I’ve been gripped by the roaring, screaming emptiness of the white page for decades now. Its potential, its possibilities are as clear as life and death itself. You can have whatever you will, or you can be reduced to this – nothing. Your choice. You choose.
I, it would seem, chose nothing for years. I chose to forgo all those possibilities, to let life drift by, to squander it all. Not that it felt like a squandering.
We had our memories to create and archive, even though, back then, it felt like we were just living. The tip of dirty washing entwined in the corner of the bedroom would never have cleaned itself if I had spent all day tapping on a keyboard. The tip doesn’t grow so big these days.
So, I came here to write. Needed the solitude to focus, you see. The freedom to create. Here I am. Sitting silent and alone. Staring at a pulsating cursor, tapping out time in a silent accusative rhythm against the glare of a snow-white sheet floating on a still, grey sea.
I’ve paid good money to free myself from contact with the outside world and create this space where anything may happen, although not even a something has happened so far. Still, the day is young and the sky out there dominating the top half of the long French windows is grey enough to deter thoughts of stretching my legs down through the unkempt garden and out through the bottom gate and into the countryside beyond.
Yesterday, after unpacking – it must have taken almost 10 minutes to empty the canvass roll bag I had carried with me on train, bus and final hike from the village up three lanes and a dirt track to this secluded spot – I ventured back out of the cottage down the overgrown lawn bordered by wilting roses and resplendent weeds and out through the back gate. I stepped on to fields of poppies and what would have, in the not so distant past, been graded by some bureaucrat as set aside. Now, it performs a passable imitation of a wild meadow. Perhaps it has just been forgotten and gone to seed, which is no bad thing. It proved a splendid distraction that kept me from staring into the white void for the rest of the afternoon.
When I returned to the cottage it struck me that I should draw inspiration from the natural untidiness of the fields that was clearly creeping up through the garden and would probably have entered the cottage itself by now if it was not for the ministrations of the unseen changeover cleaner. The tension between the authenticity of the natural disorder asserting itself outdoors and the imposition of an unsustainable order indoors struck me as immediately antithetical to the creative purpose of my mission. Order cures all, but I was driven at that moment to bring disorder indoors.
I had laid out the contents of my canvass roll bag carefully. I had placed seven pairings of underwear and socks for my five-day stay – a change per day and spares in case of an emergency such as being caught in a heavy downpour – in the top drawer of the four-draw dresser. Four loose fitting comfortable tops were resting folded in regular rectangles in the second drawer, while a warm jumper and a spare pair of casual chinos with elasticated waistband were housed together in the third drawer. The fourth draw, which would be used for dirty clothes as these accumulated during the week, contained, for now, the canvass roll bag. Three shirts hung in one side of the wardrobe and a quality raincoat occupied the other side, while a pair of trainers rested on the floor next to a space for the stout walking shoes I was presently wearing. Bathroom items were, of course, housed in the bathroom.
The arrangement had a great deal to recommend it. To some extent it reflected the ordering of my permanent home bedroom, with the exception of the placing of the overcoat, which would, at home, have hung on its own hook behind my front door. There was no hook behind the front door here and I had no wish to leave my outdoor coat on one of the hooks in the kitchen. Everything was out of the way but within easy reach. The arrangement offered symmetry of intent and purpose and gave rise to a formal beauty aesthetically pleasing to eye, hand and mind. It was, in short, complete and, therefore, dead. Its perfection rendered redundant any possibility of improvement through thought or action.
I took two pairs of socks and unrolled them into their four separate components. I placed one in each drawer. In fact, I rather threw each sock into a drawer and then slid it shut. A gale of creative destruction flowed through the air and, had it not been for the lateness of the hour and the need to sleep to recover the energy lost through my efforts to get here, I might have sat at the kitchen table there and then and stared down the blankness of the white page.
As it was, the day was clearly drawing to a close and so I moved to the bathroom to brush my teeth, get ready for bed and prepare myself for the whatever might happen next.