In summer I think about Hockney. But in winter, Hopper. Every night on the short walk back from the station I pass an office block, a grey vacuum lit by the yellowish blur of artificial light. It’s a spectacle that only becomes apparent in the colder months and on days when the evenings seem to draw in before the day has begun.
I’ve been stuck on loneliness ever since I read Olivia Laing’s The Lonely City. There’s a chapter dedicated to Edward Hopper – about the way the construction of his cityscapes indicates isolation, about his subjects as uncommunicative groups of strangers and lone figures (often women) as posed to indicate despair. Whether or not loneliness was his intention, it’s certainly something that can be gleaned from his paintings. Laing is of course much more eloquent and thorough than I am in expressing this. You can read more about her personal study of loneliness in this Guardian article or better still buy the book.
The city at night is a contradiction between loneliness and frantic activity. My hometown is renowned for its nightlife – although as a veteran of failed clubbing excursions I can testify that you’ll struggle to find a good bar open past 01.30 on a weeknight. It’s a friendly corner of the world where drunk rituals like philosophising in smoking areas and doling out relationship advice in the queue for chips and gravy are very much alive.
I haven’t written anything personal – not even a single diary entry – in a year. I’ve always thought it good practice to keep a journal. I’ve been writing some poetry but with less urgency and intent than I had been.
Initially, I thought this might be something to do with a kind of fear. Or maybe a sense of inadequacy is a better way to phrase it. When you’re a voracious reader, there’s a weight of literature that is both powerful and crushing.
Every time I sit down to write, I’m acutely aware I’m not Anaïs Nin. Everything Nin writes about her daily life in her dairies seems to be driven by a compulsion to document her feelings. Her prose is poignant. Her existence seems exciting.
I want my reflections on my daily life to be equally poignant. Working part-time in an independent cinema allows for a certain kind of poetic license when reflecting on the mechanics of living – it’s the historic (or histrionic?) setting; there’s the Hollywood aspect, which lets me understand myself as the tragic protagonist in the movie of my life. Yet, more often than not my reality is dull and filled with boring routine.
When it rains in Hemingway it’s a precursor to something awful happening.
In A Farewell to Arms, Catherine articulates this fear to Henry declaring, ‘I’m afraid of the rain because sometimes I see myself dead in it. And sometimes I see you dead in it.’ It doesn’t end well.
In the summer of 2013 I was inter-railing with friends after we’d graduated. There was a torrential downpour on our last day in Prague. Caught outside of the city in shorts and t-shirts, we walked back to the centre much to the amusement of a slimy shop owner who cawed after us – “cute girls, so wet!” – while belly laughing. Having narrowly avoided sharing our hostel room with some burly Russian blokes by initiating an elaborate bed-muss improvisation plan, we settled in for an early night. At 6am the next morning I received the worst phone call of my life.
There’s nothing like sitting in Terminal 2 at Heathrow when a member of your family is close to death to make you realise the futility of material possessions. I was forcing down a Boots meal deal, trying to decide – in the likely event of throwing up – which shop choice would have the most impact. Mulberry? Gucci? It felt surreal to be surrounded by so much stuff when I was so empty inside. That expression ‘to be a shell of a person’ doesn’t really do justice to what I was feeling, to what I still feel. It’s like your viscera are being scraped out with a tiny toothpick. It’s like there’s a piece of you that’s irretrievably missing.