Sunday, 12 October 2008

Spoiling it: N M Browne

What is it about the blank page? It is like the first snow of childhood, the first cut of the birthday cake my grandmother made me; it is the unknown, the unsullied, the promise of something wonderful.
Once upon a time when I was a child, I used to be given a new exercise book in every subject at the start of the new school year. I was so careful to be neat, to make the first incursions upon that virgin territory perfect as I could contrive them. I wrote slowly, my tongue lodged between my teeth, an unconscious indicator of extreme concentration.

I sometimes wonder if we change at all. Here I am grown up and long past the days of new exercise books and a simulacrum of a blank page, courtesy of Microsoft still fills me with strange reverence, a curious excitement as, my tongue still squeezed between my teeth, I try to make marks that will have some inherent quality, something that will somehow compensate for the defacing of this perfect, rectangular white space.

Some people I know are fearful of those first marks, of beginnings, of somehow committing to an act of desecration, of putting something onto nothing and maybe spoiling everything. Some people run headlong into the snow, joyful and abandoned jumping feet first into the emptiness.

I am not fearful; well, not exactly,for all my reverence and concentration I know it will all go horribly wrong, just as I knew as a child that my neatness would barely make it to the second page. The first mistake was almost a relief – I was a messy kid so I never had to wait long. It is much the same now. I usually mess up by the second line. The words are never good enough, but it’s OK.
I love that moment before I put pen to page, type words on the screen, put my imperfect muddy footprints through the snow and I welcome the moment not long after when I know I’ve blown it again, I’ve blotted my copybook, made my usual mess and so can relax.

There. I’ve done it again - destroyed all the hidden potential of a blank page just for a blog.


Jon M said...

So true, I would spend ages as a child getting the title neat and underlining only to find that my elbow had dogeared the corners and somehow the edges of the page were mysteriously grubby...

That reminds me, must dust the monitor sometime...just while I'm thinking what to write, you understand.

Lucy Coats said...

I am a jumper into the snow--a headlong rusher. Usually before I start a new bookthing I am bursting with the idea, and can't wait to commit it to the blank word document. Once I have the first file, I then ceremoniously make a nice blank folder for it to go into. Only then is it real, with the potential to be a book at some point in the distant or not so distant future. I'm always very sad when one of those folders has to go into the 'bottom drawer'. It somehow feels like failure....

Anne Rooney said...

Ooh, those clean exercise books! Yes! And now I feel anxious when my daughter messes up the new exercise book at the start of the school year. The screen doesn't have the same feel, though I'm with you about the named folder, Lucy :-)