November 3rd, 2009


Unfinished symphony

The area where we live might be described as shabby, but I prefer to think of it as unfinished. It's not that it's in any sense incomplete; it's not one of these raw-edged toytown estates where the houses haven't settled into their surroundings yet and the weeds are dwarfed by the clods of still-fresh earth... quite the opposite. It's a collection of houses which were built between the wars as council houses and gradually sold off in bits and pieces over the years (I'm hazy on the history); they started out all the same (more or less) but have diverged over the years as people have bolted bits on, knocked pieces off, removed and rebuilt and revised and reimagined until they look like a kind of terraced Exercises in Style... or at the very least a kind of oversized egg-decorating competition. Everybody has added something to their house: bright flowers, trees, hedges which started out neat, gravel, paving, paint, pebbledashing, a low wall, a gate or two, a lean-to or a shed, an outbuilding, an extra room. Many of them have added more temporary effects to their exterior, too; there are front gardens with chairs, tables, mattresses, sofas, televisions, panes of glass, planks, bricks, overgrown trailers full of pipes, chained-together bicycles, cars on concrete blocks with nettles where the wheels would be, motorbikes imperfectly shrouded in plastic sheets. It could be depressing, but it's not; it's just life, as it goes on from day to day, moving things from place to place, repurposing things, putting things in a different order. Building little by little, letting things fall apart; pushing back the soil, letting things go back to the ground. Waves of energy, whirlpools of entropy.

It's unfinished in the sense that it's a work in progress. All around are loose ends, projects half begun (or even half finished), things not quite thrown away.

I am fascinated by this sort of detritus, writ large across the estate but writ smaller (in the various but usually tiny incarnations of my handwriting) across A4 sheets, post-it notes, the backs of envelopes, tissues, whatever I've had to hand at the time. And, more recently, 'written' in countless text files -- digital artefacts which somehow manage to retain some of the spirit of those torn scraps of paper in their forms and names: the descriptive (or optimistic) .txt and .html files, the tentative .tmp, the files with no extension, filenames with cryptic sets of initials, long filenames full of underscores... archive.tmp, README__list, lj_bio_1.txt, oxbridge-and-self-worth_2.tmp, loose_ends. The names made perfect sense at the time but now I can't tell whether archive.tmp is about archiving, for archiving, already archived. With the paper, it's easier to learn the shape and colour of the fragments and lists: that large pink post-it note with GRAND PLAN (among other things), the torn-off white scrap that just says weltenschaum (did I mean weltenschau?) -- I've carried them around for so long that they're like an inbox full of scars. With the text files, it's easier to search through them for a specific word (if I can remember it), but they're more flat, all the same size; with a standard directory listing of just filenames they have barely any weight or shape to distinguish them.

On reading some of these files, I often can't remember whether I've already used the text on LiveJournal. Sometimes I can't remember what I was talking about at all. Sometimes the text sounds confident and assured, and I'm surprised I wrote it so well. Perhaps I didn't.

Our house is cluttered with adjectives and slightly verb-stained nouns.

Sometimes I feel as though I'm carrying round boxes half-full of failure. Other times they're boxes half-empty of plans.