A day in the life

I began this post last week, but boring things like being ill got in the way, so now that I’m beginning to get better, I thought I’d start again. And since I have begun again, other small things have conspired to interrupt me, so this will no longer have the resonance of date and time that I originally intended. But then, in the grand scheme of things, that doesn’t matter so much. Memory is independent from time and place; these things together become the nodes that are used to sharpen Memory, individual and collective.

So, ten years ago, on the Day the World Changed in general, I was halfway through my first Open University course, and wrestling with an essay comparing important turning points in Medea and Wide Sargasso Sea. It was lunchtime, and I wasn’t trying terribly hard to concentrate. Rather than going back uspstairs to my desk after lunch, I thought I’d relax my brain with a bit of random television. There was a film just starting on Channel 4, That Hamilton Woman, romantic 1940s costume drama masquerading as history. I don’t remember how far into the film it was when the first plane hit the World Trade Centre, but Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh would have been smouldering with either passion or regret, or a mixture of both. The film was interrupted for live footage from New York, and a bit of speculation that it was simply a horrific accident. People repeated themselves for a bit, but with no new information, Channel 4 returned to the film. Not for long. After the second plane… I didn’t move from the sofa until very late into the night. My bed felt wider and colder than usual – my husband was in the middle of a fifteen week residential National Police Training course in Oxfordshire. I didn’t sleep much that night.

September 11th 2007, I was coming to the end of the last course (Shakespeare; Text and Performance) of my BA with the Open University. The essay under construction was a juicy ‘Compare and contrast representations of desire in Cymbeline, Antony and Cleopatra and The Sonnets’ (only 3 of them thank goodness, 129,130 and 147). It was also the day I became an aunt, for the first time. Tom’s arrival changed my brother’s world completely. And on Sunday the family gathered together to celebrate Tom’s 4th birthday with a Star Wars themed birthday cake; he was entranced. And also very boisterous and loud – but he’s 4, and there was a lot of sugar, so that’s normal. It was a Good Day, and a Day of Remembrance; and the two things, so widely disparate for reasons of general grief and particular joy, come together because they must, because  -without wishing to sound trite –  life is like that. What more can be said?

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Thank you for the music

Shakespeare. I adore him, or rather I adore his way with words ( I suspect he may have been a bit smelly in person). Take the opening lines of Twelfth Night, lovelorn and sentimental though they are,

If music be the food of love, play on,

Give me excess of it, that, surfeiting,

The appetite may sicken, and so die.

(I,i, 1-3)

still they express the power of music, the sway it exerts over the imagination open to ‘shapes of fancy’ (I,i, 14).

Shakespeare, however, is not the point of this post. Music is. Music has always flavoured my moods, my thoughts, and my writing. I was quite happily struggling with a short story when the Main Character coalesced into a real person. The trigger was a song. Other songs suggested themselves, a playlist evolved – iTunes is so useful! In the old days I would have to make a mix tape – and there he is, ready, waiting, writable. The last time this happened with such – imperative fervour? force? – was when Belissa stepped forward, almost fully formed, from my imagination.

Strong characters require playlists of individual tracks, component ingredients that round out the character’s flavour. I find this works well for short stories. Novels however require certain albums; these season the mood, the scale, tone of what I write, as I’m writing it. And I already know what I’ll be listening to next month. In the meantime, I’d better open iTunes and get on with the story at hand.