It was the windiest day that year. The boy and the girl stood next to each other at the top of the hill. Neither of them spoke. The sun looked like it was falling down the sky, melting towards the horizon like butter being tilted in a pan.
A little way down the hill a tree stood behind a lamp post. Each time the wind blew, the tree bent towards the lamp post, which appeared to wobble slightly after each swirl of wind. The wind grew stronger and the lamp post began to flicker as the sunlight dimmed, and dusk settled in and made itself comfortable. Dust bin lids flew open, plastic bags teased each other in the air, playing a game of kiss-chase none of them would win. The wind grew even stronger and still the boy and the girl did not move.
As the lamp post’s fitful glimmers became a fully-fledged beam, the wind blew an almighty breath and a sharp clatter of a fallen dustbin caught the girl and boy by surprise. She jumped and he stumbled and in the precise moment their attentions were diverted, something changed. The light shone brighter for a split second, the wind blew so hard they were frozen in time. When they recovered it was as if something had been unlocked. They both felt it, both saw in the mirrored shocked expressions that each could hear the same voice as the other, and each instinctively knew that it was unmistakeably the voice of the tree.
All the trees around them were blowing with the wind, blown by it, but this tree always bent in the same direction. She rocked towards the lamp post, no matter which direction the wind blew, no matter how hard the fight against the elemental force and the other trees all blowing the same way. This tree blew towards the lamp post. This tree had a voice and the girl and the boy could hear it.
They heard her heartfelt plea to the lamp post for him to notice her. They heard her wailing and crying and straining, encouraging herself to reach the tree, to push just that little bit further. They heard her moments of defeat as she thought of giving up and moments of strength as she tried ever harder. They saw in a flash the years she had spent bending towards him. They were knocked backwards by the weight of so much feeling. Her roots disrupted the earth beneath her and every word she uttered was about the lamp post.
On and on the tree stretched and her branches cracked in their strain. She looked each time as if she would get there. All it would take is one twig-tip but every time she was just too far away. The wind whipped her back just a little and however hard she stretched she could not reach the object of her desire.
The boy and the girl heard her trying to speak to him. They heard the story of the tree growing up behind the lamp post. Years spent, shy and waiting for him to one day turn around and notice her. They heard how she had finally found the courage to talk to him. They heard her ask him if he would consider turning around, just once to look at her, see her and maybe one day feel for her the longing she feels for him.
The girl and the boy and the tree waited. They waited as the lamp post wobbled. They waited as the tree continued to strain against the wind, to strain against the feeling that her courage was futile. They waited for the lamp post to answer. And as they waited, the boy and the girl felt another surge of strength in the wind around them, saw the light brighten once more, and they heard a voice that was not the tree. It was a voice that echoed through their minds with a clang of metal and a spark of fire.
They heard the lamp post lament to himself that he simply wished he wasn’t so lonely. They heard how he waited, day in, day out, night after night for someone to come along and light the way for him, the way he lights the way for others so often. They listened to how he imagined he had someone to tower over him and make him feel small, loved and warm. They thought they heard him sigh with a creaking metallic groan.
The boy and the girl could hardly breathe. They looked back at the tree and willed her to shout louder, willed her to stretch harder to reach the lamp post who needed her as much as she wanted him. He just didn’t know it yet.
They thought they heard a clunking laugh from the lamp post. They looked back at him and heard him berate himself for being so stupid. For no one could really love a mute, deaf old post. How foolish he had been for thinking anyone could. He would always be alone with only his thoughts for company.
The boy and the girl both thought they saw the lamp post slump, almost imperceptibly. His light now seemed to dim, the orange glow tinged with sadness.
The girl and the boy looked back to the tree who had not yet given up. If only the tree could reach the lamp post with her branches then he might turn around and see her, he may feel her and know that someone wanted to give him everything he was waiting for.
The boy and the girl instinctively knew that however hard the tree tried she was just too far away. And however loud the tree shouted, the lamp post would always be deaf and could never hear her. He would never turn around and see her for he did not even know he could.
The boy and the girl stood next to each other at the top of the hill. They watched as the night wore on. After some time, they moved a little closer and held each other’s’ hands.
This was written September 2012:
I recently went to a book talk. Yes I know, I’m in my 20s and I go to book talks, settle down, I love books. Now this was not my first book talk nor do I imagine will it be my last. This particular one was like a lot of book talks in that it was promoting the release of a new book by the author – Zoo Time by Howard Jacobson – and unlike a lot of book talks in that the conversation, between Mr Jacobson and his agent, Jonny Geller, did not solely revolve around the writing of said book.
The talk was far more interesting than that. It was set up in the style of Desert Island Discs but it was Desert Island Books. Mr Jacobson took us through the books he would choose to take with him to a desert island in one of the most fascinating talks by a writer I have ever been to. Mr Jacobson took us through Dr Johnson, Jane Austen, D H Lawrence, Charles Dickens and Joseph Conrad into the depths of his childhood, be it real or reimagined, through relationships with people, writers and books and right up to the writing of his own literature. It was a literary journey told in the most compelling way, by a charismatic man who is passionate about the reading and writing of books.
I was at times literally on the edge of my seat. I was enthralled. But when the floor was opened for questions, I noticed something interesting. I recognised the archetypes of the people who frequent these book talks. The phrase “there’s always one” came to my mind for almost every person who asked a question. Why are there these people who seem to play the same roles at this type of event? Why is it they always feel the need to speak, to repeat the same patterns? Here are the people I have found at book talks, over and over again:
The Furious Note-Taker:
He or she will sit with a pad and pen, scribbling down every word the author utters, occasionally leaning over to you to ask “what did he say?” when something utterly crucial or insignificant has been missed because the note-taking has overtaken concentration. The sad thing about this is that this person has missed the point of a book talk. It’s not supposed to be a lecture – it’s a show to be experienced and a good book talk will provide a show, keep you engaged and stop your pen on your pad because you’re being made to think in the moment. This person may have the talk verbatim on their pad but he or she will have missed out on experiencing the character that is the author.
The Unpublished Author:
This person will come up with any question they can think of, however irrelevant and moronic, just to mention the fact that he or she is an unpublished author. “Um, hello, my name is Sam Smith and I have read a couple of your books, this new one too, somewhat enviously of course because I myself am a writer, as yet unpublished but I’m not bitter or anything and I was just wondering, with regard to your book, my question is: what is…the time? Also here is my manuscript, please read it or get your agent to read it, you have to take it now because we’re in front of all these people aren’t I clever for foisting this upon you.”
The One Who Has Read Everything:
This is the person who has read every book, essay and article by the writer. This is the person who claims to know the books better than the writer himself and will ask the longest, most complicated question in the most elaborate language, taking the most circuitous route to ask a very complicated and important philosophical question about the writer’s style, philosophy, belief, tone, structure, essence of being. This person is pretentious. Most people stop listening after the fourth sentence and even the writer begins to look bemused after the ninth. This person is obviously a thinker and intelligent. Unfortunately this person is actually trying very hard to be a thinker and thinks he or she is more intelligent than is actually the case. This person will not get a satisfactory answer to the question and will try to argue a moot point until somebody smart and in control of proceedings moves the questioning on.
The One Who Has Read Nothing:
This person has not read anything by the author and announces this very proudly before asking something about the state of education and literacy in this country that the author cannot possibly hope to know.
The One Who Reveals Too Much:
This person is a tricky one. On the one hand he or she is incredibly brave for being so candid and honest in a public environment. On the other, he or she is socially naïve for revealing so much about his or her life and being so candid and honest in a public environment. This is the person who reveals his or her very personal reading experience, often (but not always) relating to the death of a relation and usually involving tears. It is both moving and painfully awkward to listen to and feels a lot like it should be a private conversation between the writer and the reader – something to go up and speak about afterwards, not announce in front of the other 100 people. The room is left feeling an odd mix of social distaste and human respect.
I wonder which of these categories I fit into. I asked a question, I took a couple of notes down about things that made me think and to all intents and purposes I am an unpublished writer. I’ve not written a novel nor do I have any intention of writing one but I feel that is beside the point. Maybe I’m “The One Who Goes Home and Writes a Blog About It”. I’m sure there are more like me. I’m not judging any of these people nor am I suggesting I’m any better than them. I’m obviously one of them in some way and in fact, I’m rather fond of them. There is a comfort in knowing that someone will plug their unpublished novel, talk nonsense at the author or reveal too much of themselves. There is a comfort in the familiarity of it all. I wonder exactly who these people are? Perhaps it’s just the same few, going to all the book talks…
…No that’s ridiculous of course it’s not. But maybe there’s a novel in that.
NB this is written from a straight female perspective, but it pretty much applies to either gender – I’m just too lazy to keep writing in the other options. Switch it over in your head if you need to. You’re all intelligent enough for that.
1- Abusive. In any way. Physically, mentally, emotionally. Get out. It may sound obvious but I have it on good authority that it is a lot harder than you’d think.
2- The guy you keep giving chances to. Why do you give him so many chances? OH of course because this time he’s going to change and you know he will because he said so. Um. No. The hands are pointing to Reality o’Clock and it’s time to wake up. He won’t change. If you can accept him as he is then by all means stay with him but do not mistake habit for happiness. Do not mistake familiarity for love. If there are things that bother you so much that you’re miserable most of the time, then why are you with him? A relationship cannot work if you’re constantly trying to change each other. Of course, compromise, but to keep trying to change someone is wearing for both of you and only ends in misery, frustration and disappointment.
To quote Lorelai Gilmore of Gilmore Girls “You don’t want to be in the business of changing people.”
3- The guy who asks for money all the time. You’re always covering his share of the bill, paying for stuff, buying him things. Of course you don’t look at someone’s finances to check they’re on a similar income as you and relationships are not about money, but they are about give and take. With a difficult money situation it can be hard but often it’s a proportional thing rather than an actual figures thing. I’ve dated people earning less than me and earning more than me and OK, sometimes I can’t buy dinner that night but I can buy the coffee the next day. It’s not always the amount you’re spending but the thought that goes into treating the other person. Plus I love coffee and sometimes I’d be happy if someone would just caffeinate me instead of feeding me. Then again, perhaps some of my priorities are a bit skewed.
4- You don’t find him attractive. Sounds superficial but let’s be honest, there are not many people who actually want a relationship without sex. You may get on so well, he may be your best friend and understands you and is able to take care of you and bonus, he’s rich so he can give you a life of comfort and dinners and lovely holidays and you love him like a brother (hint: that’s the problematic part) but you just don’t fancy him. It won’t end well. And I count having rubbish or no sex for the rest of your life as it not ending well. Oh and while we’re in the bedroom…
5- The sex is bad. Really bad. Or maybe, for example, he won’t go down on you. This is potentially a controversial one but gentlemen – you all need to get over this reluctance to go down on a woman. Some men, from what I understand are totally fine with it. Good – you can all stay. Others, it seems, are less fine with it. Now obviously, this is a totally subjective thing but it can make up a large proportion of sexual activity and frankly sex is a whole lot less fun without it. And guys, it doesn’t count if you’re making a woman feel bad about it – that’s not fair. You’re not enjoying it (we know this, because you’re making the biggest fuss known to mankind) and therefore we’re not enjoying it because no one feels sexy knowing that the person they’re with feels under duress or worse, is grossed out by a part of our body that they seem happy enough to enjoy in other ways. I’m no hypocrite – I think women need to get over this mentality of “I’m not putting that in my mouth” too. Thinking about how much pleasure you’re bringing your partner is the best thing to focus on to get you through the experience if you really hate it that much. Or do a lot of teasing. Power play can be a whole world of fun. Also none of this applies to teenagers (or adults for that matter) who are being pressured into something they are not ready to do. That’s a different situation and not OK. The point is that it’s important for the sexual side of the relationship to be give and take as much as the rest of it. Both partners need to be satisfied.
6- I think this is the hardest one of all. This is the relationship that goes wrong for no discernible reason. And yet there appear to be so many reasons. The timing is bad, the weather is bad, it’s his fault, you blame yourself, it’s 6 of one and half a dozen of the other, you don’t fight enough, you fight too much, he has issues you have issues, one of you has a cold and then you both need tissues (I’m sorry I couldn’t help myself, I needed to make something rhyme there), you never see each other, you see too much of each other. Whatever it is you can’t quite pinpoint what’s wrong. He doesn’t cheat and you don’t lie but you feel you don’t really know each other. You text all the time but the communication sucks. It’s not a specific thing.
It should work but it doesn’t. And because it should work you have all these expectations of each other. On paper you’re perfect but people are not made out of paper. People are 19-Dimensional, wonderful, contradictory beings who can be immature but not childish and vice versa. And however hard you try, things still seem to keep going wrong. This is the one that it hurts so much to walk away from because if only you could be slightly different versions of yourselves around each other things would be so different and it would work so wonderfully well. You walk away and it is just so sad because it’s the last thing you want to do and you keep questioning the decision and never quite settling on if it was right or not. You want to keep trying because you hope that maybe that thing, that intangible thing that’s holding you both back from being the couple everyone would like to be, would like you to be, that you would like to be…maybe it’s just one more deep conversation away from disappearing. Rationale and feelings collide in an internal conflict of agonisingly epic (dis)proportions. Something pulls you towards him, equally intangible as the thing that keeps the two of you from working. And against all of that you just keep hoping. Ultimately, for a totally inexplicable reason, you just don’t bring out the best in each other.
To my inexperienced and probably quite naïve mind, the thing we want is the version of this relationship that works. The one where something just shifts, it clicks and (sigh of happy relief) you work. It’s not always easy but instead of the difficulties forcing you apart they bring you closer together. Instead of feeling lonely and isolated from one another you lean on each other for support. Instead of hurting one another you make each other happy. You compromise without trying to change each other and you love each other not in spite of the quirks and insanity but because of them. You make up after fights and eventually laugh about them because that’s what grown ups do. You do have to work at things but it’s OK because that’s what you want. Well, I can’t speak for everyone, but I know that’s what I want.