I went to Glasgow on a whim today. Halfway down the stairs of my apartment building, I decided that I’d give my legs a rest and take the train into town, and halfway to the station, I decided that if the train was ultimately bound for Glasgow, I’d get on it and go the distance. It was – and it was the express service – so I did. And from my perch on the pull-down seat next to the train doors, I watched as the impossibly picturesque Forth Valley gave way to the familiar industrial landscape that bleeds out from all city centres; and I was struck, not for the first time, by the realisation that central Scotland possesses a colour palette entirely different to that of the North of England. A green much less vibrant, marked with sandy browns and the deep maroon of a plant that I have no name for. And here, as the train rolled through Bishopbriggs, through Springburn, grays and whites appeared in the form of brick walls and rail-side birch trees. An aesthetic that I’d long since grown accustomed to, but entirely different at this latitude.
I’d taken this journey a week ago, in the early winter darkness, but it didn’t end when I disembarked at Queen Street. I’d fought against tides of festive families en route to the Christmas Markets and run blindly in the general direction of Central Station, anxious to get to my connection. But today, in the midday sun, I rolled out of the station with no set destination, hands wrapped around a surprisingly delicious flat white prepared for me by a station attendant, and I walked for hours.
And I’d arrived in the mood to write. The linguistic areas of my brain had already been illuminated, set alight last night by a friend of mine who loves poetry. So I saw everything and responded with language. The ginger babyface wrapped in a blanket and crouched on a piece of rotting cardboard on Argyle Street. The hasty Italian men that checked me as I idled at a crossing, breaking into a panicked sprint as they clocked the double-decker racing down the hill towards them. The crumbling buildings and 1990s store front facades, and the railway bridge that shoots out over the River Clyde, carrying passengers in and out out of the city on cross-country lines. And the kid with the denim jacket and leather bicycle seat, trying to weave his way up a busy pedestrianised high street; I envied his lifestyle momentarily, envied – as I often do in the places like this – the fact that he belonged to such a perfect dive, but I saw him hours later, wheeling his bike off the train in Stirling. Turns out that it was me, and I saw everything.
But I had no notebook with which I could bring this language into existence, so I ducked into Waterstones to buy one. But it was unbearably busy, and I was hot, and the notebooks were both substandard and overpriced. So I turned around and raced for the door, but my eyes, darting around as they do in these instances, fell upon a copy of Haruki Murakami’s What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. And I cannot overstate the profundity of this moment, for I both somehow stopped dead in my tracks and didn’t miss a beat in grabbing it and racing back towards the till. I’d forgotten my headache and my dizziness, and I’d forgotten all about my inherent frugality. I’d been looking for this book for almost two years, and here it was. A dude called Glenn titles his hyper-concise Goodreads review of this book as “the Loneliness of the Long Distance Writer“, and here we are.
Five weeks without a single word.
Five weeks of something, of everything, but five weeks with absolutely nothing to say.
Five weeks of frustration, of self-deprecation, of endless irritation at my lack of ability to conjure up anything at all, brought to a sudden end with an uncharacteristically impulsive trip to Glasgow. By a late-night conversation with someone who loves words as much as I do. By a series of beautiful accidents and questionable choices.
I haven’t read anything by Murakami in months, but I’ve thought about him often in these last couple of weeks. Poster-boy for dedication to the craft and everything that I lack.
A reminder to do better, as always, next time around.