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Tim Love

Tim Love

Tim Love’s publications are a poetry pamphlet Moving Parts (HappenStance, 2010) and a story collection By All Means (Nine Arches Press, 2012). He lives in Cambridge, UK. His poetry and prose have appeared in Stand, Rialto, Oxford Poetry, Journal of Microliterature, Short Fiction, and others.

A New Start

I give up writing, seek a contrasting partner, someone outside the box, the page. An artist ideally—galleries are great pick-up places, and art students are easy. I meet someone at the Cubist retrospective so I can bring in multiple perspectives. I make the running for the first few paragraphs then once she sees I'm serious she talks about her family, hoping to exchange childhood memories—

           I remember on holiday once my parents took me on a trip to see some

           ruins. I kept moaning about wanting a blow-up boat for the beach. On our

           way back to the caravan that night my father stopped at a seaside shop and

           bought one. All night I worried that I'd drift away in it. So over breakfast   

           I asked for rope. And then my mother shouted at me, saying that I was            never satisfied. You see, I was insecure even then.

I have nothing to offer in return because I hate making things up. A shame—the rope image deserves to be continued. Maybe an allusion to bondage might enliven things—some sex to show her I'm not just an intellectual, to show you how I intellectualise that too.

Instead I transplant other truths; a little hotel I recently stayed in where the furniture had been handed down to the owner, the walls full of framed bible quotes embroidered in satin. Smells weren't suppressed there—each room welcomed me with a new scent, like an antique shop that had suffered flood damage. On the mantelpiece was a black columned clock with a IIII rather than IV on the face. She tries again, this time with

           My grandma lives in sheltered accommodation. She's taken her clock with   

           her which she keeps winding up. At night she can see under her door the     

           corridor light. She thinks she's paying for it and wants to turn it off. But she

           can't find the key to her door, so she thumps with her hairbrush until the

           matron arrives.

Does she tell me about her grandma to warn me of hereditary madness before we get too deep? Or to lead the relationship into greater intimacy? I reply by talking about Picasso and Braque, how they felt like two mountaineers roped together as they explored. Thus the story develops, flashbacks alternating with evasions. But towards the middle it sags. Well at least I tried. Rejection's something I got used to as a writer. I shouldn't always blame myself. There are two sides to every story. Yet still I wonder whether I should have asked for the drawing she made of me, or whether I should have been glad she wanted to keep it. For whose benefit is realism?

Sorry about that. I know self-pity's not a pretty sight. Let's start again.

           I cycle past the little window of a whitewashed cottage on the way to work.

           I can never see inside. One summer's day the window was open. I heard a

           woman sneeze and a piano reverberate.

It's a passage from my notebook. I could tighten the language, throw in some linebreaks and with a hint in the title, present it as a little Imagist poem like so


           One morning, cycling past the little cottage
           that I can never see inside, I hear a
           woman sneeze, a piano reverberate.

I doubt whether many short-story readers would enjoy an embedded anecdote as much as they would the poem, even though the story might contain several such gems. To claim that the story option is better—or at least, less of a cop-out—is as silly as saying that the Beatles should have made the "Yesterday" melody into a symphony rather than a 2' 06" track. That said, "Yesterday" is rather short. So if I'm going to use fragments like this what should fill the gaps between them? Options include

           * Nothing—compacted cubist fragments and nothing else
           * White space—to let the images breathe
           * Absorbent text—to magnify and refract the effect of the fragments. Maybe

                     I could make a story out of them, a dot-to-dot.

I didn't recognise her from her sneeze but it surely wasn't coincidence that I Googled for Sue that night. Amazingly we'd ended up in the same city. 15 years ago us housemates used to call her Looby Loo. I can't recall why. She kept her room locked whether she was in or not. You could smell her habit from the street beneath her window so you can imagine what the house was like—we got high too. The landlord found out, broke into her room with a hammer and chisel. She left that night, the last I saw of her. Nowadays she's advertizing herself online as a self-employed artist. So I arranged a meeting pretending to be a prospective client. We met at the gallery cafe. She recognised me. We got on just fine. I convinced myself that it wouldn't be like last time. We were going steady—an improvement on sagging I suppose. She seemed so curious about my life. Quite flattering really. There wasn't really a cubism exhibition. They were showing sequences—Warhol, a few of Monet's Chartres Cathedral and haystack paintings. But then we hit the rocks

           "What is it? A stained glass window?" I said
           "No, it's an abstract."
           "Let's face it, it could be upside down and no-one could tell the difference."
           "I'm beginning to think we shouldn't see that film tonight."
           "What do you mean, Sue?"

            "I mean I don't think we're made for each other."

I was joking but she didn't understand. I knew that the painting was the last in a Mondrian sequence beginning with a realistic tree that gradually lost its leaves and rectangularised its branches against a bright sunset, finally stylised beyond recognition. By then it was too late. When I was a writer I could use failures as material. Now they just hurt. Why start, analyse, start again, analyse again all in public? Why wear your brain on your sleeve? Surely we've all seen enough groundhog days and vicious circles to last a lifetime.

Aside from aesthetic considerations there's also a moral dimension to truth. Is it sufficient merely to change her name? Sooner or later she'll recognise herself. Is it right or even legal to enhance my reputation and wealth by repeating her anecdotes? Perhaps she invented them. Maybe even published them. Shouldn't I at least contact her first to ask her permission? If I say that writing is good therapy for me would she believe my story? And yet so often stories fail because we cling too desperately to reality. The sad truth is that sometimes things just don't work out. It's no good blaming the characters. The onus is on us to start again. Besides, as we touch-up detail to improve the past, it becomes hard to recall what actually happened. They say that memory is much like imagination, that they share some neural circuitry. When we try to remember, we invent the background and details to suit our future. Psychologists call it the Janus hypothesis. Looking ahead and strengthening our imagination improves our ability to look back. Writing a story changes our lives.

Often its beginning prefigures the end, a broken dish fore-shadowing the infidelity revealed in the punch-line. Or maybe I heard the start of an anecdote as I passed someone at a public phone on the way to the old hotel. I lingered, curious to know how things worked out, whether I could make a story from it. Endings are even more various and harder to classify. They are also apparently harder to write well. According to "The Narrative Modes: techniques of the short story" by Helmut Bonheim 31% of stories end with speech, in 8% the main character dies, in 7% there's a symbolic final event (a door closing, a journey ends, etc), and in 1% there's a wedding (in novels the percentage is far higher). Over 15% end with a sentence of 5 words or less.

But I'm not there yet. In fact, I feel another start coming on. Please, give me one more chance

          When I was little my parents woke me early one Saturday, saying we were

           going to the seaside. They didn't tell me that hours away a freighter had

          capsized, and its cargo was Lego. We spent all day searching the beaches.

          We got there too late. The crates had all been opened.

After the break-up I don't change my cycle route to work. Instead I embellish the description—flowers in the windowbox, the uneven walls, the small panes of glass in black frames, how all I could see through the window is the back window. I used to hear her sneeze in her student room, the result of snorting. She was the only art student amongst us. She said she didn't trust herself in a colony of artists. No self control. At school she was blowfootball champion. She said she used to love the giddiness. We kept her feet on the ground. I slept with her a few times. I think we all did, hence my assumption about art students. She made sure that the following night I knew she'd brought someone else home. She was noisy in bed.

Perhaps I should make more of the Artist/Writer distinction. According to "Writer's Guide to Character Traits" by Linda N. Edelstein both writers and artists are unconventional and need isolation. There are differences too—writers are wounded and fearful of mediocrity; artists are asocial and inwardly driven. It's a satisfying mix of similarities and differences. It should have worked. Wordsworth wrote that rhyme, meter and sex all derive from "the pleasure which the mind derives from the perception of similitude in dissimilitude. This principle is the great spring of the activity of our minds, and their chief feeder." What the books don't say is if I meet someone because they're a contrast, what happens when they become more extreme? Should I re-balance the relationship by becoming more extreme in the other direction, or try to follow the trend? For example, males ask questions to elicit information whereas females query to show interest. What should the man do if the woman keeps questioning but doesn't ever want to understand? Add to that the Poetry/Prose dichotomy—how much white space can a relationship tolerate? By the way, did you notice that the poem was in syllabics? Bisexuals have twice the fun. Not prose nor verse—they write haibun.

Time to retreat, rebuild. That Lego gets everywhere. It infiltrates settees, becomes keyrings at craft fairs, takes over theme parks, doesn't hide its Legoness, even in computer games. If Italy had rationalised its pasta the way the Lego range was in the 70s, it wouldn't be in such a mess now. Lego's outlasted rivals. A company called its cloned product o6d7. Turn it upside down and you'll see what a poor imitation it was. Once you put the pieces together you could never take them apart. Maybe it's better that way.


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