PAUL K LYONS
JOURNAL - 1979 - SEPTEMBER
Thursday 13 September
There is a certain lethargy in our discussions of the times.
I think it's warmer outside than in. The darkness comes as summer slips quickly into autumn. Quick, catch it, almost gone; the pink skies come earlier every night. From my window I see cats trot along the sidewalk close to the house sides, boys on bicycles skid around corners, and a girl on a skate board slides into and then out of my view. Cars come and settle for the night.
I feel lost. Should I confess to that? I only went out once today, to dash to the post office - letters to M and M, friends in distant corners of the globe. It's always been the way, having them there more often than here.
I am exhausted by my own lethargy, it breeds on me, I cannot bring myself to work. I could write, read or study but some magnetic force repels me from doing so. Perhaps it's inability; where is my discipline? I am constantly beset with this problem, trying to pull creation out of me. I waver constantly over my capabilities. I sit at the machine for hours and write a lot of uncoordinated crap. I have not the patience to take the crap and re-write it, it is beyond me. And yet, I know I cannot even begin to begin to be a writer without that facility. 'The Gardeners' sinks deeper into the green slime of the village duck pond, soon it will be unsalvageable, save for the first chapter which retains its own identity. But even now I begin to feel it naive and the 'Borderlands' too. I cannot live on hope. I must find a way of knowing whether I am truly wasting my time. Maybe, I need to learn the best conditions for writing. Silence, cleanliness, tidiness and order are all very well but now, take now, I trample around and around in circles from desk to bed, from bed to desk just trying to decide what to do with myself. I am not bored, I am just disappointed in me, not being able to sit down and clickety clack away. How I flounder in my aspirations. Am I legitimate?
It's so long since I wrote in here in the diary. It's almost dark and it's not turned 8pm; I shiver with cold. Who would I call up? who would I be with? Dominique is back, so I hear. Her beauty derails me. Who else, who else? I scream. Am I the lonely one. Driven once again to journalise, talk to myself - the whole prosperity of journal writing is in question. I only wrote two pages during my three weeks in Edinburgh. It just goes to prove that for me writing is a secondary activity (not like dear old Nin whose aim was to write more journals than the Bayeaux Tapestry is long).
My poem 'Nene Plays in Gardens' was published in 'Sniffin Flowers'. The verses were printed in a muddled order; my name wasn't mentioned. The magazine also printed my short story 'A blind boy'. Sniffin Flowers. Really. How embarrassing.
Jan went to live in Paris. Funny how one loses lovers.
To Harold: 'I haven't written you at all. Are you dismayed, do you remember me? Wouldn't it be nice to be making magic on the streets again. Wouldn't it be nice. Remembering the words but more than that making new ones. Crossing over. Starting fresh in new gutters. Won't you sparkle for me now, spark me off as I sit here at home alone trying to decide if it's better quiet like now or noisy and rancorous with you here and your band of half-starved weakling followers clammering for your time. You know what I mean. Those long black curls twisting fortunes out of the dullard lamplit mews. Will we have things to say to each other, will you encourage me to talk, I could do with the smell of your laugh on my neck, and the greed of my despising you in certain moments. I can see myself unable to turn again to the pleasure of life until I feel satisfied with my writing. People parties places what are they in reality to me. Diversions. I find it difficult to imagine anything I want now but to be able to write. Jan expects my love and my stories in Paris. I am threatened by a prevailing sense of spending an unprofitable three months of winter here. Perhaps it is Leyton that drags me down to these depths. Trapped in a cubbyhole of existence, choked by scarves and bits of material. The colours and shades plundering my senses. Perhaps Marielle was right.'
Should I say something about Edinburgh as if in conclusion. I note that I do not feel able to ring up any of the people I spent the three weeks with, to go to the theatre for example, or a drink. There is certainly no prospect of any work with the Phantom Captain, and there was no prospect of me going to Spain with them. It was an experience I suppose of much hard work that achieved a well-run disaster. Blah. I saw bits of Edinburgh, discovered some of its secrets. There was one night at the Traverse Theatre bar when a woman propositioned me out of the blue. She had large fat eyes, and she'd had plenty to drink. I was impressed by her chutzpah but then there was some confusion - all the booze and fag ends and swilling of pints and standing around in jostling crowds - and we lost each other. I liked Ken Campbell's 'The Warp'; Sue Lynn impressed me; and Chris Roshmann amused me. Patrick, Gill and Stewart of the Traverse decided I was a Tease. This was news to me - I had never considered myself that before. Gill explained that my gestures and body language were sensual/sexual giving the impression of openness. I thought that was a good thing, but perhaps not.
Colin is definitely on an upbeat after all these years. He discovered the joy of travelling recently. I rang Phil - whoopee - and will have quiet days at the seaside, wrapped in thick jumpers against the curl of the wind.
A pen, a pen my margin for a pen. Every pen at this desk works. Everything is tidy, clean and clean-cut. I record Beethoven's Ninth Symphony and I go to change the record over, when I come back the pen has not dried up. My friends here are gay, but they seem very different from those in the London scene. As they are teachers, we talk about that fact that no-one in schools openly admits to being gay, no-one talks about it. There is no pupil-teacher discussion on the subject. Occasional jibes from the kids are more to do with a teacher not being married. It does sound quite difficult though - never being able to profess one's self. Will an equality of sexuality be taught in schools one day? It is difficult to imagine a day when homosexuality is accepted deep in people's minds.
I catch myself writing with Nin styles again. It's good. There was not much pure poetry in her life, only in her writing. Seeing movement, places, form, people in poetry is not living it oneself. I have some Borges books as well. I am surprised by his style, and the inherent humour.
Bel sent me a card: 'Your letter made me sad. Come down when you can. We will walk on the downs or go the island.' I feel like a sailor with a woman in every por. N finally writes and invites me to Amsterdam. A letter from Maja is waiting. Jan expects me in Paris. Dominique is in London. Katherine, the sister of Marielle, passes through tempting me to Greece in October (read as if Greece were a verb and October a place.)
NICE STORIES FROM DOMINIQUE
Dominique is beautiful, slender and sexual. We spend two days in and on the bed, each glad that the other is not madly in love. She is an expressive lover, very natural and easy to talk to. She tells me about her psychic mother and cites some remarkable events. 1) When Dominique was caught smuggling cocaine in Columbia her mother woke in the night, the very same night and screamed 'my daughter's in jail' for no apparent reason. 2) One day her mother realised that her son (Dominique's brother) would always come to the house when a certain record was playing. He would come at other times too but her mother swore that if the record were played the doorbell would ring. And the same thing happened to Dominique. She had played the record for months and nor had the boy been seen for a long time and then, when she played it, he appeared. 3) Her mother went to the cinema and on entering the arena was sure that Dominique was in the same cinema but for no other reason than intuition. Indeed, so strong was her intuition that she found it strange when she didn't see her at the intermission. When them met up back at home, they discovered that Dominique had indeed been to the cinema, but to a different one, but had seen the same movie. But what was really strange was that when they looked at their ticket stubs, they had both been sitting in precisely the same seats.
Borges is uncontrollably intricate at times, a cat-clawed ball of wool. He tells how he first became known in Buenas Aires as a poet. When he returned from Europe with his family he set about printing a small book with his own funds. He says it was shoddy work, and that he printed three or five hundred, most of which he gave to friends. However, he had the chutzpah to visit one of the best literary clubs in the city and ask the president if he could put his book into the pockets of all those overcoats hanging on the rail. He says he gained himself a minor reputation.
Phil and I sit in the Aldeburgh 'potty' pub discussing why and how and when we should become writers. His heroes are Proust and Virginia Woolf, mine Durrell, Fowles and Borges. What distinguishes them? I try to express what I want to write about. I find it hard. Phil is considering a lectureship in Nigeria and a fellowship in Cardiff.
I walked along the stone beach from Aldeburgh to Thorpeness, my head bowed low as a I tried to invent an ending for 'The Gardeners'. Thorpeness is a surreal experience. Woodcotes inhabit the village. The houses and gardens are tidy, doors open, windows open but you never see any people. Tennis courts are surrounded by half a dozen different types of fencing. Gravel paths lead to church towers without churches; there is a sandstone church but it is being eaten by pigeons. On leaving the village, I came across some information posts set up by the Heritage Coasts of England. A rich squire in the early part of the century wanted to make the village into a holiday camp deluxe, so he built a lake, a golf club, mock Tudor houses etc.
I cannot work out the date. I remember Berni's voice - it becomes monotonous. It was here in this flat at Santiers Rue Mandar that I first heard Fats Waller's song 'My feet's too big' and, more importantly, the name of Lawrence Durrell. Is it feasible that I had never heard of him before.
Such delight from silly games. Harold calls Jan from the cafe below - she comes down. She is overwhelmed with happiness. I watch and follow them for several minutes, until Jan casually turns around and sees me. I delight in her delight - to tears. Then, sometime later, she remembers we were intimate once so she can kiss me passionately. She is transformed by a new girlfriend, one who gives her confidence. Emanuella. We met briefly in London. I think I would like her on a chaise longue. But it is good to brush Jan's hair back, touch her cheeks, run my fingers down her side.
I am bored with jostling from stall to stall in the flea market, feeling the material of silken dresses, observing the rainbow of colours where black and white stand out. H shows me cigarette holders, J smiles at Victorian style dresses. I brush against a stranger and we both apologise. Give me the old woman with strong elbows at a Leyton church hall jumble sale, and the jangle of coppers any day. Here people huddle around the chillum and jos-stick stalls (still?).
I am almost at the point now in life where I can sit back and define what I enjoy and what I don't. But if I define it and live it, then I am envious of those enjoying that which I don't. I think momentarily of Nin again, reacting against her own depressions by going to psychoanalysis. Did she really believe it could help her. There seems to me such a fallacy in one person going to another for help. More especially when that person sounds so sane and appears to understand so much in her own writings. And yet I feel I understand more than she. Perhaps that must be the essence of my writing. But that very essence can be described in two words - everything is. And I'm not into exegesis, I'm not into the basic showiness of life, so how can I write about it. Such bullshit I talk - can I try and explain it to H. He makes jokes and that is serious.
Paris is violet this year - the roses, umbrellas, shoes, skirts, plastic handbags, but not the hair. Not one violet hair have I seen. Punk is not rampant or new wave. I saw a woman with a bag designed in the shape of a large shoe. I thought of Old Mother Hubbard. I walk along Rue Faubourg St Denis. Every second shop is Porno House or Sex King or Intimate Films. In every second doorway, two or three prostitutes present their painted faces, and it is only midday. The sky is the colour of pigeons, the rain comes like their droppings. The tarts are as varied and coloured as those in the patisserie window, some drowning in syrup, some with marzipan faces, some as delicate as a pastry. I cannot tell their conversation or their thoughts, whether they are of perversions, embarrassments, dress, stories or fading hopes. But those in Pigalle I saw last night are a different breed. The female flasher. The exhibitionist femme. The moulded breasts. The shiny red lips. The lareg and waiting eyes. The hair set with gelatin. The high-heeled thighs. The fat and wiggling arse. The tightly fitted crutches. These posers must study advertising - the posters, the magazines, the television commercials - for they aim to create the model woman. I am told they are mostly men changed by operations or hormones - a breed of their own.
Brother Hughes entertains us with his life, how, in younger times, he used to be a jazz musician, a pianist and trumpeter without a trumpet. By closing his mouth, puffing out his cheeks and using his throat he could imitate the sound of a trumpet. He gives us the opening bars to a concerto. At 22 he made the vows of chastity, poverty, obedience, and for thirty years now has lived the life of monk. He exudes a sense of peace. But suggest there is no paradise, and he will part his lips with a gratifying security to reassure you that he knows there is. You can feel how sorry he is for you. He shows you the little brass statuettes he makes, of Jesus on the cross, or the virgin mother with her child. Would you not go to paradise with her, he purrs. You capitulate and say that you would. He gives it to you. There is a part of him in it which makes it all the more valuable. He gives it life with his faith. You tell him how refreshing it is to meet, in this day and age, to meet a person with such strong a belief. He says he knows you are thinking this which is why he gifted you the statuette.
27 September, London
Back from Paris, back from Brussels, back from endless travels in the van. Back to Leyton and two people sleeping in the kitchen. Roser is quiet. Graham is as amusing as drink makes him, and Jan as childish as drink makes her. Harold doesn't stop talking ever.
I went to visit my mother. She received me well and we fell into melancholic remembrances. As the divorce closes in on her, she talks of making a new will. All the silver will be mine. Julian will have the inherited cabinet and writing desk. Melanie will get the jewellery. She will insist on talking about Frederic, repeating over and over again (and here some sherry is to blame) that I am more intelligent and more sensible. What fate to be loaded with both attributes, I dare not put a toe in the hot bath because I know hot is hot and I know there might be alligators there too.
I am writing more - I have the time. There is some pertinence in my living now. I abuse the love of friends, Harold, Jan, Roser, Graeme. What are they all doing in my life? I feel like exploding out of their bubble, instead I stretch the fragile membrane with my moods, my anger, my selfishness. It is my prerogative, I stretch them with my egocentric behaviour. More than half the problem is the space I haven't half got.
I am alone today in Leyton, I have many things to write and many lines to go before the middle is done. The first draft of 'The Gardeners' minus the ending, lie in front of me, by the side of the closed typewriter. I know that when it is open, I have to be serious - my ambition is at stake. Already I feel that what I have written this year is immature; I should type with ink that irretrievably fades after six months.
M sends me a colour transparency of herself. Maja talks of islands. Marsha writes to Harold: 'How could you be so cruel, so harsh, it affects me, us, all of us.' Durrell lives and moulds our lives. I'm not given to hero worship but it's fun to try.
Emanuella rings - what shall we do Friday night, her wildness excites me?
Paul K Lyons
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