Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Because Not Everything Is A Metaphor

Because Not Everything Is A Metaphor

It's not quite the beginning but it is close enough to it that we've never sat around this table before. This circular table in an otherwise nondescript room. Our own version of the Camelot work ethic. The seat I have chosen - in front of the window - will be my seat for the next nine months and these Tuesdays squashed around this table with coffee and muffins and playtexts will become my favourite part of the whole experience.

Of course, I do not - cannot - know any of this, any more than I can predict how the the knots that connect us will change so that it is impossible for me to view our innocence - and separateness - without the haze of all that will be.

For the first - and maybe the last time - we are a blank canvas and we - us - could go anywhere.

But for now we're all looking at a piece of rock which Enigmatic Tutor has placed at the centre of this table. And I can't remember precisely the wording of the exercise but we are attempting to describe the rock through facts alone, devoid of flights of fancy, metaphors and all the other glittery,sparkly tricks which all we writers like to play.

We pronounce our attempts, building our shared picture.

"If we were Scientists we could devise tests..." Enigmatic Tutor continues.

And we play the game, going through the tests we - with our clutch of arts qualifications - can imagine.

But, it is difficult to get past the notion that sat in front of us is something which is, in essence, a small lump of unremarkable grey rock.

"But what this doesn't tell you -" There's the smallest of pauses as Enigmatic Tutor holds his audience "Is that this is a piece of the Berlin wall".

There's the collective murmur of the unexpected reveal as, with a single sentence, the object in front of us becomes something else entirely.

It's a lesson of course, about backstory and the bigger picture and about not underestimating something seemingly insubstantial. About secret facts. A lesson as writers we need to remember.

But it is a story in itself, a story within my own lifetime and, 1989 being the first year that news stories seem to have impinged on my conscious, a story I have vague memories of. It's an important story, the murmur of recognition confirms that.

It is later, six months later, when, along with two of the people who I sat around that table with, I stand in front of what remains of the Berlin Wall for the first time. Over Excited Tour Guide! gets everyone on the tour to stand in front of the wall for a photo and there's still a streak of rebellion in even this. Look! This is what the wall has become! We can stand on your no man's land and defy everything that it meant.

But in the greyness of this Berlin day it is the first time that I understand. That I understand what it did to this city, to these people. Within touching distance from everything in my life. Within my memory.

Twenty years ago.

And maybe it is only here, amongst the wall's broken remains, that I understand what the piece of rock that sat in the middle of a table in New Cross in Autumn 2008 actually was.

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