I think of myself as organised, and I am – in most things. Just not really when it comes to writing. Something to do with the white heat of creativity, possibly. I get all these ideas at inconvenient times, and scribble them down on this or that. At intervals I become dismayed by the piles of this and that – the pages torn from notebooks, the notebooks with scraps glued into them, the half-written short stories held together by rusty paperclips; the planned short stories – bundles of file paper, scraps, bits of cereal packets stapled together and now unintelligible. At that point I have a Sort Out – spend a whole day putting stuff in wallet files of different colours and labelling the files with marker pen. Finally, when Heaps of Stuff overwhelm me, I throw them all into a cardboard box and put the cardboard box somewhere. The cardboard box then gets lost, or buried under Other Heaps of Stuff in the garage.
This cardboard box, however, was in the cupboard under the stairs. I rarely venture into the cupboard under the stairs because it contains a lingering smell of cigarettes. I didn’t notice anything when I viewed the house – and I have a keen nose – but I reckon they must have been smoking secretly in the cupboard. Either that or it lingers in an enclosed space where the door is rarely opened. However, that’s where I had put the cardboard box. I dragged it out and spent a morning going through it and finding – to my delight – all sorts of things I thought I had lost, including one file on which I had scrawled Don’t Be Bored. I think I must have been planning an e-book. Then got Bored.
It dated back to the job at the call centre. I was so Bored at the call centre but we weren’t allowed to have anything that looked like Entertainment on show in our little plywood hutches – sorry, pods. If the Floor-Walker caught you…yes, our supervisors were called Floor-Walkers, because they walked the CATI – which was an acronym for something – basically an industrial unit crammed with rows of plywood pods, and ancient computers with keyboards so beat-up the letters had vanished. Touch-typing came in handy. Those who couldn’t touch-type attached little paper letter-labels to the keys with chewing-gum, or painted them on with Snopake, which then melted and stuck to the fingers.
If a Floor-Walker spotted a mobile phone, a dog-eared paperback, one of those crossword-puzzle/Wordsearch/Sudoku books, cough-sweets, half-eaten yoghurts or anything that wasn’t paper or a single biro she would whisk it away. Apart from Robert’s permanent pile of snotty tissues. They got left.
We were allowed paper, though. And one biro. If you lost your biro you had to pay for any subsequent ones. We stole them ruthlessly from one other, along with headsets-that-worked, stray foam-rubber ear-cushions and not-entirely-wrecked chairs. Paper it was, then – to get me through a seven hour shift of cold-calling with long gaps in between. I folded it into fans, each fold exactly coinciding with the ruled feint. Then I folded the folds back the other way. Then I folded them back the first way again. Hour after hour after hour. Or sometimes Ideas would come, and I would make cryptic notes to myself in shorthand-and-shopping-list.
I was planning a whole series, I see from my cigaretty-smelling notes – Things To Do When…
- It’s Raining…
- The TV Just Exploded…
- You Have No Money…
- The Lights Go out …
- You’ve Got To Sit And Wait…
And these are some of my notes for You Have No Money:
Watch clouds/people/the sea
Draw – a good way of looking
Walk – if necessary in circles or a figure of 8
Use stuff you already have, eg large-scale maps + string to plan a longer walk. Roadmaps to plan a walk round Cornwall, Ireland, from Landsend to John o’Groats, all round Britain…
(NB: string – you can use string to calculate distances on a map. You use the scale at the bottom of the map to knot the string at ‘five-mile’ intervals – then you arrange the string round the route you intend to take, count the knots and that’s the miles. If you know how long it takes you to walk a mile – it used to take me 15 to 20 minutes – you can also calculate how many hours the walk will take you. No doubt there’s an App for it now.)
Origami (printer paper)
Cut out snowflake patterns or newspaper people strings, colour them, and hang them up (printer paper)
Invent a code
Invent own shorthand system
Design a “prison cell” exercise routine. Do that routine every morning for a week. I did actually design one (I know, sad) which used the stairs for running up and down and bottles of water for weights. Why go to the gym and be embarrassed by sweaty, fit-looking people in leotards?
Read all the books you have in the house, either by author or in alphabetical order. Include e-books. If you don’t tend to keep books join a library and, like Jeanette Winterson, read fiction from A to Z.
Decide on something you want to learn in depth (maybe something that could make you money eventually). Use the library together with any resources you have, to do this. Index the notes for easy reference as the file grows.
Teach yourself to make crosswords. Start by copying a grid from a local paper and making up your own clues and answers.
Volunteer. This is probably more relevant to town-dwellers since it needs to be within walking distance, as travel costs money. Even walking costs shoe-leather, of course. Even breathing… I can’t remember how breathing costs money, but I know I calculated once that it did.
Make vegetable sculptures. Why not try carrots and potatoes? (yes, I actually wrote that). Have a competition for the best Potato Head. If careful can re-use the vegetables as vegetable hot-pot (cut up). Did I really think someone was going to throw a Mr Potato-Head or Mrs Carrot-Snake whole into a hot-pot?
Pasta jewellery. What can I have meant by this?
I’ve written far too many words already so I’ll save the Raining, Broken TV and Lights Out lists for another time. Maybe.
Wouldn’t want anyone getting overexcited.