In moments of tense solitude, Zambreno turns to blogging. (The one she manifests whilst living in Akron, Ohio, is titled: Frances Farmer is my Sister.) Blogging always feels like touching at a distance. The attraction of an “invisible community.” I do not feel like I have one at present. Though I blog, I do so absentmindedly, scheduling the excerpts copied out from my journal and then leaving them to enter the ether as I go about my life, doing other things. In truth, my community at present feels euphorically visible.
The blog is kept up out of habit, still the desire for others to bear witness to thoughts and feelings that rarely make for good conversation over pints and coffees. And yet, I have tentatively stepped into a new community of late, since the drunken night, a few weekends ago, at the Lubber Fiend. I long to spend more and more time with the women met there, who enthused over Nin with me into the early hours.
But everyone works; has lives of their own. My life still feels like it is on hold, at least to some extent. And I daren’t mention to anyone newly met that my free time is not some writer’s dream but rather that I’m on the sick, recovering from an acute bout of mental illness; sick and writing. Some may read the blog, already aware. I’m grateful they never mention it. The normality, the fun, the adventure, the conversation: it all feels key to recovery. Still, I shift uncomfortably in my seat every time I send a message, asking if anyone has time for a midweek drink of some description. At present, not really. But I am desperate to punctuate the elongated periods of writing with sociality, with experience, with chatter. It is not hard to come by, but still my days feel so empty.
Zambreno affirms how she doesn’t talk to “the greats”, but to “the wives and mistresses.” I think about my mum, working as a social worker in Hull, writing poetry on the side but only really for herself. She used to tell stories, when I was much older, and after her death in 2001, of her weekly visits to see Monica Jones, Philip Larkin’s “mistress” — the term scorned by literary historians, not least for its latent misogyny but also for how it undermined her central literary role in his life, as confidante and editor.
I don’t know if my mother and Jones ever talked about poetry. She lived off Newland Park, a stone’s throw from what was then the main office for Hull’s social services.
The crisis team mix up my meds. I sheepishly don’t question it at first. For the last week they have been controlling the daily doses I am allowed to keep in my possession. I am still an overdose risk. Then, out of nowhere, a week’s worth of zopiclone. I hold onto it.
I am increasingly aware that I am cannabalizing Zambreno, quoting her text incessantly. I feel this currently fragmented style of writing inauthentically apes her own. And yet it feels natural to follow each and every thought as an opportunity for a kind of automatic writing. But each flight into memory or digression into experience makes me feel like I am following her lead, as if her books, her drifts, have given me permission.
I meet someone new outside the Cluny — a visiting friend of a friend. “So what do you do?” I’m a writer, I say, newly comfortable in affirming this compulsion as my primary occupation, regardless of the fact it has never paid my bills. “What do you write?” I always stumble over this question. At present, the answer feels obvious enough but also quite elusive: I write about writing. But I am also writing as I read about writers that write about reading. And I am most certainly obsessed with Zambreno. I am consuming her. Am I taking possession of her? I’m not sure how that would even be possible. Her writing, and the quotations weaved into my own, are like smoke. I am affirming the ouroboros of the reading writer, treating her texts as she treats the texts of others. If this is consumptive, vampiric, I am Bacchus at a banquet — sickly, engorged, vomit-writing so that I might then consume and write some more.
Of course at first she was so terrified, “so absolutely alone.” But then she fell madly in love with the city, she wandered around, she took notes. She began to record impressions in a black notebook…
The Bloomsbury group: “Gossip the common fuel among that circle.” It is a period of literary drama romanticised these days, but the narration of lives lived with others in the age of social media forces the writer to take on a whole new set of literary quandaries. There is so much new potential for offense. Perhaps rightly so, but literature feels undermined by social media and its tyrannical (in)corporations of the self. Being with others, and the writing of that experience especially, is now even harder to negotiate.
The crisis team, supposedly responsible for my medication, are only slightly less responsible than I am. I am having to chase my scripts constantly, trying to ensure that I don’t miss a dose. One day without, I panic. I rely on the zopiclone given to me by mistake and take it all, being familiar enough with it now — a smaller dose than what I started on — that all I have to look forward to is a high. But it is a peculiar high. I feel drunk, wobbly, with the motor skills of someone many pints deep, but have absolute clarity of mind. It is an interesting combination, like a waking sleep — an active mind coupled with an estrangement from the body. It is euphoric; dysmorphia inverted.
I fragment Zambreno once more before letting sleep take me. She wonders what is the “most confessional (i.e. feminine? photographic?).”