The Tongues of Men

A novel in redraft by Gabriel Smy

I am me, doing this now


I love that. Christopher Eccleston, in the This Much I Know interview in the Observer, says that his earliest memory is:

turning right at the top of our path on my bike and saying to
myself: "I am me, doing this now." I was about four. I
turned right, said that to myself and shot off.


His simple, non-specific definitions of identity and activity perfectly convey the sense of being fully in the moment. This is what children do. Usually without the words. Reading this took me instantly to a handful of strong childhood memories, times of a strong sense of me-ness and now-ness: knocking yellow plums from a tree with my school bag on the walk back home; skateboarding down a long, gently sloping lane, sitting between my sisters on the board as we steadily picked up speed; squeezing through the cool gap filled with pencil-thin branches behind the shed in the garden.

I find myself reaching in my writing for moments like this. Not literally, because my childhood is scarcely big enough for a bookful of characters and stories, but in creating episodes that have a similar nature; a quality of immediate, body-stored immanence like those childlike saturated moments.

Moments that stand irrefutably as testaments to life, to reality, to truth. Moments that just are.

Of course, the paradox is that to describe the time in writing is to stand outside of it, to judge it from an older, removed standpoint. To take what was actually in the muscle and the nerves and translate it into words for the mind. To be through time instead of in it.


As soon as a writer thinks about how she will describe an experience later that she is now, the moment is lost. Incessant notetakers and analysts become the photographer who is always there but never in any of the pictures, and whose subjects always look first and foremost like they are being photographed.

The four-year-old Eccleston had perfect words at the time for his moment, although the power of them is brought through a description that he gives us as an adult. At some point I'd like to write  a book in the first person present tense exactly to capture that immediacy and identity.

But how to convey it now, in the third person, past tense?

Eccleston's words reminded me of Dave Eggers, in a Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, when he somehow makes a moment more vivid by positioning us at some distance from the scene:

Please look. Can you see us? Can you see us, in our little
red car? Picture us from above, as if you were flying above
us, in, say, a helicopter, or on the back of a bird, as our car
hurtles, low to the ground, straining on the slow upward
trajectory but still at sixty, sixty-five, around the relentless,
sometimes ridiculous bends of Highway 1.


This is ludicrously clever, conveying the sensation of driving by observing from a distance, yet by imagining oneself flying in a helicopter or fantastically on a bird's back, projecting the experience of motion and giddiness and thrill onto what one sees.

He gives the reader a position from which the moment comes alive.

I'm trying in my own writing to take a position inside the musculature of the characters, to feel the physical sensations of the moment. How successful this is, I don't know yet. But that's how I'm trying to do it.

And I am me, writing this now.

 
 
 
 

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