Lost the old muse for a while. Couldn’t write. Had several anxiety attacks which weren’t very nice. Don’t like England much right now. Every article I tried to write turned into a rant. Bad.
I’ve just finished reading ‘If You Want to Write’ by Brenda Ueland. Towards the end of the book, she quotes Van Gogh. I can’t remember the passage exactly and I can’t be arsed to walk across the room and flick through the book, but the sentiment is this: write (or for that matter – create, do, make) not out of a sense of duty or ambition, but of an appreciation, gratitude, and a desire to share. Angry political articles about how much of a bell end Boris Johnson is have their place. But they are not fun to write, and there are plenty of people more intelligent than me who do a far better job at writing them.
So instead of writing my frustrations with the world at large, I am going to write about something that only I know, that I would like to share, because it’s really beautiful. I’m going to write about Jeanne. But first:
While at work back in November, I was editing our bi-annual travel magazine. There was an interview in there by author Pico Iyer, which I was tasked with editing (I did not edit it one bit – he is a revered author, I am a clown). While reading the interview, I came across a sentiment that Iyer put forward about love: how the people we love can often seem more present in their absence, from the simple arrangement of their belongings left as they are.
Now – to Jeanne.
She’s not here today; she’s been out since this morning at a painting course. She text me a couple of hours ago while they were on a break to tell me she thought the teacher wasn’t great – their group wasn’t getting much instruction. Jeanne said her painting was crap. I told her I’m sure it isn’t.
Everything nice in our bedroom comes from her. My contribution to our bedroom is a dusty electric guitar, a dusty amp, a rack of books, a poster for ‘Thugs of Hindostan’ (the movie I played a corpse in while travelling India in 2018), and two pencil drawings (Che Guavara and Joe Strummer, two heroes of mine). Beyond a few idly strewn socks, that’s it.
Jeanne’s make up bag sits on a little table in front of our wall mirror (a foot across, knee-to-head height, unevenly tacked to the wall by yours truly). I don’t know what her various make ups are, because she makes them herself and labels them in French, or else so obscurely that I’ve no clue what they could be for. I just had a peep and there’s one called ‘Crème Sexy’. Smells quite nice.
There are a couple of make-up wipes, too. She buys reusable ones – reusable everything. Reusable teabags, tote bags, reusable sponges for our washing up. She’s good to the environment. Vegetarian for three years. When she goes back to Strasbourg she takes a succession of trains and buses – over a period of around ten hours each way – rather than fly. I’m not as good.
On our sofa (we got it for free off Facebook Marketplace; had to lug it half a mile or so home; nearly killed us) there is a yellow spotted throw which she bought. It’d never have occurred to me in a million years to buy a throw. I’m glad we have it though, as it gets chilly here – we’re trying to avoid turning the heating on to save money.
In front of the sofa is a slim white table we bought from Ikea that Jeanne assembled herself. On the table is my knackered laptop (lasted me four years and one world tour and died just this morning) and a coffee cup painted to look like a cute fox’s face. There’s also a pink and orange bowl Jeanne made a couple of weeks back at a pottery class. It’s my favourite thing in this room. The lid for the bowl doesn’t quite fit – it warped slightly while drying, I think – and it makes it look like the bowl is smiling. I put a couple of tea candles on top to look like googly eyes. Jeanne eats her meals out of the bowl, which I think is weird, but she isn’t bothered.
On the stretch of wall between our two wardrobes is an advent calendar Jeanne made back in late November. It’s five rows of string, one above the other, short as they go higher to make a Christmas tree shape. On the bottom row she has pegged eight little numbered brown envelopes (the pegs are mini Santa heads). On the row above, there are seven. Above, five, then three, then one. Each envelope (now torn open, but left on the wall because we’ve grown attached) contained a teabag, each teabag a different interesting flavour.
On her wardrobe is a light orange calendar on which she jots down events. Doctors appointments, friend visits, birthdays, that sort of thing. There’s a birthday card I gave her last year which states ‘You old as fuck’, and a drawing of a white cube against a black background she drew at an art class last year.
We have a few plants. We’ve got three cactuses (cacti?) that we used to sit in the windowsill. We had to move them because they kept getting their needles stuck to the curtain when we drew them, which would cause the cactuses to whiz off across the room spilling soil everywhere. Jeanne tells me off for watering them too often.
We used to have a tomato plant and we nurtured it like it was our baby – I would gaze lovingly at it and chat to it about my day. Over several weeks it grew one single tomato, minute at first, but juicer by the day. It started out green all over, but a light red came creeping in. Then one day I went out and left it in the windowsill to have some nice sun. I left the window open too so it could have some fresh air. When I came home the plant was lying outside the front door, our curtains billowing out of the window. Jeanne called me a murderer.
We put the tomato in the window once again (now off the vine – it detached in the fall) to let it redden. It reddened nicely, and we were happy, until I left the window open again and it fell out again. We found it lying under a car. We took it inside, washed it and had one bite each. Traumatised tomato; delicious.
The last thing I can see of Jeanne’s (from where I’m sitting) is a pair of black wellington boots that only come up calf-high. On rainy days she wears these with a shiny yellow raincoat her mum bought her, a woollen jumper, and a grey beanie. I always think she looks like a fisherman.
She makes me smile.