The contents of my flat is currently arranged in brutal piles of relative significance around my desk, as I pack to leave London for Berlin.
I’ve always loved leaving cities. As a kid I remember playing hide and seek amongst shipping boxes, waiting to say goodbye to a stray London cat we used to feed. Then later, collecting ants in jam jars under Washington sunshine as we packed to move back. Since my last escape from Los Angeles to London a few years ago, though, I seem to have accumulated a problematic amount of stuff.
What do other writers do with previous drafts of their manuscripts? I’d love to know. Tearing them up makes me think of infanticide. But as I fell asleep last night surrounded by paper I imagined myself, aged fifty, encircled by every incarnation of my earlier novels. Dying, eventually, when a pile of paths-my-characters-didn’t-take falls on me while I’m sleeping.
Do people keep their old notebooks? I have a box full of them from the last three years. They are full of frantic scrawls, the excess energy of yesterday’s preoccupations. Mostly, I have remarkably little idea what I was going on about. In faded pencil one pages says: “FROZEN DOLLS!!! Styled abandon. Flying corpses. An albino puffin with sad eyes.”
“Flying corpses” is underlined twice. I have no idea why.
But I’m definately keeping the notebook.
Yesterday’s packing ended when I opened a drawer full of string, usb sticks, matchboxes, paperclips and foreign currency mixed in with not only my own photographs, but washed-out snapshots from other people’s lives, bought from flea markets and junk shops. Honestly. Why didn’t anyone stop me before now?
Leaving makes you realise that your identity has settled, furtively, while you weren’t looking. Like saying goodbye to a person, gearing up to leave a city demands a full scale re-write. That is, I suppose, half the point of escape.