I’m going to try and write a quick, more sober, look at things today, avoiding some of the histrionics that come out of me the times I am drawn to purge myself of some of the bile, bitterness, resentments, frustrations, anger and self-hatred that come up from time to time negotiating life as an intelligent, creative, high functioning autistic.

I have been back from Prague for almost a month now. It has gone quickly. In that time I have adjusted not at all to being back. I have settled not at all. I have thrown myself into one thing and another, trying to build a kind of structure around me. I have, to this end, written a lot of pieces for a rather quixotic application for a position on a respected left wing political journal. I have read a fair amount of Czech, trying to improve my level. I have met up with a girl around here who wants to work on some songs, me playing guitar, she singing.

All the while though, having recently moved house, having completed the marathon that was giving some kind of structure and purpose to my days, and having finished too the course that I was doing on the Short Story, which was similarly giving something to do all the while, I have had the feeling that I don’t know what to do with myself.

Always, this leads to a kind of anxious, agitated anomie, with my mind pushing me around in all directions.

In addition to all of that, I have felt that my face doesn’t fit. I feel this at times. In Prague I didn’t feel that among my friends and even people I met relatively recently. There I seem to make sense to people, more or less. Coming back here to the village of C____ through that feeling into relief. Here I feel more or less invisible, socially clumsy, and the minority of one I was for so many years in a small town in W_____ where I grew up.

As ever, I don’t know how much of this feeling is down to not having a focus, not being inside of a project, my writing of course, not being able to get back to it whenever I find a moment, throwing myself into it. Neither do I know whether the job applications and scrambling around for a new utopia, a new place to live and work, Prague, maybe, or London, a political journal or the Hard Rock Cafe in Prague (!), are nothing but a procrastination from what I know I need to do: write.

After all it is true that if being here, and working in a dead end brainless job, is weighing on my nerves, and that if that is so to a degree that it unsettles me, builds up a feeling of bitterness and the chip on my shoulder, then settling down from that to write is very difficult. And if too the writing takes a long time, and any success I may gain from it may be a long way in the future, then all that means is that this monotony and, let’s face it, loneliness, continues into the distant future. Not good.

Really then, trying in some last ditch effort as I have, to land myself a graduate-level job consistent with the first class honours degree I bagged this time a decade ago, and with the language skills I have honed in the difficult years since, is pretty rational. That doesn’t mean it isn’t a higher form of procrastination. It certainly doesn’t mean it’s going to make me feel good or settled or content with my lot. Either way, I don’t think I can keep on doing this careers stuff which was invidious ten years ago. I have written to Czech publishers, Czech tutors, applied for the position of Editorial Assistent and chef at the Hard Rock Cafe, I have written articles for expat magazines in the Czech Republic and looked into meeting and greeting at book launches, but soon I am going to have to recognise that before I went away when I realised that I would struggle with this very anomie I am feeling on my return, I gave myself a to do list to refocus on on getting back; I told myself I would rework the short stories I have written and half written for the short story course, submit one of them for the Manchester Short Story Prize coming up in August, and submit a collection for Tindal Street Press.

For all my Hay-on-Wye-ing and possible trips to London, for all my getting out of this place, in short, I will have to settle down as soon as possible, back into the routine of writing that demands so much of me, and which, let’s face it, makes me confront all of my most deep-rooted shortcomings.

All of which leaves me to say that over the last few days of profound agitated boredom in the job I do, of frustration and depression over the level of conversation that prevails in my place of work, the days of failing to get back into running, of backing out of showing myself up at the swimming pool here, of getting punctures in the first five minutes of taking the new bike out for a ride, of running out of ADHD meds, eating the wrong food that is guaranteed to make me more impatient and short-tempered, of being so bored, in fact, that I have at times resorted to barking like a dog at work, there have still been positive moments, as there always are.

I don’t have time to discuss going down to Hay-on-Wye for a couple of days. I don’t have time to go into taking some photographs at a music festival down there the band wanted to use for promo material. I don’t have time to go into any sense of back-against-the-wall pulling it together I might just have got from getting in my application to the journal at the last minute. What I might, just, have time to talk about is how I drove out, having picked up my much needed meds today in the few hours in between shifts, going up into the hills and sitting with the newspaper, hearing a good song on the radio in the sun, sitting out in the meadow and reading, and then going back to the car to read some of Tony Judt’s wonderful Ill Fares the Land and seeing an owl land on a tree not five metres from my windscreen.

There’s not much that has survived of the enthused reactions to things I had, as everyone does, as a kid. There’s not much that remains unmediated by layers of busy thoughts and feelings, experiences and hurts of fifteen full hard years of adult life. I was thinking about this the other day when I was puzzling through whether I could ever write a song. I came upon a thought that would poorly fit any song I could ever write, if truth be told, but which speaks a truth nonetheless. It was an idea, developed in revierie after revierie, from the drive home from that meeting in B____ with the girl who wants to sing, perhaps, of how still, when I find a money spider, I try to coax it to walk over my skin with much the same feeling as I would have as a child, and there’s an innocent pleasure in the world, a zen simplicity, as that happens, as my focus shifts in to it. Seeing an owl is much the same. Nothing was better as a child, than seeing an Eagle Owl close up. Here was a wild animal. Tamed to a degree by the presence of people, no doubt, and untroubled by the starting of an engine as I discovered as I drove away. But there he was, watching so piercingly. Shifting his head, body and gaze not at all for long minutes. Then sidling along in deliberate side steps up against the trunk of the tree, panning his eyes around, right behind him, up, down.

In those times I remind myself why I care more for short stories than novels, I tell myself it is because of moments like these. William Trevor gets them down right. Moments when the muddle of a life – which never, or rarely ever, get pulled in to coherent, intelligible strands and arcs and trajectories as in a novel – are not annulled, but obliterated for short moments by the right song playing on the radio, or something glimpsed or experienced that makes it all ok. It’s not the moving to Prague or the landing of jobs in the Big Smoke that make life. It’s not the big changes and the weddings and births and deaths – not for the most part. It’s the conversations you have while all this is going on. It’s the jokes you pull off, the making of friends and breaking of friends; it’s the feeling you get when you finish a tough shift at work, completely exhausted, and drive three times around the block before going home just because you like taking it all in; it’s the fact there’s somebody at this place that never has taken to you, and the fact there’s someone else who, just maybe, has. It’s the small stuff. And it is certainly seeing an owl on a tree on a sunny day when you’d just been sure, for the umpteenth time that month alone, that you couldn’t take any more nor be prevailed upon to give two shits about anything the world could confront you with.

It’s knowing you’ve been there before, seen and felt worse and come through. It’s knowing you will again.


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