COFFEE SHOP THOUGHTS - Ian Ferguson

 
COFFEE SHOP THOUGHTS

I’m writing in a coffee shop. While I write, I remember a story of me as a two-year old toddling about on the yard of our family’s tenement building when I picked up a tiny yellow featherless dead baby bird which had fallen from its nest in the eaves of the building, put it in my mouth, and tried to eat it. My frantic mother saved me from almost certain death and as I reminisce, I begin to remember just how inquisitive I was as a child. My primary school teacher called me inquisitive but said it in such a way that made me feel as if there was something wrong with me, something not quite right. She told my mother I’d grow out of when I was older.

Well, now I’m at an age when I’m supposed to be grown-up and, if anything, I’m more inquisitive than ever. I don’t feel grown-up, I still feel like a wee boy. The wee boy that got his hands and head stuck in things because he couldn’t resist poking them in to see what would happen. The wee boy who licked the cake mixture off the mixing spoon not realising that there was raw egg in the mixture. The wee boy who played dead-man-falls and football and hide-and-seek until it was dark and he could barely walk from exhaustion. The wee boy who eventually became a man, a man who still eats dead birds but waits until they’re cooked these days.

I became a man but, and it’s a big but, I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up. I’m not even sure I’ll ever properly grow up, and I’m not even sure I want to.

I’ve always felt different, unusual, as if somehow I didn’t quite fit in. It’s not that I don’t have friends, I have them aplenty. It’s not that I didn’t have friends as a child, I’ve always had friends. And yet, somehow, I’ve always felt different, as if I was a spectator in my own life, watching from the side-lines as I skipped and tripped and trudged and ran and fell and crawled and flew through life. And now here I am suddenly discovering a new perspective at the ripe old age of fifty-five. They say life begins at forty. All right, so I’m fifteen years late; I was never particularly good at keeping to time. So what, who cares, I’m here now, let’s go.

So, I am writing in a coffee shop. Coffee-shop writing is almost a cliché in my country where there are reportedly two million citizens writing a novel. How do they know these things? Is there are bureau of national statistics you can phone to report the things you do in your spare time? Perhaps I should call that bureau? I can imagine the conversation:

“Hello,” I say. “Is that the bureau of national statistics?”

“Yes, sir,” says the voice on the other end of the line. “How can I help?”

“I’m phoning to let you know I’m writing a novel.”

“Thank you for letting us know, sir, we have up-dated our database. Is there anything else I can do for you today?”

“Well, yes there is, can you tell me how many other people are writing a novel?”

 “If you bear with me a moment, sir …” Some classical music plays in the background and then the voice returns. “Sir, there are two million people currently writing a novel.”

“OK, thank you, goodbye.”

“Thank you, sir, have a nice day.”

I am writing a novel. I have been for years, and only really discovered in the last year that writing isn’t only an act of the imagination, it is a physical act. Only imagination is an act of imagination. Writing is the act of turning that imagination into words on the page. It sounds obvious but requires some scrutiny. Writing is an act where the brain sends a signal to the hand holding the pen, or both hands if it’s a computer keyboard. Once opened, this channel becomes a conduit for thoughts and ideas, for words, for life, for love. Writing is a physical act, an act that must be performed, for without that act of writing, a melancholy descends like a fine black shroud, a depression of sorts, one that can only be broken by breaking the inertia of non-writing. The ink of the pen is the serotonin for the writer and when the drug is administered, the writer is happy and healthy again, until the next time writers’ block occurs, or more accurately doesn’t, because it’s a non-happening thing. Writers’ block? Is it like sun block, which protects the skin from the harmful rays of the sun? Does writer’s block protect the writer from the harmful effects of his repressed thoughts and words. Does writer’s block protect the writer from the cyclical protective argument: 'if you can’t write, you can’t write badly, if you can’t write badly, you can’t fail' … or succeed. Writer’s block protects us from criticism other than our own. If we don’t perform the act of writing, the channel from the infinite intelligence, the ever-present ether of ideas and inspiration that holds the words, the stories, the tales, in limbo waiting for the channel to be tuned into and accessed, offers up these ideas and inspiration and words and stories to others, those who are performing the act of writing. Have you ever read something that you know you thought of as an original idea? I have. As soon as I think those thoughts, they rise to the universal ether and become available as other people's thinking. And yet, if I open up the channel and take the risk of letting the ideas and thoughts come through, why then can’t I articulate those ideas and thoughts on paper. I have lofty thoughts, ambitious even, yet I cannot transform them into a form of words that fully and colourfully express how they felt in the instant they were experienced. This is injustice in its most vile form. Nevertheless, I am writing in a coffee shop and I now re-read what I have just written:

I first saw him on a golden morning, just after dawn, the air as crisp as a newly-laundered cotton shirt. I had chosen that day to walk to work, buoyed by the light of that spring morning and a growing desire to stop polluting the planet with my foul chemical-emitting vehicle. He was lying asleep, it seemed, curled in a foetal position at the base of a large oak which was beginning to colour with April leaves. He was partially obscured by the tall reeds which populate the bank of the nearby stream and at first I thought it was a discarded overcoat. Something made me stop, some unseen force caused me to wonder. I edged towards the coat, with him inside, my shoes taking in water from the sodden moss like a stricken sail boat. Within touching distance, I stopped. I could hear my own breathing, an ugly rasping sound in the stillness and purity of that morning, the air cold enough to create white billows as I exhaled. What was I to do? Should I wake him? What if he didn’t wake? What if he was dead? What then?

I hate what I have written, but then again, I hate everything I write immediately after I have written it. I find writing therapeutic, annoying, enlightening, cathartic, depressing, amusing, dream-inducing, sleep-disturbing, stimulating, soporific, irritating but, above all, excruciating, and yet I still do it ... what does that say about me?

And now, the physical act of writing must be abandoned, my coffee is finished. I begin to clear away all of my things: my laptop, my pen, my notebook, and my newspaper, The Herald. I notice an article in the newspaper which I had not seen earlier. Reading it I see it is an article concerning the Office of National Statistics (so, there is an office for national statistics after all?) This Office states that the average life expectancy of a Glasgow man is about seventy years of age, seventy-one point six, to be exact, but seventy is near enough for rock and roll. When I think about this I develop a bit of a homespun theory. There are seven days of the week and if we imagine that every day of the week equates to ten years, that means that at my current age of 55 it is Saturday afternoon, I only have Saturday night and all day on Sunday left, in relative terms a weekend remaining, I bloody better make it a good one.

I make a pact with myself: I’m going to finish my novel before it’s too late.