Living with the Truth Stranger than Fiction This Is Not About What You Think Milligan and Murphy Making Sense

Wednesday, 23 September 2015


Arachnophobia II

He's there!
in the shadows of your past
hiding in my name –
visible only in outline.

I can't see his eyes.

Spider-shadowIrresistibly, like a dream,
he moves, somnambulant,
into the light.

Please don't let him touch me.

(For F.)

20 February 1984

As with ‘Arachnophobia’ (#570) this is not a poem about spiders. I have no real problem with spiders. At least not the dinky things we get in this country. But they do serve as a useful metaphor at times. I mentioned they crop up in my new book. I actually found three references:

There are so many things in this world to be afraid of: spiders (arachnophobia); clowns (coulrophobia); crowds (enochlophobia); going insane (maniaphobia); the blank page (vacansopapurosophobia); long waits (macrophobia); being alone (monophobia); being forgotten (athazagoraphobia); being ridiculed (katagelophobia); all of these and most others can be attended to by family or friend, therapist or priest (it all amounts to much the same in the end) but the one thing no one can evade and, as such, is pointless being afraid of, is the realisation that one day you will perish; you will cease being, you will fade away and those too who knew you and those who knew of you.


Getting back inside the park was easier than he’d expected. He tried the main gates first on the off chance they might not have been locked. They were. He sighed and stared at the padlock. Inconsiderately Life had neglected to equip him with heat vision so at this precise point in time all he could do was stare at it. There was a spider crawling slowly over the thing. A shaft of pearly moonlight caught it and he was so utterly transfixed by the beauty of the moment he completely forgot why he was there. It didn’t last and he felt awkward and conspicuous standing there once it ended.


My wife handed me a snapshot once, a picture of me sitting on my bench from the time before. “See?” she said. “See?” See what? I looked like I suppose a thirty-odd-year-old Magritte might have looked but I didn’t see myself in the photo. I still have it somewhere, probably where she put it since I would never have been able to think of the right place for it. I brought a hoard of boxes with me when I moved. No, I remember! I tore them up. Yes, in a fit of… I don’t know… self-righteousness. Who would have believed me still capable of such passion? Ripped to shreds. All of them. Swept under the bed with the dust and spiders. It’s likely there unless she took it with her when she left and it wasn’t one I destroyed. Unless I flushed them down the plughole or the toilet bowl. That is a distinct possibility.

In case you’re interested I’ve just finished my ninth read-through of the book. I am now working through the 250 notes I made and once I’ve done that I’ll send the amended file to my tablet and begin the tenth read-through. The goal, it took some seventeen read-throughs with the short story collection, is to be able to read the thing from beginning to end without stumbling once. There is no guarantee that any of the above will stay the way it is—the beta readers still have to have their say and then my wife will get her blue pencil out—but I’m reasonably satisfied with it. Haven’t found a typo or a spelling mistake in ages! Punctuation’s another matter; it’s not an exact science but we do our best and try to be consistent.


Kass said...

I like the idea of a previous lover hiding in your name. I like all the images here and the spider-like threat creeping into the present. I can't help but think of the arachnoid layer of the meninges of the brain and even that seems threatening - all the spider-like structures and lines that creep around, perhaps even affecting our thoughts.

Kass said...

Congrats on your progress with the book!

Jim Murdoch said...

That’s not my reading of the poem, Kass, although it has been a long time and I’m coming to it almost as a first time reader. The narrator says that the spider is hiding in his lover’s past and using his, i.e. the narrator’s, name. So it’s a previous version of him. He was the spider and, presumably, still can embrace his arachnid nature. The spider represents the base side to his character which his intellect tries to suppress saying what the spider wants is wrong but the man’s arguments are weak and the spider’s needs are strong. The spider’s taken control before and he’s liable to do so again. One of the things I talk about at length in my new book is man’s dual nature. Some call him our dark side, others think of him as our spirituality, or our muse. He can be many things and more than one. In this poem he, as represented by the spider, is my libido who would not listen to reason. A hand is like a spider. It creeps up skirts and down tops.

As for the book. I have eight notes left, the eight most awkward ones, and I know I won’t be able to use everything but it’s hard not trying. And, of course, there’s the odd one I can’t make head nor tale of, e.g. “God Horatio, what a wounded name. (Things standing thus unknown) shall live behind me!” Where am I going with that? In the modern text it’s rendered as, “Oh God, Horatio, what a damaged reputation I’m leaving behind me, as no one knows the truth.” And why’ve I added the brackets? Unknown things have as much a right to exist as the known. There is much I don’t know, that I don’t even know of, which others do. The truth exists even if no one knows it. I’ll have to think more on this.

Kass said...

God Horatio, what a wounded name.
Things standing thus unknown
shall live behind me!

- Jim, that's pretty profound just as it stands...and it has such a nice sound.

The truth we leave behind - everyone's perception will alter it. We have no control.
And I'm not sure, but if absolute truth exists, is it like the tree in the forest?
And with our senses being individually limited, can we count on or live by "TRUTH" if it's so nebulous?

Jim Murdoch said...

The quote is by some bloke called Shakespeare, Kass. I hear he had a knack of kluging together famous quotes to make something new. Not sure it’ll ever catch on. To my mind quotes and allusions are like spice; a few grains can change a dish entirely. What I like about them is they do so much work for you. For example, in my sentence, “I know I’m real and I don’t need your say so to be or not be what you expect me to be,” I include a nod to Hamlet’s most famous monologue and Christ knows how much time’s been spent analysing just the opening line of that. All of that is accessed, albeit unconsciously, by the reader. But if they’ve never even heard of Shakespeare the sentence still makes sense and progresses the novel. I was watching Maxine Peake take on the role of Hamlet when Carrie was in the States last—she acquitted herself not bad but I couldn’t get David Tennant’s interpretation out of my head—and when she said that line I grabbed my tablet and jotted it down. Something in it chimed. I just need to figure out with what and graft in as much or as little of it as needed. At the moment I have 1350 footnotes because there’s no way I’ll remember what was going through my mind when I was writing unless I keep a record of it. There are forty nods to ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’ for instance. Hamlet has eleven so far. Beckett has hundreds.

On the subject of truth another line I have I want to do something with is, “I am living a forgery of a life.” It’s something Abby Holland says in the comic Swamp Thing Vol.4 #25. I have almost sixty nods to the comic. Few people will have read the entire run of five volumes but that’s really not important. If they even pick up on one or two then they’ll ask the important question: What is the connection? It’s odd that Abby—Abby is the name of Jim’s wife in the book—would talk about her life being a forgery because that’s actually her husband’s problem. In my novel Jim writes a book entitled Memoirs of a Made-up Man because he’s had to rely on the memories of others to build up a picture of who he is. Like my book Swamp Thing is an exceedingly metafictional comic.

Does absolute truth exist? Of course it does. It’s incredibly complex however. Words simply aren’t up to the challenge even when we’re trying to be honest. It’s like I say in the book:

It’s like describing a starling as a brown bird when its plumage is, in point of fact, iridescent black, glossed purple or green, and spangled with white, especially in winter. The thing is, from a distance, I suppose it does look like a brown bird. It’s all a matter of concentration and inquisitiveness.

Kass said...

...age old questions,

but you seem to approach them anew.

I guess I can understand how a life can feel like a forgery, but who's accessing a value to our lives? And why do we care so much?

Jim Murdoch said...

If I explained the premise to my book you’d understand why that quote jumped out at me, Kass. (BTW it’s now in the book and I’ve adjusted three other sections to echo the sentiment.) When Carrie was in the States last I watched a film called The Reconstruction of William Zero. It wasn’t what I’d hoped but it was interesting nonetheless. William Blakely wakes in a house tended by a man who introduces himself as his twin brother. His brother explains that William was involved in a car crash. William can remember nothing of his life and must be taught basic concepts, such as how to walk and respond to knock-knock jokes. His identity depends totally on what he’s told. What if he was a murderer in real life and his brother decided not to tell him? He would look the same but he wouldn’t be the same; he’d be a forgery. We also started watching a show called Dark Matter where a number of people awake on a space ship and are able to fly it but know nothing about themselves and, for the first episode at least, refer to each other as numbers based on who came to first. A hierarchy is established but is it the right one? At the end of the episode the ship’s android manages to access the ship’s manifest and… it turns out they are all murderers and thieves. Assuming they can believe what they read. We will have to see how the show progresses.

Kass said...

An identity based on what we're told. Sounds familiar but mind-boggling when applied to amnesia at mid-life with the prospect of a new orientation.

The premise of your book - hoping it becomes clear when I read it. I'm sure you'll let everyone know when it's out.

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