"We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars"
Oscar Wilde

Happiness

An extract from a short story about a young man and his relationship with his Granddad. In the story the man receives stern advice from a wiser and older mind than his own; from their outrages conversations he begins to draw inspiration to work on his writing. This is not your classic family dynamic!

Wednesday 14th January

“How are you young man? You sure are growing fast.”
“I’m not a kid anymore Granddad”
“Of course not, because that would make you a young goat and not a young man. Don’t know if you’ve ever been a kid so I can’t for the life of me understand where you’re coming from.”
“Such nonsense Granddad, you know what I meant.”
“I’m not sure as to whether I can ever truly know what you mean, ever, ever, let alone right now whilst you insist on having experienced your childhood as a damned goat! Anyway enough of your semantics, answer the question.”
“My semantics! Christ!”, I huffed in a manner of false agitation, glad it had to be said that he had moved the conversation onwards. “Im good thank you, yourself?”
“I’m very well, and how is the writing going?”

Lacking something. That’s how the writing is going. No drive. No knowledge. No inspiration and even less imagination. Just words juggled on a page forming elaborate sentences, commas, and compounds, laid down systematically to create false impressions of epiphany, as if the complexity of the language, when correctly employed, somehow gives way to innate knowledge contained within it, even with a concrete lack of content.

“Its fine. Coming along nicely.”
“And the magazine?”
“The content is a little restrictive, but they allow for my style to an extent.” I shrugged my shoulders; “it’s a job”.
“And the freelancing?”
“You know how it is Granddad”
“So you keep telling me, but how can I know anything when you tell me so little?”

It was so very typical of my granddad to push me along with his words. Where others would bite their tongue or mince their words he would fire the bullet. Like everyone else he could see the smallest of lie, or the most subtle of reservations. But unlike others he had the most profound capability to draw it out of me.

“What have the publishers said?” he pressed forth.
“They have turned it down… they…”
“You didn’t send it did you.”
My heart dropped. It is easy to lie to yourself, but not so easy to get caught in the act of bare-faced lying to a loved one. I stuttered and then proceeded with my defence.

“I… I can’t stand it. It’s not me. It’s not art. It’s not an expression. Every time I put pen to paper my ideas lack the purity of the original thought. Every word softens the meaning, every description falls short of the experience it aims to convey. And every great writer must know it. We write for hours to capture the hours that have passed, but like a choreographed dance, or a posy group photo we lose the true meaning in our very attempt to capture and contain it.

“Then write about that.” he answered flatly.

“I have done. A million times. That and a hundred other floating impressions jotted down with no context and no way of binding the ideas together. They are just words. No structure. And every time I impose a structure I lose the meaning; the raw feeling of the idea. It’s always one or the other. Divine inspirations whispered in spontaneous bursts of clarity, translated into written English as drearily as one transcribes an interview. The result; my so-called divine inspiration falls from grace. The angel is dragged through a hedge backwards and the idea becomes a mishmash of tangled letters somewhat resembling the spaghetti-bloody-alphabet.”

“So cynical”
“It’s not cynical it’s true”
“And I am supposed to be the old man.” he chuckled. If someone where to listen to us they might get confused as to which one has the beard and the crippling arthritis.” His stony laugh filled the air. “So what will you do?”
“I don’t know,” I replied, “keep on writing.”

Tea and Ginger Biscuits

I hadn’t always visited my granddad regularly. For years I wanted nothing less than to sit in that room, decorated with disgusting floral wallpaper, and filled with the wretchedly inoffensive scent of tea and ginger biscuits. I wanted booze and cigarettes. Then I wanted booze and cannabis, and then ecstasy and women and music and laughter and dancing until six in the morning without a care in the world.

But there comes a time when any activity repeated often enough becomes dull, and well… a little repetitive. Everything peaks. Afterwards it ebbs and flows, never quite returning to it’s glorious heyday, leaving post-pubescent party goers feeling stunned, or worse, craving old times. The wise accept the inevitable change and move forward. And then the scent of tea and ginger biscuits becomes more alluring.

It is not all, however, simply a monotonous decline from ecstasy to tea. There comes a genuine point in space-time-mind-body where the desire to drink until dawn, vomit, swill it down with a pill and the saliva of a wrecked girl, and wake up with a sore head, leg, stomach, mouth, nose, eyes, chest, lung, liver, kidney, balls and penis, and a mind so unbearably ridden with shame that if you do manage to get out of the house you will simply not be able to face looking the other dog walkers in the eye, diminishes.

This urge, it seems at least for me, is gradually losing it’s meaning and is being replaced by different urges; the urge to be healthy, happy, to love, to create and think, to better understand the world and the self. Music, travel, art, poetry, museums, foods of the world, and tea and ginger biscuits.

I will visit my granddad again this week. Lately, I feel I cannot miss a week, not even because I am much of a family man, but because his company delights me, and the conversations we have might finally give me some inspiration for my writing.

Wednesday 20th January

“Hello there boy, how’s your week been?”
“ ‘Boy?’ Here we go again.”
“Ha! Only kidding Billy.”
“My name is…”
“I know what your name is. Lighten up and stop your bleating.” He laughed so deeply that I could not help but join in. “How has your week been then?” he continued. “Last week you told me you were going to keep writing. This week then, you should tell me what you’ve written.”
“Not much.” I admitted.
“Not much, or nothing?”
“I wrote something. I wrote about the smell of tea and ginger biscuits in your house.”
“I’m flattered,” he laughed, “was it a descriptive piece?” Let me see it.”
“I haven’t got it with me. It’s just a page anyway.”
“Just a page! Call yourself a freelance writer. A wise man once said that if love doing something you should do it everyday. If you want to be a writer, you should be writing everyday.”
“And what do you do everyday Granddad? What do you love?”
“It was a young wise man who said that. Nowadays I love baking programs, so I watch them everyday.” And he laughed again, so loudly that the walls seemed to shake.

“You seem different today Granddad”
“I went to watch some stand up comedy the other night. It’s reignited my sense of humour as I’m sure you can tell. So back to you. Maybe next week it would be enjoyable to read something of yours?”
“You’re setting me homework?”
“Yes, and if you don’t do it then there will be no tea and biscuits.”
“So, what shall I write about?” I asked, instantly realising the response I was asking for.
“Whatever you want, I’m not here to impose structure on you. You should write about whatever you think about.”


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