Tuesday, March 02, 2004

Turning Point 

“Your roses need pruning, Chris.”
“Your roses. It’s what you should be doing instead of standing there scratching yourself.”
“Fuck off.”
“I’m doing mine; yours ’ll suffer if you don’t.”
“I don’t care.”
“So what are you doing then?”
“I’m going to write a novel.”

And he did. He went down to Woolworth’s, bought a notebook, and wrote. First one novel, then another, and another, and there’s still more to come in the series.


I’m sitting in the train, depressing thoughts materialising out of the fog in my head and finding substance in the hard form of words in my journal. Thoughts about stuckness - moving forwards impossible, moving backwards unthinkable, staying still unbearable. Maybe detachment is the answer; live in a glass cage…

There’s a guy sitting opposite me. He has a black expensive-looking folder with several dozen pages bound in it, and he’s going through marking it up with a red pen. A business-like appearance; I assume he’s an executive of some kind (albeit one with a rather world-weary look about him) working on a company report or some such. He looks across at me scribbling in my journal.

“What are you writing then?” – the emphasis is on the “you”, a reference to both of our heads buried in words. That’s unexpected; in my surprise I nearly dismiss the question with an answer that would close the conversation there and then – polite, but indicating that I’m not in the mood for chat.

But I don’t. I’m still non-committal to begin with, but I allow the conversation to grow, and mutter something about my personal journal and my blog. It turns out he’s a novelist, and the paperwork is part of the manuscript of his latest novel. He’d been a journalist for many years, making a living in wordcraft’s front line, doing daily battles with deadlines, word-counts, hard messages. But the ideas for his novels had been taking form, and that seemingly trivial over-the-garden-fence conversation about roses with his neighbour was a turning point that led him to take that step that turned a possibility into a reality.

I shouldn’t have met him; I shouldn’t have been on that train at all. But somewhere this morning five minutes went missing between checking the clock before leaving the house and arriving at the station, resulting in a missed train, at just the one point in the day where there’s a half-hour gap in the timetable rather than the usual ten or fifteen minutes, so I also missed my connecting train too. And so it was that, into my stuckness came words of interest, of practical advice, of encouragement, of hard possibility – at just the time I needed most to hear them.

It’s so tempting to read some special significance into that encounter. To look for angel’s wings folded beneath his jacket (and believe me, for all the light that shone from his out-of-the-blue message, he looked exactly like the journalist he had been; certainly no angel – which some might say is the surest sign of being one). Yet I know it’s just a coincidence; nothing more. All the same, it’s a coincidence from which I take heart.

I’m glad something caused me to miss that train. And the final twist is that the meeting I was going to was delayed by an hour so I wasn’t even late. It was as though that whole encounter had been dropped into time without taking any.

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