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Almost writing

By Nicholas Laughlin

Published in The Caribbean Review of Books, November 2006

It is Friday night. I am sitting at my desk. I am almost writing. My desk is a plain square table three and a half feet by three and a half feet, painted brown. To my right hand is a pile of books. To my left hand is a lamp with its hinged neck bent at an uncomfortable angle. The lamp is not switched on. Behind the lamp is a red plastic tray piled with papers and notebooks. Directly in front of me is my PowerBook. Behind the PowerBook is a pencil-holder full of pencils, pens, rulers, scissors. Next to that is a little wooden carving of three monkeys. The first monkey covers his ears with his hands. The second covers his mouth. The third covers his eyes. Next to the monkeys are four little wooden boxes containing various odds and ends: staples, beads, ends of twine. Next to the boxes is a glass paperweight. I am almost writing.

It is eight minutes past nine. My desk faces a window about ten feet away. The window looks out onto a wall and the far corner of the back garden. It is dark outside and I can barely make out the silhouettes of the shrubs at the end of the garden. Dozens of little frogs are singing outside but unless I think about them I don’t hear them. I am almost writing.

I am listening to Satie’s Gnossiennes. I often listen to Satie when I am almost writing. Other kinds of music distract: make me hum, or rap my fingers on the arm of my chair, or sing a phrase or two. For some reason Satie does not distract.

I am doodling on a scrap of paper I have just fished out of my wastepaper basket. I use this basket not to throw bits of paper away but to store bits of paper that have been doodled upon and may be wanted for further doodling. So the basket is never emptied. This scrap of paper already has a doodle on one side: an imaginary map. I am doodling on the other side: another imaginary map. I usually doodle maps, especially when I am almost writing. Coastline, rivers, cities, provinces. There may be a war: something may be conquered, a boundary may change. There may be a treaty. Someone may found an empire. For ten minutes I ponder the affairs of these imaginary countries: whole populations wait unbreathing while I decide their fate. A line of blue ink divides a nation. I fold the piece of paper and tuck it carefully into the overflowing wastepaper basket until it is wanted again. I am almost writing.

My study is a small room completely lined with bookcases and the bookcases are full of books. I look up at the shelves with their lovely patterns of book spines like multicoloured stripes running round the room: better than paintings. I read the titles on the spines on a shelf to the left of my desk. I immediately want to read every book on the shelf. That one is an old favourite. That one I’ve always meant to read but haven’t found the time. That one has that passage I marked in the margin and meant to go back to. That one: yes. I am almost writing, and that one, that one has been written, and perhaps if I read a few pages chosen at random I will understand how it was written, and then I will write. I get up from my desk, take the book from the shelf, let it fall open in my hands, read the first sentence. So this is what a sentence looks and sounds like: this is how one writes. One uses certain words, mentions certain names. Yes, I understand. I am almost writing. I get up from my desk again and put the book back on the shelf. Yes, I am almost writing. I open a new Word file. A beautiful field of white pixels: untouched: ready. I see myself as a character in a very intellectual movie, perhaps French. I am sitting at my desk. I am very good-looking, because I am writing. Or almost writing. I am gazing intently at the PowerBook screen and the air around me is incredibly pure and clear, because I am brilliant, almost glowing with genius, and I am doing the most important thing in the world: I am almost writing. It is terribly poignant: what a movie, no wonder it’s French. No: but I am not French. I am almost writing.

No, no, I am tapping my foot on the floor: Satie is distracting me.

I am almost writing.

It is thirty-five minutes past nine. I have not had dinner. Since I sat at my desk two hours ago I have been almost writing. I have read several emails and an article about a photography exhibition; I have drunk a glass of red wine; I have doodled a map. I have imagined myself in a French movie about a writer: it is likely that a government may fall or a revolution may break out because of what that writer is writing. It is a terrible responsibility, a terrible burden, but that writer in the French movie keeps writing. But the movie flickers on and off: the image will not stay still. The frogs are singing. The monkeys have their hands clapped over their ears, their mouths, their eyes. The lovely colours of the book spines — oranges, greys, blues — ripple round the room. I am almost writing. It is Friday night. I am sitting at my desk. I am almost glowing with genius — I am not yet — I am very good-looking — I will not get up from my desk again — I will not slump down in my chair —

I am not writing yet.