Tuesday, August 24, 2010

We are names on jetty railing

I've been feeling the panic lately. About all sorts of things.

I am down to my last £1,000 with no idea of when I'll next see a paycheck. I start a job in September, but I don't actually know when they will pay me. My novel, The Way Forward, is soon to be available on Amazon but I'll personally be surprised if it earns enough money to buy me a nice dinner.

I generally try not to worry too much about money. Some of the unhappiest periods of my life have been wasted in its pursuit. I don't spend a lot, but as the money slips away without replenishment I can't help but start in on worst-case scenarios, most of which end with my being deported. Pretty much every bad thing ends that way in my head: "Oh, no. I don't have enough money. I'm going to end up being deported." "Oh, I slept late. I'm going to end up being deported."

Meanwhile, my masters project is due in less than four weeks. This used to not be a problem. I had completed the bulk of the project a while ago. But then, in a fit of frustration, I deleted everything.

"I can do better than this," I thought.

And poof, it was gone.

"Holy shit," the literary genius said when I told her. "Never delete. Never ever ever."

But that's the way I roll, yo. Siân argues that you can always pull something good out of work you're not happy with, even if it's just a sentence or concept. But I struggle with that. It feels I am thinking of myself too highly. I mean, if I'm not willing to wipe things clean, aren't I suggesting that what I write is somehow too good to throw away? Why is it too good? Because I am so awesome I'm incapable of writing poorly?

There may have been one or two good lines in all that was lost but I don't want to go on salvaging expeditions in deep wells of shit. That consumes time and energy and, I worry, deadens my sense of what's good. If I were to try to fix it all I would start out OK, lose focus, and soon be in the state of thinking: "Well, it's not that bad. That'll do... It's acceptable."

I would rather start all over again. I don't regret the decision, simply the timing of the decision. I now have zero words and less than four weeks.

So, the panic slips into my room at night, wraps its arms around me and whispers: "The end is closing in on you. You won't make things right this time. Soon they'll be coming to deport you."

But, in truth: this, too, shall pass.

During my recent visit to the United States I found myself thinking a lot about the consolation of impermanence -- the gentle heartbreaking joy of knowing everything changes, whether I want it to or not.


Above is a picture of the jetty at Quintana Beach, in Texas.

A sign on the outskirts of the town (population 38) claims Quintana was founded in 1528. How in the hell they justify that claim, I can't imagine. No manmade thing could survive so long under the constant attack of hurricanes and storms and wind and tide and heat and humidity. Even the landscape holds no claim to immutability.

One assumes that the 1528 date refers to Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, the Spanish explorer who was shipwrecked in the region that year. He referred to the area as Malhado (misfortune). He shipwrecked because he had no maps of the place. He called it Malhado because he ended up being taken as a slave by Karankawa indians. It is unlikely that at any point during that time, he drove a flag into the ground and said: "I hereby charter a town in this spot, thus forth to be known as: 'Quintana.'"

After several years, he managed to escape and walked, naked, all the way to Culiacán, roughly 900 miles away, as the crow flies. He eventually died penniless in Spain, disgraced because of his reputation as being too kind toward Native American peoples. No doubt Cabeza de Vaca understood better than most the idea that God hates plans.

By nature, human beings desire structure. We seek to identify patterns, to understand them and to establish them. It is how we grasp the universe around us. We put our hopes into the promise of cause and effect, and we find solace in the concept of permanence. So, we build castles and erect monuments and make ridiculously unverifiable claims as to when our towns were founded. We set out shockingly detailed plans for our lives and think everything's going to run smoothly.

But God surprises us with babies and cancer, true love and earthquakes. He likes to mess with our plans, he likes to tear down our permanent structures. Quintana always reminds me of that.

The houses don't last long in Quintana -- storms tear them down and drag them out to sea.

There used to be a wooden railing along the jetty. It was put in during my teenage years. My uncles and cousins carved my paternal grandmother's name into it after she died. My maternal grandmother took me out to show me: "RIP Joie Cope." But within a decade, every last bit of the railing was gone. All that's left now are the twisted, rusting anchoring pieces the wood had been bolted to.

When I was visiting this past July, my grandmother and I walked to the end of the jetty, roughly 1.5 miles out into the sea. As you walk back toward shore, the ominous glistening of chemical plants dominate your view. After Cabeza de Vaca left, no one really took interest in the area until Dow Chemical Co. decided to build one of the largest chemical manufacturing sites in the world there in 1940. Or so I had always thought.

"There used to be hotels all up and down here in the early 1900s," my grandmother said, sweeping a hand across the horizon. "Wealthy English people would come and stay here. Then a hurricane came along and took it all out."

There is nothing to suggest they were ever there. Nothing. God hates plans. Change will always come. The structures and patterns we lock ourselves into will eventually be wiped away and no one will know they were ever there. I find that strangely comforting: everything goes away.

The panic comes at night and whispers in my ear: "The end is closing in on you."

And on my good nights I whisper back: "It's closing in on you, too."


Citygirl said...

Thank you for this post. As big upheavals of change are coming my way, it was exactly what I needed at this moment.

Anonymous said...

There are times I miss editing your work. Especially times like this, when I probably wouldn't change a word.

~A, the editor

Chris Cope said...

Citygirl -- Upheavals of change are often really fun things. Unless you are planning to lead a coup d'état in a small African nation. Then it's just difficult and unfulfilling.

A - I'd be happy to go back to writing articles if the benevolent employer wants to pay for them.

Anonymous said...

Paul Heaton - lead singer from The Housemartins- is playing the Globe on Albany Rd in October. Just thought I'd let you know.......


Lisa Derrick said...

Amazing line - "But God surprises us with babies and cancer, true love and earthquakes."

Anonymous said...

You are awesome (and you made me respond to a blog for the first time ever)