by Mark Yeow
We are sitting in a lobster pot down Soho way when she asks what I think of food photography.
“I don’t think it’s good or bad,” I say, “more just a remediation of how we’ve always sought to both capture and share the ephemeral. I guess food is just a prime target for that human urge to remember: it’s beautiful, it evokes new feelings in our senses, and it is by definition perishable, unable to retain its corporeal presence in the manner of clothes or jewels. Food makes us think and feel better, and I think it’s instinctual to want to try and hold onto that by passing it on as best we can.”
I’m writing this because I, too, want to hold onto something fleeting. I want to remember the way she brushed a stray sprig of lavender across one leg as we grazed on leaves in take-away trays. I want to remember the easy way we could laugh as we meandered through Studio K, and the raucous direction-giving and insinuations about our relationship from the trio of her compatriots who we glanced into at one station of many. I want to trace back everything we said about the perks of being a food blogger, the impossibility of befriending dumb people, the intricacies of love and friendship and loneliness and sacrifice that we spooled out along the train tracks and cobblestones in our wake, like breadcrumbs leading us towards our better selves. I want to write down everything we said about writing, and what the words mean to us.
“It all comes down to social proofing,” she says sometime on, as I splinter open a lobster claw. “Have you seen that comic where the guy tweets about a druggie in the toilet, and as he sits waiting for the RTs to come in he’s in exactly the same posture as his erstwhile subject? But what happens when that social validation becomes what we define ourselves by, not by the experiences we document but the metrics they generate?”
Only later, now, do I remember traces of a lecture long past: the act of inscription is the act of definition. We didn’t say the things I wrote we did. At one point in the lobster pot, I float the idea that I prefer writing because I’m no good with talk, my thoughts trip over each other like tourist-herds stampeding down sooty high-streets, whereas on paper or screen I can order things the way I wish they could be.
Which is, of course, exactly what I’m doing now. I’m editing as I go, summarising lengthy discourses, eliding tangents, connecting logical spaces. So my words, as a transcript of our day, are not perfect – more like the opposite – yet to anyone apart from us they would seem to be, like a photograph of a macaron tower that falls the second after the flash.
“The idea is that words have power,” I tell her, about a work in progress, “so what if we could really create things with our words? Like, if we sang a poem about Xanadu, it would rear up in front of us with stately decree?”
“How do you come up with ideas like that?” she asks when I’m done. “Where do those linkages, those syntheses come from? You say there’s nothing new under the sun, but then why do we always crave the next story? And why is it that the feeling of originality can still exist?”
The thing is, I don’t feel original. I feel like for everything I say to her, there’s so much more I can’t put into words. Like I’m brushing up against the limits of common vocabulary and the only thing to do is venture into the uncommon, the juxtapositions and patois and absurd images that I can only draw on paper, outside the far-too-fast-for-me stream of everyday life. To say “I care about you”, I make a basilisk await a human child’s return for all eternity. Instead of “it’s lonely without you” I conjure up dementia and robotic swans. Everything I write is both a memory of how I’ve felt, and a wish that I could say it better. Perhaps one day, I’ll know how to speak words as crisp and clean as a photograph, saying everything I want to tell her at the moment I need to. Until then, I’ll struggle to catch up on paper, filling in the blanks that each day leaves behind.
9 June 2014