Ephemera: 1. An insect that (in its imago or winged form) lives only for a day. In mod. entomology the name of a genus of pseudo-neuropterous insects belonging to the group Ephemeridæ (Day-flies, May-flies).—OEDLike many self-styled writers I once embraced the notion that a book-length book, preferably within hard covers, was the way to go. I had even chosen my publisher: Faber & Faber. I never dared test if they would choose me. It’s not that I have downsized my ambition since then. It’s simply the happy realization that the blog format suits me perfectly; or else that I’ve adjusted to its constraints, reframed them as virtues. I reject the printed book’s pretensions to completion and finality. My entries are essays, successive attempts to convey something, or at any rate to undergo something in the various processes involved in composition. The public imagination may see the blog as a spontaneous expression, like its baby brother, Twitter. They are not wrong. Within written literature, it approaches, but can never quite reach, the danger of live performance. I was recently invited to recite something from this blog on stage at a “Quiet Night Out” at our local arts centre. I said “yes”, until I thought about it later.
Arthur Stace was a scamp, a wastrel, a war casualty, a drunk, a tramp. He was also Sydney’s most famous author, even though he never had a book published and was so illiterate he could barely write his own name. But Stace—“a little bloke, just five foot three inches tall, with wispy white hair” according to Peter Carey’s 30 Days in Sydney—was also, “a shy mysterious poet... whose work was just one single mighty word”. One word. But, as artist Martin Sharp observed: “Arthur Stace wrote an entire novel in that word.”His one word was Eternity, and he wrote it in chalk, in perfect copperplate-style handwriting, on the sidewalks of Sydney. He went on doing it for years in secret, till a journalist caught him at it. I can empathize with Stace, for Eternity’s a word which can induce a world-stopping moment, a subliminal satori, a moment sub specie aeternatis. Yes, I like the long words, the Latin and Greek ones, but I aspire to no more than Stace, himself sans Twitter, sans Blogger, sans education. I write in chalk every day on a section of kitchen wall done in blackboard paint: reminders and shopping lists mainly, but the act itself is joyful. It takes me back to my first schoolroom writing, on a slate with chalk; soon followed by copybooks, first traced in pencil, then in ink. We were taught “copperplate”, that is, to write in a flowing hand the whole word without lifting the chalk or the pen-nib. Then we would cross the t’s and dot the i’s.
It is only the sense of “I”, dotted, dotty or otherwise, that holds us back from dwelling in Eternity.
The top illustration evokes a scene from The Steppenwolf, by Herman Hesse. Acknowledgements to http://macphisto-thefly.blogspot.co.uk/
Andrew Marr’s programme “Start the Week” on Monday was on “The Dying Art of Handwriting”. You can download it here. It was a joy to find others who voiced so well my own vague thoughts on the subject.