind.

When it came again I was on the top deck of a bus that was taking me to a modern history seminar. The bus stopped and I sat there, in darkness with my eyes open. Once the professor kept me back and asked me if I was ok and I cried. He didn’t think I was reaching my potential. He told me I could tell him if something was wrong. I thought maybe the pain came because I was so sad.

I remember the time I angled myself down onto the cold concrete outside because it was the only place that could soothe the burning that was inside my head. My cheek and arm took on the patterns of the ground. The concrete was so beautiful. The greyness a solid comfort that I wanted to hold tight to.

Now I’m older I lie in bed with the blinds closed. I put sunglasses on and pull the covers over my head and my boyfriend tries not to laugh. I try not to breathe.

It’s hard to explain. The pain that finds a crack and works its way in. A warning sometimes comes but often it’s too late. It clambers around, tearing at the layers I pack around myself. It throws the duvet off and yanks the pillows from underneath my head. It picks and peels away until its fingernails are bleeding. It gets so close and I wait for its bloated, febrile hand to plunge further inside. To take it all. And then it stops and I want to be sick.

Afterwards I feel like a child with a fever. My eyes stick together. My skin feels worn and used up. Strange old memories poke at me, like a reminder of who I am. It’s as if I’m rebuilding and must gather all the pieces I can find. Memories of being precocious and booky. The names I gave the first litter of kittens our sweet cat gave birth to under the tumble dryer – Cinders, Midnight, Echo and Claus. The story I wrote about dinosaurs. Dreams about Zola Budd. The book we made about bears.

Sometimes I crave the fizz and smack of sugary orange liquid and dream of Orangina but it’s too hard to find so I settle for Fanta. And then I wait until enough time has passed that I feel the safety of myself again. Until I can take my body back. Until I can breathe out again.

Write-off

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Lurid

I wish I’d pulled a coat over my lurid polyester nightie, tied up the laces of my Puma Classics and walked across the sand dunes to meet him. I didn’t. I stayed under the covers, untwisting the twine that held a key around my neck and breathed out as the moment that could have changed everything passed me by. 

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When I was a girl at school

I created other worlds.
I carried speakers across sand dunes to bring them to your party.
I wrote a letter to the Principal explaining why I didn’t want to be a prefect.
I stopped eating for a while.
I typed an essay about the words used by Eugenides, Winterson and Salinger.
I wore Puma Supersuedes to the dance.
I heard you knock at the door and I pretended not to be in.
I laughed out loud listening to recordings of Robert Frost reading his poems. Birches.
I wore a key around my neck.
I wasn’t ready.
I watched My So-Called Life and sighed.
My cat died and I cried while making cheese on toast.
I had flowery silk pyjamas. I miss them.
I read poetry by Bukowski and pulled out strands of hair.
I hid cigarette butts inside a soap dish.
I thought everyone was smarter than me.
I thought everyone was better than me.
I pushed my ear to the ground so I could hear.
I listened to Surfer Rosa. A lot.
I drank carryouts with my best friend.
I couldn’t tell you how I felt because I was forgetting how to feel.
I climbed in windows.
I wrote letters and posted them.
I didn’t think about what was on the outside.
I wanted to hide inside something.
I was figuring it all out. I still am.

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