I have this cactus growing in a tin bucket on the windowsill. It’s one of a few other succulents growing in the bucket, but distinguishes itself by being an absurd, highlighter pen shade. Right now, it’s framed by washing drying on a heated clothes horse, but it sill manages to be exactly as brilliant yellow. Brighter than butter, brighter than hope. It’s standing against a fogging window, through which I can make out the tips of denuded trees forking up at a blue and clouded sky, and the oddly heartwarming sight of a neighbouring tenement’s protruding skylight. I notice that the winter wind is light but present. I notice the hum of the space heater, and my pale hands trembling when I hold them above the keys too long.
These are the sorts of details that become prominent when I am supposed to be writing. When I’m distracted, awaiting the build up of fire that will get me into the other room – the bedroom – where I’ll write. I think distraction is just as important as writing. Waiting as a blankness, or anxiety, that is a necessary part of the rhythm of the work. I think that perhaps because waiting, distraction – whether external or self-imposed – is part of the fabric of my writing life. I think of the day like a big sea, sometimes rolling and crashing, at other times still and peaceful, though other days are oiled with their stillness to an eerie calm that provokes unease, doubt, double-guessing. Anyway, this is a metaphor that comes from the lack of metaphor-building elsewhere. But I can’t see writing here as a wasting of energies, but instead like the particular way I start picking up the thread of the day before, a soothing moment right at the mouth of the labyrinth.
Being a writer means being ritualistic, to a certain degree. To believe that impatience is part of a process, a way to hold back any wavering fear that the silence that comes when you send out work is not a signal of a dead end, but is necessary, is normal. Is down to the day of the week (how many responses do you get on a Friday? Or even midweek? Very few. Well then, hold off worrying til Monday) I’m feeling thrown, after a week lost to a bad cold, so the stabilising takes a little more effort, the build-up a little more tentative. I’m feeling for the edge of doorways. I’m remembering my balance, and trying not to look back at my shaded footprints, or forward to the absence of footprints ahead.
And that’s why there needs to be a yellow cactus, glowing against the fogged window. And the ardent, nonsensical utterance that there is a right time for things, and a wrong time. My hands weak above the keys. Putting out just as much as I can. Hoping that this is right, when there is no right. Speaking so as to be heard, or not. Watching the light change and the clouds change, so as to know something, the kind of something we know at the foot of a poem. Steady, unsteady, here.