Saturday, April 18, 2015

He could be an axe murderer...

The night before I met Jim Murdoch in person, I dreamed about our meeting, only in my dream Jim Murdoch had morphed into Gerald Murnane, the Australian writer, once in contention for a Nobel prize in literature, with whom I’ve been corresponding for over ten years. 

Gerald Murnane and I have agreed it’s better to have a relationship through the written word than to engage in person, and until the time we met, Jim Murdoch and I had a similar relationship, one that existed on the page only, or should I say on the screen, an online relationship that many of us in the blogosphere share. 

In my dream, the entire Murnane family came to meet me, but there was some trouble over who might drive the family car, Murnane’s elderly father or me.  This dream speaks to me of all sorts of things, but for now, it’s enough to observe how much it hints at my anxiety in meeting Jim.

Nevertheless, I tried hard not to be nervous about our meeting.  I had only just arrived in Edinburgh two days earlier so I was still in that fog of newness that descends whenever you arrive in a foreign place and my nervousness was hard to shake. 
My Edinburgh-based daughter had shown me the day before how I might walk from our hotel room along St Mary’s Street to Waverly station in Edinburgh to take the train to Glasgow's Queen Street station where Jim and I had arranged on Facebook to meet. 

If only we’d agreed to meet alone.  I say this now because in our initial planning I had mentioned to Jim that my husband would also like to meet him and suggested that Jim’s wife, Carrie, whom I’ve also met online – my husband does not communicate online, he prefers to keep out of cyberspace – might like to join us too, and so we became a foursome. 

The extra invitations were a protective manoeuvre, I reckon now.  As one of my daughters said to me when I told her I’d be meeting the Jim Murdoch from my blog, ‘How do you know he is who he says he is? He could be an axe murderer.’

The thought had not crossed my mind that Jim could be anyone other than the man he claims to be on his blog. I had no doubt as to his actual existence, but to appease my children and my husband and maybe to appease that doubtful part of myself that I here deny, that just-in-case part of myself, I thought it would be better to include our spouses.

I can still see myself arrive at Glasgow station.  I look up in awe at the overarching ceilings on these amazing railway stations in Scotland.  It’s like being in the movies. You mind the gap as you step off the train under the glare of light; you walk the stretch of platform, jostling with other passengers; and then you take out your ticket, and slip it into the slot, not entirely confident that this machine will offer it back for the return journey nor lift the bar to let you through. 

This time it worked and almost before I had time to clear the exit, with my husband close behind, I saw Jim.  I recognised him instantly from his pictures and he recognised me.  Jim was, as his photos suggest, a man with a ginger/grey beard that almost hides his face and glasses. 

My impulse, my rehearsed greeting, was one of a slowly proffered hand, but Jim grabbed me in a hug that was so strong, heart felt and warm it caught me off guard.

I had imagined that Jim Murdoch, the man who tells me about his reclusive ways, would be less forthcoming.  More like me, physically shy and held back.  

I did not say anything of this to Jim at the time.  At the time, we walked briskly along one cold Glasgow Street around a corner past the Wellington Monument and we talked about the weather and the fact that Jim had chosen a nearby patisserie where we might stop to drink our coffee.  

The monument was decked out with a witches hat/traffic cone that some ‘naughty boys’ probably put up there years ago.

Carrie was already settled inside, Jim told us, as my husband trailed behind, all three of us caught up in the niceties of that first meeting.

The rest of our time together swims by in a haze of images.  The coffee lounge or patisserie was one of those large, efficient establishments in beige colours with dark wood flourishes.  I did not pay it too much attention caught up as I was in this first meeting. 

Jim had told me in his Facebook message that given Carrie’s presence we would not be lost for words.  He was right.  Carrie took hold of the conversation and the four of us talked together about the sort of trivia people share when they meet for the first time across countries.  How the weather in Australia compares to Glasgow.  

Together we roamed over all sorts of vague irrelevancies to clear a space for deeper conversation that never really happened.  

We two sat diagonally opposite and there were so many times when I would have liked to shut the other two up and talk to Jim about things that matter to me about writing, things that I imagine matter to Jim, too. 

I would have liked to cut across the friendly banter and dive deep into conversation that meant more, but it was not to happen.  And in the end, after we had finished our lattes and Jim had ordered a second cup of coffee for him and Carrie, and my husband and I had finished our glasses of water – we’d had breakfast on the way to Waverly station and could not tolerate the idea of a second cup of coffee, whereas Jim and Carrie were keen for more – we said our goodbyes.

I was torn between my husband’s needs and my own. My own wish to plunge into thoughts about writing and life in the online world, instead we talked about power companies and the cost of electricity. 

My husband had also mentioned how keen he was to visit Mackintosh House, which he had read about.  A house of remarkable design, whose original owners had introduced a new style of architecture in the early 1900s.  We never got there because the house turned out to be further into town at the university and the rain was pelting down.

By the time we left Jim and Carrie, the first thing we did, in order to get out of the rain and for warmth, we went to GOMA, the Glasgow Museum of Modern Art.  Up and down stairs, the bright lights and colours of paintings on walls by some of Glasgow’s finest artists, left me hankering for the cosy warmth of the patisserie. 

In retrospect, my visit with Jim Murdoch became an opportunity lost.  How could it be otherwise in the circumstances?

There are times when the written word can be more enticing than the flesh, the face to face, the ordinary defensiveness of real life contact. 

In writing we can be more honest, however much we might construct our stories.  In person, we are polite and hide behind our smiles.  

In writing we can tell the truth about lies


Glenn Ingersoll said...

That's fun, that you & Jim had a meet-up.

I've been reading the published late 80s journal of Polish/Lithuanian poet Czeslaw Milosz, winner of the Nobel Prize in 1980. I wish I'd read the journal before I met him. Perhaps I would have ventured a conversation. Milosz's doubts and thoughts about vanity and the many things he survived in WWII Poland are laid out on the page, and it made it seem he would have been welcomed a little sharing. But who knows? Maybe I would have stared at him stupidly half the time (and stammered weakly the other half), and he? What would he have done? Smiled mildly and wished he was at home?

I've found my conversations about writing to be banal, mostly. Sending out work, what a drag. Yes, I write because I have to. Still, connecting with people is a good thing. Weather can be fascinating.

vazambam (Vassilis Zambaras) said...

So true, so true your last three paragraphs.

PhilipH said...

This was something akin to "Brief Encounter" - without the railway cafeteria.

In days long gone I used to have a few 'pen friends' which made the arrival of Mr. Postie so much more exciting.

I thought what it would be like to meet one of these correspondents but never did but it may have been a disappointing meeting, something akin to yours in many ways.

I also wanted to meet up with my very first love, Stella, whom I'd not seen or heard of for some 50 long years. The pictures of her, in my head and heart, were so wonderful.

Finally tracked her down. Was invited to visit her. We did. It was nice, but, sadly, not at all wonderful.

The journey in finding her was far better than the arrival. We kept in touch by letter and phone and that WAS wonderful.

Pity you didn't get to the MacIntosh place, which has recently been undergoing some damage repairs after a fire and the chilly weather would have made you long to be back home!

Unknown said...

'In writing we can be more honest, however much we might construct our stories.'
So true. I wish all my conversations were with writers and about writing and art and creating ...

Kass said...

I am surprised by the hug too. Even with the disappointment of not getting to the gritty stuff, this would have made the visit worth it to me.