SA4QE 2013 - Thoughtcat - Rugby, United Kingdom

SA4QE day for me this year saw a mixture of feelings about a relationship. I hadn't planned on which quotations to use, but I did have to go out and meet someone that evening, and on the way out the door I grabbed The Medusa Frequency and a few sheets of yellow paper. Medusa was the first of Russ's books I read over 20 years ago and is still my favourite, and with its themes of love and loss and searching there was no better book to be revisiting given my personal circumstances.

I arrived at the station with a good half-hour before my train was due to leave, so I bought a cup of tea at the cafe and sat down. The light was too bright and everything seemed plastic and artificial. I decided to open the book at a random page and see what it gave me. This is it:

Consider this, said the darkness: any motion at any speed is a succession of stillnesses; any section through an action will show just such a plane of stillness as this dark window in which your seeking face is mirrored. And in each plane of stillness is the moment of clarity that makes you responsible for what you do.

This is a well-known quotation from the book (in Hoban circles, at any rate) and to be honest I've never really understood the juxtaposition of the "plane of stillness" and the "moment of clarity" and the suggestion of responsibility. I suppose it means that in that plane of stillness you and your situation are frozen and held forever, a complete and entire snapshot of your world fixed and unavoidable in the cross-section. You know what your responsibilities are, and what effects your actions could cause, and you have decisions to make, and you have to live with the consequences.

I copied down the passage on a sheet of the paper and pondered on it for a few minutes. There were other tables of people around, I considered handing it personally to someone and walking away, but wasn't bold enough to do it. I left it on the table, took my tea and got on my train.

I had two seats to myself on the train and alternated between gazing out the window and pondering this and other passages from the book. I tweeted the quotation, then took photos of some of my own planes of stillness, which are reproduced below along with the quotation itself.

Arriving in Euston I made my way by tube to Victoria and then to Peckham Rye. There was a woman on the Peckham train opposite me with short dark hair and eyes so big and deep you could swim in them. I couldn't decide if she was a Luise or a Melanie Falsepercy but she was wearing a Unison badge with the slogan "I love the NHS", the British National Health Service which our current government are so cruelly and wantonly dismantling, so on my way out of the train I touched her shoulder, told her I liked her badge and made my excuses.

I'd never been to Peckham before and trying to find my destination proved tricky, even with the aid of the GPS in my phone. Directly outside the station was an actual crossroads, a pedestrian crossroads underneath a series of arches. It seemed to sum up what my life had become lately. I stood in this plane of stillness for a few moments trying to work out which direction to take. I went with the one that seemed best, turned right, turned around and ended up on Peckham High Street walking past one brightly lit shop after another. There were fresh food shops where you could buy sea bream, hen and goat. There seemed to be dozens of hairdressers, all of them busy. There were phone accessory shops with dark-looking men outside smoking guardedly.

I met up with my companion for the evening and we used her phone's GPS to find our destination, a bookshop where Jake Wilson was talking about Russell Hoban and playing songs in his honour. It was a tiny shop with 20 or so invited guests and there were plastic tumblers of wine and there was a speech by Alexis Deacon who so beautifully illustrated Russ's last book Soonchild. Jake had a cameo role in Soonchild as a member of a band and the singing tonight was in honour of the concert at the end of the book. My friend and I stayed for as long as we could but living so far away from my home town meant I had to leave before the evening had fully finished. Jake's singing and playing were excellent. The next day he flew to New Zealand as part of his journey to Antarctica to play his songs about Captain Scott which he'd written with support from Russ. My companion and I found it a very moving event.

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