Thursday, 16 September 2010

Delineation: Words in Progress

When I was a child I was scared of washing machines. I couldn't walk past one for fear that I would be sucked in by it. My paternal grandmother's house was the worst, because the living room could only be accessed via the small kitchen, in which there was a narrow gap between the dining table and the washing machine. One day, when I was four, I arrived there with my dad, and the washing machine was on spin. I was holding his hand, and as he proceeded through the kitchen, I froze and dug my heels into the floor. He laughed and made fun of me out of embarrassment, and took my hand. I screamed. I would not walk past that washing machine. He picked me up and put me high on his shoulder, and took me through to the living room. I subsequently rationalised the fact that if the washing machine wasn't able to swallow my six-foot-tall father, and I was on his shoulder, then I was safe.

I'm at a time when I'm not able to write much creatively. I don't know why, and I shouldn't just accept it, but even after ten years of experimenting as a self-identified writer, fear of a blank page still seizes me in that same way. I don't know what I am going to say, or how it will come out, if indeed anything will come out at all. The longer I leave it, the more difficult it gets. Starting on a blank page, in the case of writing or drawing, is like facing a black hole, or, for a four-year-old with a spectacular imagination who perhaps hasn't watched enough TV, a banal household appliance. To use an unavoidable chiché (I can't be arsed to try to come up with anything more eloquent), it is a step into the unknown. Only when you pick up the pen, pencil or pastel, or strike the keys on the laptop, will you write or draw.

Sometimes, though, you need a pick-up. Sometimes you need an authority figure to rationalise your delusions and demonstrate that everything will be okay, someone who will click their fingers metaphorically and bring you back to reality. The washing machine is not a black hole that will spin out of control and swallow up the world within its wet cotton folds. The blank page is not going to jump up in your face and suffocate you. 

From an irrational fear, washing machines soon became an obsession. I was the weird six-year old actually sitting on the kitchen floor amongst a five-person family's piles of dirty laundry, watching the drum go round one way a few revolutions and back round the other, sounding like a generator in a sci-fi film, the warm water lapping up against the concave window.  I sat smelling the smells of the kitchen, dominated by the unreachable dirt between the washing machine and the kitchen carcass, and the congealed fat in the fryer. The drum of the washing machine reminded me of my other obsession - cars. I would be pressed up against the rear window, watching faster cars swoosh past my dad's beige Cortina. I loved wet roads, when the cars overtaking us looked particularly dynamic, their wheels gliding through planes of water, spraying it up like a thumb over a hosepipe. Like the drum of a washing machine on spin.

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