Even When I Struggle to (Smile)

I find that writing (verb, the act) must be carefully choreographed. I cannot choose when to write. Often I can prepare for it, even look forward to it, and when that is successful then I am able to sit down and write, yes, but like all preparations it is not uncommon for them to go wrong. In the past, I would write most nights of the week – except for Sunday – unless I was out drinking, and even then I might get a couple hundred words down. Back then, sentences seemed to run out of me without much effort.

Recently, much to my own shame, I have found myself writing only once a week; originally this fell on a Saturday night, but then I noticed that Thursday night (Friday workload notwithstanding) was also a good time for it. Please do not misunderstand me, the rest of the week I am thinking of writing, thinking in sentences, making notes and so on, yet when I sit down before the keyboard I find my mind vacant, my tongue dumb. It makes me feel less than. Am I simply getting older? Weekdays leave me drained. Arrive home at seven, use the toilet and shower, it is eight, cook leisurely with a couple of cigarettes and a glass of wine, eat, tidy up, it is half-ten and I am finally sat down.

Today I thought about writing, and when I was too sad and uninspired to write, I wrote anyway; and here we are. It is a long excuse, a valid reason, an opportunity for the reader to change the channel.

For the past two years, stress has affected me more firmly than I have experienced before. Perhaps the pandemic, perhaps the busted romance. Who knows? Who can say? The shit is watery. The skin is red and uneven. The sleep unsettled. The moods are so fragile that they crumble and dissolve at the smallest of infractions. Why, just today my houseplants were carried, one-by-one, to a car, and throughout the day my mind was wrought with anxiety! How silly! I thought to myself. Even as I stood at the window and looked down at the sunshine filling the quiet roads and clipping the wings of gliding birds going by, I was downcast for no particular reason at all; surely the view gifted me and my good fortune, all things considered, might lift my spirits, but no, I could have sobbed.

So, you see, it is important I write, take the time on a Saturday night, with rioja and Arvo Pärt, to distill the thoughts within me, and, if they fly away at the switch of a lamp, to press and primp the keyboard, to feel each letter descend underneath my touch and beam at the thought as though I were giving myself a massage! Sometimes, it is the simple act of writing, of typing, of putting one word after another, from mind to nerve to finger, that lifts one, makes them feel better than they did before. I imagine a footballer feels the same doing keep-ups, a fisherman casting his line, a ballerina lacing her pointe shoes.

It was gone six on Friday night when the computer began to put out its bubbly ringtone. Should I answer? There was still much to do and I was typing frantically, putting the final touches on documents, printing to pdf, all that nonsense. Deadline day; could be important; I took it—‘Wassup, Tolu, is it urgent, man? I’m really under it.’ He stammered and paused himself—‘No… no, it’s not urgent, I just wanted to say thank you for earlier. I really appreciate it.’ Feeling rude, I grinned, and hung my fingers from the ends of my hands, poised but patient—‘What! Don’t mention it. How you feeling now?’ ‘I’m all right, man, yeah, I’m all right. Just all a bit much earlier, yknow? Fuckin Beck at me and stuff. Just helped talking to you about it and all, so I wanted to say thanks.’ ‘No worries, geez. You all done now? Gone have a drink?’ ‘Yes, mate! Got my beer from the fridge just now, ready to go.’ We spoke for a while, relaying our plans for the long weekend. It was something that cheered me up. I could see that the sun was still up, not yet touching the edge of this longitude’s earth, flooding the industrial park opposite me with colour. Few things bring such joy as a fellow man opening his heart to me, his voice unsteady, his feelings bare; and I was happy for he and I.
Company photographs and there was a suitjacket that had not been worn in some time. The details in the lining were red. It may have been worn at the interview or my grandmother’s funeral. Looking in, pausing at the threshold, Patrycja, who had volunteered to be photographer, was sitting in the meeting room alone, looking at her phone. I burst in and she looked up—‘Right, let’s get this over with.’ She smiled. She looked good, I thought, wearing a tight leather jacket and her blonde hair tied up in a ponytail. There was a chair positioned between two bright lights in front of a grey textured backdrop. It was the first time it had been just us two in too long. She sat on the opposite side of the table, next to a camera on a tripod and we spoke. During the photographs, we continued to speak as we had spoken many times before, and it was a pleasure! until halfway through she asked me to smile—‘I can’t just smile.’ ‘Think of something that makes you laugh.’ ‘Okay, gimme a second…’ I looked away from her for the first time and tried to think of something that really made me laugh, finally: a Karl Pilkington quote—‘What was going on there?!’ to his girlfriend after every film they watch. And I started to chuckle to myself—‘Okay, go.’ Her blue eyes would come up from the viewfinder every now & then as I did my best to stare only into the lens. It was the first time I had been photographed since Helen’s Hasselblad on the edge of her bed. To be photographed with such purpose is almost immeasurably intimate, an unfamiliar intimacy. I was uncomfortable and nonetheless I was enthusiastic, for I certainly wished it could continue, the moment if not the purpose. She joked that some of my photographs were for her personal collection and I imagined the camera turned around. When she was finished, after specific instructions and minimal adjustments to her camera, she leaned back, interlaced her fingers and we conversed. I was happy to hear her, just the sound of her voice, and the dreamy piano music she piped into the room. She made efforts to ensure the atmosphere was peaceful. ‘Have you seen Napoleon Dynamite?’ I asked. ‘No, what is it?’ After a while, I stood up—‘You look really good today,’ I told her. ‘Thank you. So do you,’ she replied. I laughed a little and thanked her. She was alone again in the meeting room. I walked back to my desk, clicking my fingers, thinking of removing my jacket.