Category Archives: Writing

Memories of San Francisco

The early Summer Sun is flashes on City Hall’s golden dome — a beacon for the West — as I step inside, moving along the long marble staircase, in the heart of our secular Vatican where we paid $75 to be married all those years ago.

I pause next to the statue of Harvey Milk. We took photos here, Julia’s little boxy TLR making the whole thing so retro, and Sebastian’s weird digital camera pulling us down the Peninsula into the future. We were Bladerunner-Poets, beatniks from the future sent to kill each other.

It’s quiet inside. Saturday, skeleton crew. There’s the room where we said our vows. I did, I’d swear. Nothing’s changed, even with so many differences.

I walk back to the staircase and sit down, palms on the cool, wide steps. We went from here to Tommy’s Joynt, just up the road, for a beer and pickles reception. We could just about afford a cash bar and choice of hot meal from the line — most of our friends stuck to the free but technically illicit pickles. The bartender turned a blind eye, and even bought a round of well shots. Someone told him that this was his place in history, and he played along.

I pass it as I walk up the street. It’s nice that it’s still there — so much of San Francisco has gone missing. But I won’t go in — I don’t drink like that any more. The Sun is beating down — merciless. It’s quiet at this hour, even if the streets around here are never totally quiet. People are hung over, or hiding from the heat.

The Cable Car is waiting for me when I reach California. It was expensive then — thankfully we had Fast Passes; if we’d had to pay cash I suspect you’d refused my touristy obsession — too cool, too local, too Native to love the Cable Car the way I do. I don’t have a Fast Pass now, but I pay cash. How could it be even more expensive?

The little car is mostly empty. People have other things to do, I guess. It’s not the prettiest part of town, the west side of the Hills, but it doesn’t take long to get to the Fairmont. And then the Bay is there, Bridge and Tunnel still carrying a Jersey-like connotation. But it’s beautiful; it still takes my breath away.

I step off and walk up into Chinatown. You hated that I loved the tourist spots, no matter how long I lived in the City. It’s still tacky souvenirs, strange groceries, and mixed illegally imported goods — all designed to take the money of tourists who think they’re getting a deal. I’m thinking about Vesuvio, North Beach, long Summer nights at tired neighbourhood dives, late meals of ethnic food — Burmese, Ethiopian, Indian pizza, whatever was trendy.

The corner opposite Old Saint Mary’s is where it all came to an end. My Emperor left me here, a lifetime ago. You were always such a drama queen.

‘Why are you crying, Daddy?’

The face of a six year-old shouldn’t hold that kind of concern.

‘Daddy knew a man, darling. He died here.’

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Little Mouse

Little mouse

A hundred years
of evolution have
made you the
colour of the
platform.

Does it help you see
the point of the Tube?

Sometimes, you see,
I have doubts.

******

I found this poem stuck into the pages of a book I left at the pub’s new lending library. Good thing I checked, it’s not bad, and I obviously forgot all about it shortly after writing it.

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The Continuing Adventures of a Newly-Minted Literary Snob (AKA Writing is Hard)

I was out for a concert yesterday with a friend. He’s working up to self-publishing a book, and I’m excited for him. But I think that didn’t come through in the conversation, because I’m (apparently) a literary snob. You could see how that might mask my excitement.

Trying to be a fairly open-minded fellow, I asked why he thought that. His points: basically that I am critical of a lot of self-published work (absolutely true), and that I do admire some ‘classic’ authors — Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Murakami — a bit too much for his liking. The take-away, as the kids call it, was that if I want to read his book, I’m going to have to buy it once it’s published. Which I would have done — and will do — anyway.

I could argue that I have plenty of pop fiction on my shelves: Practical Demonkeeping, Vish Puri, The Laundry series, A Song of Fire and Ice, the Elric saga (all of them), the Black Company… I could go on, but the contents of my reading lists aren’t really in question, I suppose, as much as my attitude to writing is. It was only after a couple of days that I figured that out.

Let’s go back to the beginning of this, and talk about me — but hopefully in an honest way. I am (and have been since a teen) a self-professed writer, who writes so infrequently it’s a joke. I’ve distracted myself with lots of travel (excuse: great source material), work (excuse: gotta bring in the money), and computing (excuse: solve that puzzle).

Truth be told, writing fiction is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. It’s more personal than donating an organ, more intimate than sex, and ultimately expository. Putting words that mean something to you on a page opens your heart to whatever stranger happens to read it. And then, if they don’t like it, you’re — by your own admission — not any good.

To paraphrase the discussion, at one point I said something like: ‘You might as well work in an office, as write transcriptions of roleplaying games.’ And I believe that, but instead of starting with ‘You’ it should have start with ‘I’ because, for me at least, writing should be terrible, hard, and pull from my soul.

I’ve written werewolf screenplays, Cthulhiana , Elric fan-fic, and many more less ‘literary’ things. If I could complete, and sell them, I would do so in a heartbeat. But somehow they’re not enough for me. Yes, there are nuggets of truth found in most written work, but to put myself through the wringer every day, I think my intentions should be to shoot for the stars, not just turn over a paycheque. There are a lot of easier ways to make a living.

So am I a snob? Honestly, I don’t know, because ‘snob’ is a loaded word: ‘A person who believes that their tastes in a particular area are superior to those of other people.’ People will read whatever they like: Dan Brown, Harry Potter, Hemingway, Jim Butcher, and I don’t really care (some of those are on my bookshelves, and some aren’t). A lot of it is just not for me, just as Jane Austin, Bram Stoker, and Moby Dick aren’t. Of course, I’d probably struggle, if not fail, at writing any of the above.

So to my friend, all I can say is that I respect the amount of work you put in. I’ll try and do the same, and hopefully we both come out of it all with something we’re proud of.

Oh, and, I’m definitely reading your book once it’s published!

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The Fishmonger of Pike Street Overpass

It’s an unseasonably hot afternoon in Seattle. She’s leaning on the railing of the Pike Street overpass, psychedelic gypsy skirt, black tank top, Audrey Hepburn sunglasses. Her hair is a long, brunette ponytail. She has a partially-completed tattoo sleeve on her left shoulder. It was started a long time ago.

The cars stream down the highway, bright shafts of reflected sunlight seeking uncovered eyes. Hundreds of people on their way somewhere, swimming downstream with society at speed. She’s like a statue. I’m standing with a homeless man by his cardboard encampment. Neither of us are doing what we’re supposed to do right now.

But it can’t last forever.

‘Spare some change?’

I look over, and hand the homeless man $10.

Of course, she’s gone by the time I turn back. Even my memories of her start to slip away, again. True memories, like fish, are deliberately slippery. They’re hard to keep hold of at the best of times.

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Like school days

I’m reading Faulkner when she comes in. She sits on the bed, close enough that I can feel her.

‘What’s going on?’ She sounds just like she did when we were in university. A little more sober, maybe, but otherwise pitch-perfect.

‘Trying to read. Not successfully.’

‘Go ahead and ask. I know you’re dying to ask.’

‘Where is he?’

‘I don’t know, and even if I did, I would tell you I don’t. You need to give it. Put the past behind you.’

Her hand is resting on my arm, then my ribs, and then, well, it’s also like university, that part. Excitement, lust, and a little desperation as a new ingredient. Then she leaves.

I can hear her, in her room, afterwards, watching television — the shrieks of some slasher film carry through. I get up to go to the bathroom. Her bedroom is at the end of the hallway, and the door is open.

‘Everything okay?’ She is sitting on the edge of the bed watching a scary movie with a blanket over her shoulders, just like she used to do.

‘Great,’ she whispers — trying not to wake everyone, I guess. ‘You?’

‘Yeah, great.’

I walk out of the hallway and into the bathroom. When I go back to bed, her door is shut, muffling the television’s noise.

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