Thursday, 15 October 2009

Those Seen Dancing (excerpt)

Before I continue, some background is in order.

It’s six months ago, and I’m in New York City for the first time in my life—maybe the only time (only time will tell). This is a big deal, for two reasons: 1) because I’m in New York City for the first and maybe only time in my life, and 2) because my book is being published. I am now a real-life poet, with a real-life book, published by a real-life New York publishing company. This is a big deal.

During the flight, I attempt to commemorate the occasion by—what else?—writing a poem. Something about the sensation of being hung between two distant versions of myself, each one a product of my celebrated imagination, more or less. Behind me lies an English boy, a mere 25 years old: studious, lonely and possessed of a bottomless faith in his own fantasies. Also, crucially, a virgin. Ahead of me waits someone infinitely more exciting, cosmopolitan. Someone who gets laid. A lot. Meanwhile, this lost part of me, this part that is no part, sits inside its airborne bowling alley, watching stewards roll with trolleys down the aisles to scatter full-fleshed tourists, painted smiles glinting like pre-emptive pardons on their urethane faces.

I give up.

The woman in the next seat is a paediatrician from Virginia, returning from a visit to her daughter in London. We bond over a mutual abuse of the complimentary wine, and I joke about my outlandish expectations of The City That Never Sleeps: rock stars and artists at every party, a party at every house, every night…no one ever more than two feet away from a party. And no one over the age of 30, except for the crazies loud-haling conspiracy theories in busy thoroughfares—the monumental crazies, like municipal artworks, funded by public money on the sly. She listens and smiles. “That’s exactly how it is,” she says, “except there’s no big secret: Crazy-Person Tax is right there on the form, clear as day.”

She asks me why I’m going to NYC, and I’m not too modest to tell her. “No way!” she says, either genuinely impressed or faking with aplomb, “Congratulations!” We drink a little more complimentary wine, this saver of sick children and I. My book is called The Last Surprise. She tells me that she likes the title, and I promise to give her a copy once we land. I have a couple with me, but fortunately they’re not in my carry-on luggage; the prospect of watching her leaf through with an expression of polite interest, occasionally picking out a fine-sounding phrase, is more than my lack of modesty can support. She tries to get me to recite something from memory, but I feign forgetfulness, and she eventually concedes.

It occurs to me now that I never got around to writing that mid-flight poem; I was too busy watching bad movies and growing quietly drunk, then sober again. And sleeping. I’m not a great sleeper, by the way. I think it’s because I do all my dreaming while I’m awake.

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