Where there's a Willesden there's a way

Friday, January 02, 2004

And, as if to prove it

I'm writing again.

Only 600 words to begin with, but it's the first I've written since the summer.

It's based on a few things. That weird feeling of alienation I get when walking through Watford High Street on a Saturday. The haunting beauty of the Hertfordshire Countryside and the way it contrasts, badly, with the inherent ugliness of 90% of the county's towns. That recurring dream that I'm hunting rabbits in the forest. The overwhelming urge I get to jump off my bus on the way into Borehamwood and go run into the forest.

Oh, and the friend of a friend who went feral.

I think the last six months have been good for my writing, but I should probably reserve judgement until I've finished this story. I never really felt that alive when writing, and midway through a promising story the whole thing felt artificial, so I never finished it. Maybe next I'll try and rewrite Year Zero, my story about fanatical meditation in a way that actually seems genuine. But one step at a time please.

I haven't got a name for this one yet, but it's about a man who feels alienated from city life and his own masculinity, and perhaps perversely seeks to return to his hunter-gatherer roots. I like to think all of us sometimes feel the call of the wild, and at least start to consider the deal humans made when they joined up with civilisation, and as well as concentrating on the things we gained through this, at least give some thought to what we give up. It wasn't a lack of intelligence that kept us in the wild for 97% of our existence. Something about the idea of providing for ourselves and living as a part of, rather than above, nature still appeals to us today. And let's face it, we really didn't evolve to sit in offices all day.

So on a whim, the man in my story just says "fuck it" and runs into the forest. I don't think he really needs to have the intention of staying there- it's enough for him to answer the call and not think about the future. By day 2 he's fashioning a rudimentary spear from a branch (I tried this on New Year's Eve, it's not that tricky), and within a week he's picking off cattle and tanning their hides for leather.

I'm just torn when it comes to the ending. Do I want it to be about not being able to go back? I'm thinking of him going into the town to "forage" and just being seen as a tramp, and as people often do, just looking straight through him. Or do I want him to understand what we're doing in civilisation, despite its faults, and die from an easily preventable infection? I'm not necessarily comfortable with this idea, as I've been really enthusiastic about the need to return to nature theme, and this just negates the message that we also left something behind when we left the forests.

The annoyingly pragmatic ending is that if you went feral, sooner or later you'd end up being put somewhere safe. Someone would secure your property so you could resume your old life, in a way, and after a few sightings of a wild man roaming the woods of Hertfordshire and skinning cattle, the police would soon take a walk in the woods. Besides, you can't craft a rudimentary shelter from saplings without planning permission and a logging licence. But I don't like this ending either- it suggests that we're trapped in civilisation now, and there is no way out, which isn't what I'm trying to say.

I'm going to take a long walk tomorrow and think about this. Through a forest.


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