My land is this page, extending with every word and sentence, breathing through each pause and stop. In the North, sharp mountains rise in to the sky cutting the soft underbelly of an engorged cloud, spilling snow in twisting, choral spirals. The mountains angle downwards into rocky outcrops and then give way to rounded grassy hills which froth and foam Southwards in a fecund tide of wild meadows, breaking against the occasional thicket or tree. Small creatures and insects gently weave through the drunken hot air and the haze of flowers and ripe berries.
At least, that’s where it began. Initially, like a bird suddenly freed from captivity I soared around the landscape, shaping it and structuring it. I was a kind of bodiless spirit, becoming cognisant of an endless and beautiful corporeal territory. I rustled fields of golden barley, folded the hot air into heat waves and then bathed everything in a revitalising rain.
If this freedom was one pleasure, I was soon to find another –one which would prove altogether more fragile. Writing myself a body I forged a valley in one of the most peaceful hillsides. Within this new haven I created an orchard full of cherry blossom trees. The pink petals effectively lit up the large flat plain, a euphoric candy coloured cloud stifling the horizon and yet there meeting the soft pastel blue of a distant mountain range and finding rest. It smelt of endless summers, the kind I felt I had only known as a child when all possibilities still awaited me. Each evening without fail there would be a crimson sunset bleeding across the valley and raising dulcet indigo shadows from the ground.
In the centre of the orchard was a large white marble house. Cool against the sun, blue against the temperate sky, the exterior was exquisitely carved with an intriguing mix of classical motifs, playful gargoyles and forms of nature – such as columns on the front porch with white marble creepers gracefully sweeping up to the first floor balcony. Up on that balcony I would sit for hours looking out at the view, knowing it was eternal. Behind me in the white silk covered bed was the beautiful woman I had gently woven from words penned tenderly in to place. We had no fear or worry the two of us. We never tired or hungered. We laughed and talked and yet were happy to sit silently for hours simply being. We made love frequently and everything seemed to be perfect. But the human mind has not itself been made in such conditions, it has been programmed for something else entirely and I quickly found myself – despite everything – growing bored and uncontrollably angry. The whole thing suddenly seemed so superficial, so lacking in meaning and content that any power I thought I had in creating the world was suddenly sweeping it away before my eyes.
I catch glimpses of her frightened face even now. Her perfect face distorted with fear as, in an attempt for meaning I unfurled what can only be described as a madness. But you see I didn’t hurt her as one person might hurt another, worse, I had to also write her pain in to the world. The impulse driving me towards friction and fight was devastating to the peaceful place I had carefully fashioned. I shudder…
For some time after ripping everything to sheds I just sat and shivered on a blank white page. I had been able to have the profound pleasure of creating a paradise and then the despicable luxury of realising that it wasn’t what I wanted. I wanted to want it, for things to be so simple, but that, THAT was not in my gift. There are forces in us all that are not our own.
Although I occasionally created an operatic explosion or thunder storm, for a time…
… there was only an unknowing white void. And that limbo was perhaps more horrific than any of the other horrors I had dreamt up. But in part it was simply petulant and I realised that I at some point I had to begin again. Gathering all my resolve I tried to focus on what had gone wrong before and how such a disaster might be avoided. After a time it seemed to me that I had been too prescriptive, that I needed to write in a different way to allow for an element of the unknowable.
Then suddenly crowds of people moved up and down a street: a multiplicity, a horde, a swarm. Yes I could focus my attention on one or two faces here and there, but they were only a part of the holistic movement in and around the architecture of the city. The city itself was a patchwork of architectural styles, effectively a nexus of diverse historical systems meeting together in an altogether new and open context. The streets were relatively clean but still held the mystery of litter, debris, detritus and the accretions of a living space. Chewing gum pitted parts of the pavement in random configurations, water pooled here and there in little pits formed in the stone. The sky was overcast, moving quickly with a strong wind and with bright and dark moments; the weather was indeterminate.
I wasn’t lost in this environment but had a purpose and sense of drive. I contented myself in crossing the city and being open to the different and sometimes contradictory sensations it imparted.
To give added meaning to my own sense of place in this world I created a short back story for the day’s events. In the morning I had met a girl in one of the studios at the art college. And later, keen to avoid any destructive teleological urge I was keen to stress the softness of this memory. Although my meeting with her had been vibrant it had been brief and I could only see her face moving in and out of focus in my mind. With many such encounters, particularly at my young and impressionable age, I told myself, there was a little doubt and too much expectation. Perhaps I had relived certain smiles and jokes a number of times as the day had gone on. But, the key point was that I had agreed to meet her that evening to help her with a project. In an effort to preserve as much realism as possible, let’s say that I hadn’t immediately accepted the invitation to help, despite my interest in her, because of my own work load.
As I was walking across town, therefore, to meet her, it struck me that I couldn’t remember her name (of course tricking myself here, because I had simply been reluctant to prescribe a name to this person I was becoming increasingly fond of – even in her absence). However, this memory loss only lasted for a moment and I suddenly remembered that she was called X.
X was interested in a number of things including some things I might describe as occult. She was interested in mystical things and higher meanings. I realised it was in my gift to create magic in the world I was scripting should the need arise, but found myself settling in to a another logic, simply waiting to see how the words slipped in to place as if by themselves.
As she opened the door to her flat a strong smell of herbs and ointments hit me. She looked a little more masculine than I’d remembered and was wearing a grubby white t-shirt and dungarees. There was something a little nervous and evasive about her as she blew her dyed red hair out of her face and intoned “come in” in a mock deep voice, a little like my own. X smelt of cooking and a little bit of sweat, which I found oddly endearing.
Our greeting was a little awkward and it quickly became apparent that inviting me to her flat was not excuse for a date or anything other than the earnest task at hand. Straight away she began packing bags with a peculiar mix of art materials, gardening tools, an ancient looking book and some organic snack foods.
“So what are we doing tonight?”
“We’re searching for a magic orchid”, she said flatly. “I’ve been searching for it for years and I’m exhausted which is why I need your help. I think tonight might be the night.”
“A magic orchid”, I repeated. I refrained from saying, ‘did you not see the debris, detritus and the accretions of a living space I created outside, do you really think this is the kind of world that could yield a magic orchid?’ No, I just tagged along, a little awkwardly. We had an interesting conversation on the way up a hill which took us out of the city centre in to a realm of mud, gorse bushes and steep slippery grass inclines. The indeterminate sky began to dim as night time came. It did not avail itself the chance of a fine sunset, but glumly lost its ‘back light’ to instead reflect the street lamps some distance below us.
We sat for a long time, waiting for a flower that should apparently have revealed itself to us through its own means. We searched through the undergrowth, getting pricked and scratched all the while. It was cold and we both became quite stiff after a number of hours. I don’t think either of us really handled the lack of sleep very well and so went quite quiet, perhaps to avoid tarnishing our time together with blunt or hastily passed words. Of course, we did still find the energy to make each other laugh and followed some interesting lines of thought: it was good and earthly (and happily far from being perfect).
The flower didn’t reveal itself and so we trudged back to her flat, carrying all the stuff we had brought out – including the foul tasting snacks – and both felt exhausted and hungry. Once we got in and sat at the kitchen table she had to prop herself up with her arms, obviously needing to go to bed. I started to wonder if perhaps I had let the words have it a little too much their own way and if in fact I should have contrived a more fortunate series of events. My pressing needs however were for rest.
“I’ll go in a minute”, I muttered, “but want to ask you something first about this flower thing.”
“Yes”, X breathed, finding the energy to look up at me.
“Well, it’s just that I think it’s unlikely that it exists, that it ever existed and that it will never in fact exist”, ‘and believe me I should know’ I nearly said, “Yet you’ve spent years, you say, looking for it. Don’t you feel somehow crushed by the fact that after all this time you’ve never found it, that really you’re just wasting your life?”
I hadn’t meant to be so blunt, but that is the way it came out. To my surprise she smiled.
“That’s ok. I know I may never find it. I’m not sure even how I would react if I did. But I enjoy the searching, the anticipation and the adventures it takes me on.”
I felt stumped. I thought about it, smiled and thanked her for the evening. X had seemed to provide some kind of answer to my condition, some kind of shield against the horrors of the blank page. I wasn’t sure that I felt mysticism was for me, or that I would necessarily continue to help out on these night time adventures. But I was sure that whatever was to happen next, it would necessarily be guided by patience. I would steadily build a foundation from which to make minor incursions in to a world that had a life beyond its author. Discovery would be my calling. As I had learnt the pathological nature of paradise, this time I would be steady and calm. My discoveries need not be ‘world changing’ but would reward careful planning only in their subtlety, nuance and ambivalence. No longer blessing or curse, I now learn about myself through the otherness of the language in which I am existing: my land is this page.
Postscript: Long ago I was asked by a friend to write something that had to begin with the phrase, “My land is…”. I gave my only copy of the story to her, as a confused declaration of affection perhaps, and never saw it again. As a reader of this blog suggested that one of the next Subtle Sci-fi stories be about memory, I decided to try to rewrite the story from memory.