I catch the 9.25 from Civic and watch, over the next two and a half hours, the carriage – and the train – fill up with people going on their mysterious errands. Something has changed – I never used to be able to write in any public space, have regarded those who sit their laptops on tables in cafes with a mixture of envy and disbelief . . . but is writing so different from reading? I’ve always been able to read on trains, boats, planes; in fact, such journeys are for me impossible without the option of reading. So I set my laptop on my knees and tap away happily for the duration, hardly aware of other passengers coming and going, or of the landscape flashing by out the window.
Miss the connecting train at Strathfield but take the limited stops to Ashfield and pick up a Summer Hill train there. Walk down the hill mingling with the lunchtime crowds doing whatever they’re doing. Grace is in Plunge, our eyes meet, she half rises, I smile and say hello but keep walking: even though I’ve only been three days away I’m nervous, I want to get home to make sure everything is as it should be. In the mail box a silver envelope enclosing a new fly-buys card for some fellow I know nothing about, a previous resident, it’s weird how mail still comes for him, it’s at least five years I’ve been in this flat and he wasn’t the person I took it over from, either. I briefly consider trying to pass as him before tipping the fat letter into the recycling.
I have washing – work clothes – to do; library books and videos to return; emails to answer; I want to see the Jason Greig show at Darren Knight before it closes . . . but, yes, sure enough, as I suspected, I need a new battery for the car. Damn. It choked and gurgled when I started it after last Thursday’s shift and does the same thing now. I manage to coax it to Ashfield, fill up with gas, return those items that belong there and then set off for Glebe. I regret having to give the Lina Bryans book back but what can you do? Outside the Glebe library in Toxteth Street I leave the keys in the ignition, the car running, while I dash inside. There’s a fellow on the lawn playing, in a desultory way, with two dogs, an old bloke sitting on a bench. As I come out the automatic doors I’m preceded by a woman who says: Sorry, darling . . . to the old bloke but he seems not to mind, indeed barely compos mentis.
For some reason all the pre-sets on the radio have decayed, that must be the battery failing . . . I go home and search online for a replacement, all the time figuring out what I can and can’t do without the car. Yes, can walk to work and walk home again, I used to do it that way. Yes, could get to Darren Knight on the train, it’s a bit of a stretch from Redfern Station down to Elizabeth Street, but doable. The boys can get here by train, they’ve done it before . . . but taking Liamh to his soccer on Saturday? No. I have to get it fixed this week then.
There’s a whole lot of other practical things I have to sort out, to do with going to Auckland next week and my two other journeys, June to Alice, July to Wellington and I feel, as always, a twist of anxiety in my gut that is related to a fear that I won’t be able to make the arrangements properly or that something will go wrong with what plans I do manage to complete. This isn’t serious, it’s more a recognition of the kind of person I am, these are my neuroses, they don’t got away, they are absurd and demeaning but nevertheless are . . . and must be dealt with. Wearying, though, I wish I was more efficient, more the blithe spirit that in my better moments I think I might still be able to become.
Just as I’m going out to shop I get an email from a friend asking for my phone number . . . not for the first time. She calls the mobile but I can’t hear anything apart from the fact that she’s upset, so ask her to call back on the landline. It’s about a literary project she’s been involved in for a number of years that appears to be foundering. For reasons that have to do with communication breakdowns between co-editors. As always, it is impossible to sort out the true motivations, what’s really going on, in the fog of supposition, in the weird clash of egos, in the shadow play of ambition, entitlement and resentment. I do what I can and, forty-five minutes later, she goes, sounding a lot calmer.
So this is one of those typical Mondays, a day when nothing really happens, a day given over to various forms of maintenance . . . the last day of the month and hence also the end of this self-imposed task. It seems strangely nugatory: what has the exercise achieved, I wonder, if it has achieved anything at all? A certainly fluency, certainly, is one result of the determination to write 1000 words every day for a month – like training, you get fit. A record I may look back on at some later date? Perhaps, but this is unlikely. What about using the 30,000 odd word document as a basis for something more enduring? I can see how there are many other stories embedded in this account, how to take certain sentences, certain anecdotes, certain characters, and expand upon them . . . but to what point?
I’ve published three short books of material written substantially online but only one of those (The Thousand Ruby Galaxy) attempted some sort of narrative coherence. I re-read it this month and felt dissatisfied, precisely because it seemed that the determination to record events as they unfolded somehow denied the possibility of an abstract order, a formal elegance. This tension between the recorded real and the imaginative shape of a worked piece of writing is of course a source of fertility. And reminds me of the way Sir Toss, my companion on this particular journey, all his life long worried away at the relation between the object (subject) and its representation. He never resolved it, probably because it is unresolvable. Or perhaps only resolvable, for him, in the act of painting. Even then, he constantly re-iterates the feeling he has, of failure, in the act of painting; and only sometimes realises, looking at the completed work, that he has in some sense succeeded.
It’s like trying to write down a dream, knowing that the resonance it had when it came to you will inevitably be absent from the written account; and yet you still try to do it. And, as I complete that sentence, I remember fragments of one from the weekend. We returned to a stone building on a cliff-top and, down the side, behind weeds and rubble, at the base of a wall, uncovered words chipped into a sandstock block: a message left by a Dutch aviator and explorer. I cannot now recall what they said; but an image that accompanied them remains in mind: an aeroplane, a 1950s liner, a Lockheed perhaps, powered not by jet engines but by the wingbeats of hundreds of birds, secured by ropes to the wings, improbably flying that silver machine silently into the blue air of tomorrow.