SA4QE 2017 - Thoughtcat - Rugby, United Kingdom

This year I drew my quotes mostly from The Medusa Frequency, the first Russell Hoban book I read. It also has a personal significance for me since one of the most important relationships of my life arose four years ago from a conversation on Twitter about the book, trading favourite quotations back and forth. I also chose a quote from The Moment under The Moment in response to the current political climate, and finally a poem from The Pedalling Man about my home city of London. 

Fidelity is a matter of perception; nobody is unfaithful to the sea or to mountains or to death: once recognized they fill the heart. In love or in terror or in loathing one responds to them with the true self; fidelity is not an act of the will: the soul is compelled by recognitions. Anyone who loves, anyone who perceives the other person fully can only be faithful, can never be unfaithful to the sea and the mountains and the death in that person, so pitiful and heroic is it to be a human being.

This is one of my favourite quotations from all of Russell Hoban's books and a fine example of his lyricism. I was trying to find a romantic quote but although there are many romantic relationships in Russ's books, he wasn't a romantic writer in the traditional sense, as his stories are about sad romances and situations that don't work out, or the loss of love. I was trying not to contemplate the loss of love on this occasion and this paragraph is I think his most profound and positive comment on love. I pinned it to a boarded-up window in an alleyway in the unsuspecting hamlet of Bilton, near Rugby in Warwickshire, the site of some gentle artistic pranks my girlfriend and I had perpetrated in the past. As I finished posting it someone approached from the other end of the alleyway and I made my escape. Looking back discreetly down the alley I saw the man reading the quote for quite a few moments.

The lamps on Putney Bridge were still lit, the bridge stood in simple astonishment over the water, a stoneline creature of overness, of parapets and ghostly pale cool tones of blue, of grey, of dim whiteness in the foredawn with its lamps lit against a sky growing light. Far below lay the river; slack-water it was, turn of the tide, the low-tide river narrow between expanses of mud, the moored boats rocking in the stillness... There seemed to be a question in the air.

‘Yes,’ I said, ‘I will.’

I chose this quotation for two reasons: the first was that it brings me back to my home city of London, which I've been separated from for nearly ten years and miss enormously. The second was the "question in the air" which I've always found mysterious and enticing. In the book the implication is that the narrator Herman Orff is being called upon by the spirit of Orpheus to tell Herman his story, and Herman invokes the story by saying "I will". For me personally, at a turning point in my relationship I can go one of two ways, and I wanted my answer to the relationship's "question in the air" to be positive.

I posted this quote on a fence in a neighbouring alleyway to the first one. The photo of the actual Putney Bridge was one I took in 2003 when I undertook a mad excursion around the city for SA4QE, obsessively placing my quotations in the locations they referred to. 

What passes for reality seems to me mostly a load of old rubbish invented by not very inventive minds.

Apart from being short, punchy and accessible, this quotation was significant for me becaue it was the first one that my girlfriend mentioned during our first conversation on Twitter, and she's used it in SA4QE herself a number of times. I pinned it to a bench in a little park in Bilton near where I live. It was a beautiful sunny day, the moon at a diagonal half slant clear in the afternoon sky. I had a game of football with my children a few feet away and it was lovely to watch other park visitors stop by the bench and look at the quote. At one point a man stood there with his wife and two children and they all looked at it for several moments, and the man took a photo of it, which I took as a pretty high honour.

London City

I have London, London, London –
all the city, small and pretty,
in a dome that’s on my desk, a little dome.
I have Nelson on his column
and Saint Martin-in-the-Fields
and I have the National Gallery
and two trees,
and that’s what London is – the five of these.

I can make it snow in London
when I shake the sky of London;
I can hold the little city small and pretty in my hand;
then the weather’s fair in London,
in Trafalgar Square in London,
when I put my city down and let it stand.

I believe this poem was written by Russ prior to his relocation from Connecticut to London in the late 1960s. It seems clear he long harboured a love for my home city before he actually managed to move there. I don't personally think poetry was one of Hoban's strengths but I like the simplicity of this poem and the idea that he bought the paperweight to put on his desk as a way to keep the dream of living there alive in an immediate and real way. Maybe I should get one myself.

I was heading out to Northampton on the evening of SA4QE day and left the quote on the train, which ultimately terminated in London.

The people who run the world now were children once. What went wrong? Why do perfectly good children become rotten grown-ups?

This quote was actually the first that came into my mind when I was thinking of which ones to use this year. The new US presidency is a shocking development and the UK's latest prime minister is as depressing a leader as I've ever known. These leaders could have been inclusive and unifying - they could have played to the hopes of people, but instead have played entirely to their fears. Although I was bullied at school, even the bullies, the "worst" children I knew (and even then I hesitate to use the word "worst") were never as cynical as these so-called leaders.

I went out in the evening to see the excellent Jonathan Pie at the Royal & Derngate theatre in Northampton. Pie is a fictional smalltime TV news presenter forced to politely deliver inane and inoffensive scripts to camera, but we see his real opinions between shots, in which he magnificently eviscerates the dire political figures of our time. I thought he would probably agree with this quotation and left it in among some leaflets near the bar at the theatre.

It was then that I became aware of the wires trailing from the electrodes on my head.

‘You been getting some kind of ECT,’ he said. ‘They done that to me, they said the voices would go away.’

‘Did they?’

‘Yes. Now I’ve got nothing. There’s only a kind of ringing emptiness. I never asked them to take away the voices but there it is, you see: who am I? Nobody. I’m not entitled to hear voices unless it’s somebody asking questions and taking down what I say. You showed them though, you just walked away wires and all. Don’t let them empty you out, they’ve got nothing better to offer.’

This is a comparatively light-hearted quote from The Medusa Frequency. I haven't used it in SA4QE before but it stood out from the page when I was looking through the book for other quotes. The conversation takes place between the narrator Herman and an unnamed man he bumps into on the London tube. Herman has just undergone an experimental ECG technique for curing writer's block and comes round on the tube with electrodes still stuck to his head. The quote has some interesting things to say about mental health and its treatment, I think.

I left this in the waiting room on Northampton station on the way home.

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