KimKimmidyKimKim. I met her, I dunno, ten years ago maybe. Online. I wrote something about slapped cheeks, lichen and tree bark (I was a poet then) and she came right back at me. She was big, one of those people who PROJECTS real good, their vision and personality. And she was coming to England, from Australia, to teach at The London Film School.
We met up at The Dorset, inside. I kept looking to the door, searching for the face of a stranger I'd never seen. No, it was outside and I was sitting on a metal chair, flicking away at my cigarette. Does it matter? The whole scene?
She ordered a 'flat white'. I laughed. Her voice sounded foreign, like I knew she was from somewhere else and different to me, with her languages, tastes. So anyway, we talked and I was blown because she'd brought a suitcase. Those Aussies, they must understand hospitality in a whole other way. I forgot my handbag when we left and had to go back. No, it was my umbrella.
She wore faded, striped pyjamas, burgundy and cream, men's, baggy out all over the place. On Thursday we went to Preston Park and sat outside the roundhouse, next to the fountain that never founts, just by the rose garden where the two statues stand all embarrassed about themselves, because they're kinda small and life just happens around them.
I told Kim about the woman statue, with the broken arm and the stab marks in her back, how I wanted to make a film, but I'd never made a film. I knew exactly how it would go. My friend KT, with the broken arm and the stab marks in her back, would wear a ball gown, she'd get down on her knees and work her way up the statue's body, stopping when she got to the broken arm, which she'd finger fuck, endlessly, forever, because that's what you do to a broken armed statue with stab marks in its back if you're a broken armed woman with stab marks in your back.
KT got broke a long time ago when her kid died. I couldn't fix her. We had a fight once, because she came to see my kid when he was in hospital (he was in hospital a lot back then). I was screwed, yeah, mentally, all in my head, even though my body would do that standing up thing, and I just lost it. I ended up screaming at her that she was lucky her kid was dead, she had the GET OUT OF JAIL FREE card, could keep passing GO, because her life wasn't on hold, waiting to see, constantly at the beck and call of some neurological fuck up. I mean, when you're dead, you don't have to live with it and neither does anyone else. I couldn't live with it. In and out of hospital all the time. I was losing him, piece by piece. You ever watched someone disappear right in front of your eyes? And that's why KT's still my friend, because she understood, understands.
'Just do it,' Kim said, like a bad Nike ad. So, I borrowed a video camera. No experience whatsoever. 'How hard can it be?' I thought, a few buttons, a bit of imagination, sure I can transfer what's in my head, including all my intentions, into the consciousness of another. I waited until Matt was out with Ben, unpacked the huge kit, because they were huge then, before DV, and set it up in my lounge. Damned if I could turn the damn thing on though. Three fucking hours later and I still couldn't turn it on. You know when people talk about realisation, they make it seem like it's this slow thing that happens, dawns on you. My realisation didn't happen that way, it hit a stick against the palm of its hand and then beat me into the floor.
Stupid woman, half cock as usual, no real plan, keep it vague morrigan, fuck it up before it even gets going. I cried, really. I sat on the sofa (we had the green leather one then) and pulled my own hair, scratched my face, thumped my head with my knuckles. Matt and Ben came back to find me red eyed and snotty nosed. They were drunk. Ben tripped over the camera cable and kicked the transformer. The fucking thing burst into life. A loose connection. Sometimes you can't take account of random …
I made the film, ignoring every piece of advice that anyone and everyone gave me. 'You can't shoot at night.'
'Yeah, I can, I'll use candles.'
'That won't be enough.'
Blah, blah, blah. Why do people always want to tell you what you can't do and how impossible everything is. 'Don't even bother trying morrigan, but if you MUST …' A bunch of folks waited in the wings to nod sagely at my failure.
They were wrong.
You can shoot at night with just candles, if you have enough of the huge muthafuckas. I made the place look like a church. In the end KT didn't wear a ball gown, instead a silver, silk dress, clinging in all the right places, it went well with her shaved head. She froze out there for me, hours and hours of taking the same shot. And she used her lips and tongue as well as her fingers.
I wasn't quite sure when it came to the soundtrack either. I mean what do you say? Kim said 'Morrigan, you're so abject'. ABJECT? What the fuck does that mean. We were at an 'art' exhibition above an old vegetable market. Some rich bitch, with more money than talent, had decided running a spoken calender backwards made a statement. I said 'It's boring'. She, with her carefully coiffured 'I'm an artist ready for the twenty first century' hair replied 'It's concept …'. I didn't care what she thought about how I should receive her 'work'. I told her I thought it was crap, that's when Kim said I was ABJECT. I still don't know what she meant by that. I probably should've asked.
We thought it'd be a good idea to drop some speed and go out for the night. We didn't have that long together so no point in wasting time sleeping. The speed was duly acquired, wrapped in Rizla and swallowed down with a slug of shitty French beer. Matt's Mum arrived. Fine. She had to talk to me. Fine. But what she wanted to talk about was so distressing. Can't say …
KT was there.
Met up with friends at the Kenny, sitting outside at wooden picnic tables, more crappy French beer. Me, KT, Kim, Matt, Ben and Jane. Jane was Ben's missus, still is, they've been together twenty years or something, not married, as such, because he's never proposed, keep that bit of info in your head. I started to feel really sick. I don't know the technical term for it, but I was wearing a speed headband that was rapidly turning into a vice. I could feel it, the drug, going up the right side of my neck and coming down the left side. Maybe that was my own blood, no idea. The pain in my head became excruciating, as if someone was screwing this vice tighter and tighter, inside my skull, against my brain. And my heart was pounding, threatening to beat itself out of my ribs. Matt's Dad lived, still lives, just round the corner from where we were. Good thing about Graham is that he'll sort you out, doesn't matter what you've done, he'll sort you out and give you the earache later.
'Drink this,' he said, it was brandy. 'You're gonna drink this, and two more, then you'll throw up, get into the bathroom now.' He wasn't wrong. After that I felt ok, still speeding off my tits, but at least my head didn't hurt and I'd had the opportunity to vomit the crap out of my system. Do you ever do that? Like someone tells you something, or you find something out, and you just want to, HAVE TO, purge yourself of the toxic shit? I still do it.
After, I went back to the Kenny, my friends, the crappy French beer, and sometime later we moved off, wending our way to god knows where. I ended up on the beach with Kim, just me and her, crunchcrunch pebbles, a man with a head injury lying by a metal sculpture … He was saying all sorts of random shit, but eventually, after persuasion, staggered off to get some medical attention.
We sat, lots of sitting down, and watched the waves come in. It was Kim's kid's birthday that day. And to clear out any wrongness judgements about that, well, he was with his Dad in Oz, Kim was getting paid for her work over here, she hadn't scheduled the dates, there was no choice involved. The waves coming in, pebbles digging into my ass, looking out at the horizon. She sang to the sea, her boy, saying the waves would carry it all back to him and into his heart. Never had I heard such a beautiful voice. A mother faraway from her child but still connected. All the mermaids came and took a word each. I thought they'd swim them, right up to the other beach, and then the stars would come down, take up the tune and pluck it into winking notes. Kim put her arm around me. I rested my head on her shoulder and cried into her neck. She sang to me, old songs of love and mystery, kissed my cheeks, stroked my hair, let me fall into her lap.
Love is a well weird thing; it's not like a set of house keys, that you put in a pot or hang on a nail. You can't find love, ahem, 'bout to say something shitty and cliché, love finds you, mostly by accident, like that bloke who fell over his shoe laces and crashed into those Ming vases. And when it finds you, it doesn't fasten on you or open up doors, it just sorta stands there, like a dark monk, waiting with unknown truths hidden under its hood and handfuls of what you think you need tucked up its sleeves. Love, full of emptiness. It ain't a meal. You can't sit back after and say you're satisfied.
We staggered off the beach and found everyone else at the Escape Club. Banging techno. More shitty French beer. Walls sprayed with car paint. A man in a pair of orange dungarees and no t-shirt. I miss the Hare Krishnas. Do you miss them? Those white stripes down their faces, as if somehow you can get into their heads. I thought once of having a tattoo on my neck, —— and a small pair of scissors. That's what Hare Krishnas look like to me, a whole possibility between their eyes.
I danced some, drank some, talked a lot. Speed. You talk a lot, everyone at the same time. What you're saying seems important, or at least interesting, but it's complete bollocks, except to you, because understanding's sorta flipped open and over, so everything's a seed and you're standing in a wild meadow where the sheep haven't been allowed for some years. Meadows are good. Sheep leave terraces, land slips into shelves, definition appears. With speed, well, it's photographic, the moment's all you got, twenty four of 'em a second, a flick book maybe …
We came home, some of us, most of us, can't remember. I fell asleep, must have, eventually, booze and spliffs, updown updown like whore's drawers. Was good enough for me though, to pass out, crammed full just for once, cheeks bulging, a hamster night, stuff tucked away for future reference.
Kim left the next day.
Fast forwards about three years. I go to France on an exchange programme doubrie. A bunch of us, all women. I end up with Al, her name's Alison, but you'd never call her that, she doesn't look like an Alison. We'd not met before we shared a hotel room. You ever done that? Have a stranger become a friend overnight? We didn't sleep. Her in her candlewick bed and me in mine, yaddayadda all night long. I dunno, it was, it was like there was this other person and I KNEW them right from the off. The following day we went to a restaurant and I couldn't tell what half the sign said, so we called it Le Beef Curtains, which was (admittedly) a bit rude. Later, walking through the Rouen town centre, her with her guitar slung on her back, me with half a ton of camera kit around my neck. She's one of those sturdy women, not hench, more as if she's well planted, a bit like a dandelion, but that could be down to her hair, which sticks up in short spikes. I know, I know, I'm flashing between tenses, but she was that person and she still is that person.
So anyway, we found Joan of Arc's memorial thingy and Al stood under it, or right next to it, or something, 'til the blue light spilt all over her, and she hauled her guitar round and started playing. There was only me, and a coupla hundred pedestrians/people sitting outside cafes. It was night. Night's good, because the day's stopped beating you around the head and you can relax, night's here, it'll hide a multitude of sins. I knew she was playing for me. Knowing that made me cross my legs, stand on my own feet and twist up with embarrassment. Funny thing. It was a Crowded House number, not that I knew that, being as I don't generally listen to MOR crap. Whenever you fall at my feet. Do you know it? If you don't know it here's a vaguely good cover:-
It's not as good as Al's, because the guy's a guy and he's not playing it just for me, standing under Joan of Arc's memorial, looking me dead in the face and making me feel like I'm the only person alive.
There's a love woman to woman that you don't get with men. It doesn't have to be sexual, I mean that's nice, but it's not a … With men, right, and these are only my observations, it's like a novel, in terms of formula, there's characters, various locations, issues, development, always obstacles to overcome, a fairground reality. With women, it's different. For a start, there's the rather sticky problem of opportunity. A man apparently knows that an intimate relationship will be validated with sex. Women, on the other hand, can go for years and years, an entire lifetime, without ever fucking the people they love, but, and here's the rub, so to speak, or not, and that's it in a nutshell, ie, women are accustomed to being intimate without sex, and get a bit confused about when sex, or when not, sex is appropriate. In a way it's simultaneously simpler and more complicated, or maybe that's just me.
Six months later and I'm sick, real sick. Nothing happened, but something overtook me. Lots of drugs, this time prescription, much worse than street, they get into your system like mercury and render you non mercurial. Bastard doctors. 'Take this, it'll make you normal'. Thank you, right, because that's really what I want to be, a fucking drone. What I want doesn't matter though, it's all about fitting in, being fit and able, an operable unit of labour. After no sleep for three weeks I relented. No one in the world's got enough energy to deal with that sort of psychotic episode.
So yeah, there I was, right in the middle of blurred reality, not theirs', not mine, stuck somewhere on the edge of both, and I was on my way to France. Heather, who thankfully works in the psychology field, was with me. I wouldn't go as far as to say 'I felt safe', but it was just about doable with her help.
I looked like this:-
Don't know why I like these pictures, maybe it's because they're real. I can see how the illness had eaten away at my body. Christ knows how heavy I was, less than seven stone probably, snappably thin. If you look at peoples' bodies you can tell what sort of a state they're in. A fat person, quite often weighed down with something, mentally I mean. A fit person, life's generally pretty well ordered for them. Of course, there are always the exceptions, those who plan their body type in order to project an image, but even that takes some sort of conscious will … No, I wasn't anorexic, just couldn't eat, couldn't swallow anything down, couldn't consume any more shit, everything kept coming back up, backed up, it was like a constipation of the soul.
We filmed, magical fucking day that was. I stared at Ophelia, painted onto canvas, submerged beneath the water. As the stream passed over her face, her features changed millisecond by millisecond. Fantastic flights of thought for an inanimate object, but she wasn't inanimate, that's what great art does, makes the movement for the audience. It really happened, that the model who posed for Ophelia died. She caught a chill I think, it progressed to pneumonia. Killed her. I wondered who this other woman was, rippling gently under the water. I could've been looking at a mirror image of myself. I love water, especially lying back in it, floating with my ears submerged, listening to the sound of my own breath …
And we went to a cafe, full of black men, tall and skinny. We ordered coke and it came clinking with ice. V good, because it was such a hot day. There was a juke box playing Serge Gainsbourg. Can you believe it? So fucking French, in this small village, not a construction at all, happening around us. Didn't want to leave, so we had coffee as well. Caffeine makes me buzz and not always in a good way.
I made the film, the artists came over from France, they loved it. That's a good feeling, you know, when you try and visualise and people can see what you thought. Daniel wasn't quite as impressed with my BBQing ability. What sort of man complains about steak? A French man, Jesus, they like it rare, practically still attached to the cow. He muttered about my lack of herbs as well. Since then I've always kept a pot of herbs de provence in my rack. Don't know why, Daniel's never coming back. He's dead now. Massive heart attack, prolly all that rare steak. Not seen Mr Hall since either, but he's not dead, just lives in Oxford, same fucking difference maybe.
Other things, other things, I did other things, fattening up along the way. Didn't like the drugs so stopped taking them. Sometimes that makes life hard. An even keel would be nice occasionally. I learned though, qui gong and tantric meditation. It IS possible, just about, to think yourself positive. But you gotta let go, of the shit, at least from time to time. It's like swinging on a rope. Fine if you wanna keep bashing yourself into the wall, blown about by the wind and your own body's momentum. Remember it's a rope, you can climb it, once you've developed enough upper body strength. Yeah, yeah, you slide down from time to time and rip all the skin off your palms, or at least I do. God knows what's at the top, some ledge prolly, an Escher ledge.
Then I met Chris, innocuously enough, I was sitting in my studio, editing some shit on Final Cut Pro – I hate that programme. He came in and watched me. We chatted, mainly about politics, because in front of me I had a selection of shorts made about community groups and what they were trying to achieve. There was this lad, forgotten his name, talking to camera, making it all seem so fucking obvious. 'I know it sounds silly,' he said, 'but if they give us something to do, then we won't get into trouble. If we don't get into trouble, then we won't fuck up our lives. A little bit of money now means our whole future can be safe'. He was fourteen. Six months later he was dead, committed suicide, seems like he could never quite see that future for himself, poor bastard. So, I was making this film, because, you know, at the time I interviewed him, I couldn't see his future, or non future, maybe I didn't care enough about either. Words, just words. Christ, and he was a funny, little git. You gotta hold mics in just the right place. 'Six inches from your mouth,' I said, 'you know how long six inches is?' He fell about laughing. Cheeky devil. Comes to something when you've got fourteen year old kids killing themselves, even after they've explained what the problem is. I felt responsible …
Chris invited me to feel even more responsible and work on a couple of projects, one involving a film about Bosnia and one involving a film about Mitrovica – a place in Kosova/Kosovo. Jeez, it was hard man, especially the Mitrovica shit, because I had a whole lot more invested in that one … I didn't know how much when I started out. Mitrovica is a town divided by a river, divided by ethnic conflict … I finished cutting the film, the following day my mother died. Nothing's ever finished is it? There never is a line you can draw under anything. I was in a hotel room, just after the funeral, when Chris phoned me up and said we had to re-edit the film, because violence had broken out again, our upbeat ending was no longer appropriate. I was desperate for the bastards to stop killing themselves/each other. They weren't going to, not in the foreseeable future.
Futures, possibilities, inevitabilities … I shoulda known losing my mom would fuck my head up good and proper. It's an odd land you live in when there's no future. The past's always open to interpretation, unmediated by the sensibilities of hope, because that's what the future is, that's what it represents, hope. If you haven't got any hope then you haven't got any future. If you haven't got any future, you haven't got any hope …
I know people like that.
I re-edited, the film, my mom, could never keep up with the realisations in either. Once you start changing things, ah, I dunno, you learn shit, unless you're a complete moron, in which case you ain't never gonna learn anything anyway so it doesn't matter. That's the hardest thing, learning by your mistakes. I suppose that's why mistakes are positive, or negative, perhaps it's like a circuit with a battery, positive and negative, some power resulting, enough to ignite – I'm thinking a muthafucka car battery here, but I don't want to slip off down the slippery hill scree of vaseline, nipples and how you should always disconnect the negative terminal first.
It was good, did the job, apparently, made both sides, the Albanians and Serbs, stop and bloody think. Bloody think. There's a scene at the end, a bunch of teenagers on the roof of a partially bombed out building, and they're playing a Metallica cover, making it sound like Nirvana unplugged. A girl's on bass. I slowed it right down in the edit, just to see for myself, their faces, you can catch so much when you just S-L-O-W life down. Yeah, it was there, what you'd expect to see in a kid's face after they've been through a civil war. Can't really describe it, a blank slackness, an opaque concentration, like something's missing but it's all really still there, so far down that you ain't never gonna reach it, which is prolly just as well, because maybe that's where they need to keep it, down …
I met Chris last Thursday, in The Dorset (earl grey, black, no milk, still the white jug turns up). We haven't seen each other for some time. We're funny, take notes while we speak, while the other speaks. He's a fair whack older than me. Started life as a journo with the BBC. I remember him telling me that his first assignment was Bobby Sands' funeral – if you don't know what that is/was:-
The Iran project's gone down, it had wobbled badly after the British sailors were seized. The Israelis, dominated by the right, aren't interested in consultation – no shit Sherlock. Everyone's just trying to argue everyone else into a corner, fuck knows why, someone should tell them that your enemy isn't a naughty school child you can make face the wall. The posturing just goes on and on, as if they've forgotten that politics is PART of life, not the be all and end all OF life. Bastards. Maybe they're right and I'm wrong. Perhaps I should read more Machiavelli.
We talk about Athol Fugard, he said something like 'articulation leads to understanding and understanding to effecting change'. I'm trying to remember Paulo Freire and his 'Pedagogy of the Oppressed', his work with theatre and democracy and Sao Paulo, fucked if I can dig up that particular file from my brain. Chris writes down the bare bones. And then he tells me about before apartheid was gone, how various big wigs from the diplomatic community would travel to South Africa and run conferences. This one time, the chair hadn't been told he was meant to be there. They got a message through to him at the last minute, but he hadn't read the pre-conference blurb, so he arrived entirely ignorant about the minutiae of what was going on. Each side, the ANC and the National Party, was trying to influence all discussion by undermining the position of chair. Didn't work though, being as the chair, totally unprepared, knew nothing. When you know nothing you have to start right at the beginning, so that's what they did. Chronology doesn't have a bias. Many things become obvious if you just go back to the start and walk it all through with an observer. It's not always possible to be your own observer, mostly because there is no third way, in terms of objectivity and subjectivity, but it's a worthwhile exercise in some senses …
The next day I went out with KT, walking the dog in the woods. I was saying how I couldn't finish something (that French thing, that bloody French thing) and she said 'Well, maybe it's not over not over not over yeah'. And we laughed and danced in amongst the trees to the half remembered lyrics of some Euro trash techno disco.
Later I saw Fiona, to play badminton. She's useless. I've always been pretty good at racquet sports – was the captain of the tennis team at school. After twenty minutes she was red-faced and sweating cobs. She came back to mine. I asked her about it. 'Maybe she could be her own husband's mistress'. But that's her life, yeah a screw up you wouldn't believe. No, I don't want to go there.
Trisha arrived for dinner. I went through it and through it, describing the three failed endings so far. 'Thing is,' she said, 'the rest of it came about organically, maybe that's your problem, because you're trying to invent an ending, you could just wait and see what happens'. And then I got it. I'd had the ending all along. That's how it works isn't it? In Rumsfeld speak, except that it was Confucius “To know is to know that you know nothing. That is the meaning of true knowledge”.
Drums fingers on the keyboard.
I took a picture of myself on my phone and looked right into my own face. 'What is it that I don't know?' I mean I know the exposure's set too high, in all senses of the word:-
Remember Ben and Jane, how they never got married because he never proposed? That night, after Kim and speed and dancing at the Escape, they went home. He came 'round to see me next day, obviously on a come down. 'I told her, I told her everything, how much I love her, want her, need her, and I asked her to marry me?'
'What'd she say?'
'Nothing. She was on the sofa and I was lying on the floor, fiddling with the carpet, cos I couldn't look her straight in the face. I made this big speech and when I finally got to the end of it and asked her, well, there was just silence, she'd fallen asleep.'
Christ, she missed it.
We do that, miss stuff, whether we're saying or listening, or not saying and not listening. So many opportunities, all gone. And sometimes we miss things, accidentally on purpose. And sometimes we forget the most important stuff of all, because we bury it right down, cover it with crap and erect headstones that get worn with age until we can't read the inscriptions.
Jane fell asleep because she was tired and, in any event, she didn't need to hear it because she already knew. She didn't and hasn't missed anything. With Kim and Al, well, it had escaped my attention for a while there, along with some other memories. I guess when you live life surrounded by walls, there's a constant process of construction and reconstruction. It helps if you use bricks and mortar though, rather than prefabricated blocks. Maybe that's why I write. Not that interested in tongue and groove, slotting things together, which is why the narrative always escapes me, more fascinated by masonry. Mortar: A material used in building to bind contruction blocks together and fill the gaps between them. The blocks may be stone, brick, breeze blocks (cinder blocks), etc. Mortar is a mixture of sand, a binder such as cement or lime, and water and is applied as a paste which then sets hard. Mortar: A muzzle-loading indirect fire weapon that fires shells at low velocities, short ranges, and high-arcing ballistic trajectories. It typically has a barrel length less than 15 times its caliber. Mortar (and pestle): A tool used to crush, grind, and mix substances. The pestle is a heavy stick whose end is used for pounding and grinding, and the mortar is a bowl. The substance is ground between the pestle and the mortar.