11th November, morning
I’m taking my first full week off of work since before the pandemic, quite possibly since August 2019, which was a very long time ago. (Lockdown doesn’t count – lockdown was more stressful, tiring and awful than working, very much time spent “on” rather than time spent “off”.)
I need it, tbh, I had an absolutely massive panic attack at work two days ago and my mental health has been increasingly deteriorating. This week off has come at a good time, maybe. Or maybe not… maybe it will be a respite rather than a recovery, a brief enjambment between the irregular poetic lines of my mostly miserable life.
I’m heading east, towards the ocean, by train – I’m still waiting for a formal, physical, visa to arrive from the government, so I’m unwilling to risk hopping the border to warmer climes. I got onto this train at 6.30 this morning and soon it will drop me and my lover in Montreal, where we will switch for a train to Quebec City, which I am optimistic will be somewhat beautiful, though obviously not the subtropical beach I would prefer to be nearing.
During the journey so far, as well as responding to work emails (out of a dull, embarrassing, shameful and ultimately disgusting habit) and watching the first ten minutes of a sleazy-looking 1960s French erotic thriller (or 1960s erotic French thriller?) on Mubi, I read the entirety of Eliza Clark’s 2020 Influx Press novel, Boy Parts, which is excellent, engaging and very difficult to put down.
I expected to spend a bit of time on this train sleeping.
I didn’t get in from work until after 1am last night, and then I had to pack for this trip.
I was also freaking out a lot as I was unable to find my house keys when I was leaving work, and had to climb up an iron fire escape to tap on my lover’s bedroom window to let me in, like someone might have done in a 1960s French erotic thriller (or even a 1960s erotic French thriller). So, if my keys do not turn up in my workplace today – hopefully taken home in error by a colleague – I will likely spend a lot of time during my week away agonising about the possibility that someone deliberately swiped my keys, knowing I would be away, with the plan to steal my possessions.
I have with me my passport, my laptop, my phone, one of my best pairs of shoes and my favourite coat, but at home I have other clothes, I have many books and I have my teenage guitar, my MIDI keyboard and my Nintendo Switch there for the taking if someone is letting themselves in. Also they might poo on the floor or something, which I would hate.
Hopefully this won’t happen but, y’know, until my keys have definitively turned up I am going to be expecting to arrive back in a week to a ravaged apartment and the expense of re-cutting an entire set of keys.
I’m worrying a lot.
I restocked my meds for three months again yesterday, too, which always makes me very conscious of the amount of chemicals I consume to keep myself alive. I’m taking over 2g of active prescription psychiatric medication every week, which really sounds like a serious habit when you put it like that. Christ.
The protagonist of Boy Parts is also highly medicated, but of the self-medicated, the recreational medicated, kind. Oh, I remember being in my twenties.
Is there a high correlation between partying in your twenties and relying on volcanic quantities of anti-psychotics and SSRIs to make it through your 30s? I dunno, lol, I don’t have any friends to ask.
Boy Parts is about an increasingly successful photographer, of the Fine Art kind, named Irina. Irina is living in her native Newcastle after studying at the RCA and Central St Martin’s, making a steady living selling her fetish/erotica-adjacent photographic prints using non-professional male models as her subjects. Irina works a shitty bar job at the start of the novel that she is able to quit by its end (the dream!), so I suppose the text could be read as a positive tale of professional growth, if that’s the kinda thing you look for in a book?
Irina is a bit of a mess – she parties too much, she keeps blurring the lines between subjects for her art and potential lovers (she maintains there must be a strict distinction, a firm, steadfast, rule that is neither adhered to nor enforced – very familiar in this pandemic world ammaright #satire???) – and, as the novel goes on, Irina gets increasingly violent towards her subjects, pushing the boundaries of her control over these amateur models, interrogating how much pain and humiliation her essentially beige men will pretend to enjoy in order to not lose status in front of her. Her violence and cruelty is often ignored and avoided by the men she encounters – it is blokeishly laughed off, the men apologise for not being as “into it” as she is: none of the men are willing to cry for help, none of them are willing to accept that they’re in danger, which they most certainly are.
Boy Parts is an articulate, often funny, book, that evokes the memory loss and confusion of partying and the power of intense dreaming and day-dreaming around a dissatisfying day-to-day: sometimes our most potent memories are not memories of events but rather memories of dreams.
Do our dreams and the things we believe we remember but do not know we remember mean more than the realities we have lost? Lost, or maybe repressed – are all memories always there?
The recurring sound of a bell, the vision of a shard of glass in an unblinking eye – Clark repeats simple, visceral, images that demonstrate her protagonist’s fracturing mental state.
It’s a powerful novel: very very readable, often near-to genuinely shocking; it’s dark, it’s entertaining, it’s provocative and it’s thought-provoking, I think.
My train is pulling into Montreal, so I need to put my beautiful shoes back on and change onto a more Francophone train.
While I do that, why don’t you:
SCAT TO BE POO – AN ANTHOLOGY ABOUT POO
Now available, an anthology of writing about excrement, edited by Triumph of the Now’s scott manley hadley. PRICE INCLUDES SHIPPING unless you live on the moon or something. Featuring Fernando Sdrigotti, Karina Bush, Geoffrey Chaucer, Jonathan Swift, the Bible, Harry Gallon, Genia Blum, Guy Russell, Cubby the Dog, Jane Frances Dunlop, Paul Onuh, Kim Vodicka, Steve Denehan, Jaime Lynn Becker, Ramsey Daniels, Jordan Hamel, Giuseppe Manley, Logan K Young, Kiki von Kristmass, Liam Hogan, Maximillian Novak, Mazin Saleem, S Leese, Dawn Davies, Ben Jonson, Mel Black, Hania Habib, Rob True, Ana Reisens, Pam Knapp, James Joyce, Oliver Zarandi, Nick Carzana and Sadie Dingfelder.