Saturday, March 29, 2008
A bus ride
So anyhow, my house is nice but it feels like a tomb sometimes when I’m seeking inspiration. “All truly great thoughts are conceived while walking,” says Nietzsche, quoted by Beth. Yes, but I’ve walked too often lately in the rain near my house, and the sense of wonderment has dampened. So I got on a bus, and that’s why I’m here scribbling in a black book just as in the old days, when commuting to London on the Tube. On the back seats behind me, young Africans are chattering and it’s like birdsong because I don’t understand their language. The drone of the diesel, the rhythm of starting and stopping – these remind me of every bus I rode in childhood. For some unknown reason I suddenly remember a magazine’s readership questionnaire I completed. It was some time in my forties: looking back it feels like an ungainly time, earning more than enjoying, yearning more than knowing what I was missing. At the end of a long list of technical questions it asked “With whom would you most like to be shipwrecked on a desert island?” The magazine had started life around ’84 as a single typed sheet called The Freelance Informer. It was a list of contract opportunities in my industry and got bigger till it was taken over by a big company, but still cherished its quirkiness, hence the question thrown in at the end. My first thought was Helena Bonham-Carter as my desert island companion, on the strength of her appearances in “A Room with a View” and a TV melodrama:
A HAZARD OF HEARTS is the tale of innocent-yet-headstrong Serena Staverley (Helena Bonham-Carter), whose hand in marriage is gambled away by her father in lieu of a debt to disgusting lecher Lord Wrotham (Edward Fox).
Naturally I would not play the part of Lord Wrotham on that island. I would be a nice boy. Immediately after writing her name in the questionnaire, I obliterated it in black ink: this actress surely belonged to another and was no virgin. And once transported to the desert island, she might not be young still. (My own state at that time of belonging-to-another was casually ignored.) I wrote down Hildegard von Bingen instead. As abbess of a convent she might indeed be a virgin, and I imagined her like many a wise nun being impervious to the depredations of age, which is just as well as she would be almost 900 years old at our first meeting. She was “a German abbess, artist, author, counselor, linguist, naturalist, scientist, philosopher, physician, herbalist, poet, activist, visionary, and composer”. I could not imagine better company. I was in love with her image of being a “Feather On The Breath Of God”, which was selected as the title of one album made of her words and music. I wanted that relationship with God too, and to be reminded through the day of breath-meditation. Accordingly, I adopted FOTBOG as my computer password at work. I had to give the password to a colleague once. It was embarrassing.
I suppose I’ve never been one to plough life’s well-worn furrows, as far back as I can remember. I was always fancy-free: free in fancy, not in fact. And now amongst the birdsong of the African girls in the back of the bus, I hear one English phrase leap out: “a nice boy”. It catches me unawares, for within the well-worn and furrowed features of my exterior, I feel myself to be---invisibly---a nice boy. My deepest yearnings have not changed, except for their direction. Long ago, what I sought for was buried, waiting to be mined from the ore of the future. Now I have it and know it but still pan for gold in the rich silt of the past, guided by some scent, sight or sound of the present moment. “Be here now!” shout those who think well-worn thoughts.
The bus windows are steamed up on the in-side and tearful with rain on the out. Looking obliquely to the front, I see nothing. I’m not sure when to ring the bell to get off. Like a shy child, I don’t want to ask anyone, preferring to hope someone else will ring at the appropriate time.
To be here now: so what is “here”? What is “now”? There’s this banal moment on the bus, but my true dwelling is in a timeless zone. I look through steamed-up windows for glimpses of eternity.
Posted by Vincent at 9:55 am