Tuesday, 4 February 2014

The Starving Artist

If I were to receive an owl from Hogwarts (rather too old now, but one can hope...) I believe the address would look something like this:

Attic Room
Stairs of Death
By the Canal
Freezing North

Stairs of DEATH
The stairs will eventually be the death of me, I'm sure of it. Either that or the mad cyclists. I understand the concept of space saving, but really, this is rather the limit. Imagine if you will, steps that allow only enough space for your toes; or if you go down sideways, the side of your foot. The first time I went down these stairs I wondered for a moment if I shouldn't be wearing a harness and saying to some trustworthy person above, "on belay?" (climbing term for, "am I safe to begin descending?" said to the person guiding your rope...as I remember. Climbing friends correct me if I'm wrong...).

And when you come in...well, there is only enough space for the door itself, so you have to climb the first step, and push the door behind you. All this while holding mountains of shopping. Plus, another set of stairs to get to my bit...while they aren't as steep, they are narrow. The Dutch architects who came up with these stairs have a lot to answer for...

Aside from navigating the impossibly steep stairs with my shopping, the place is beginning to feel cosy; I'm settling in and adjusting to being in a city again. It's an old house, so let us just say that it has its share of character

As it is, I'm rather enjoying playing at "the starving artist". It suddenly struck me as I was speeding across Holland in a train that this is what I'm doing. I don't mean for a minute that I'm comparing myself to Van Gogh, or a poet living in penury. What I mean is this: some of my favourite authors, such as Hemingway and others of 'The Lost Generation' were all living in Europe (Paris, mainly) in the '20s and having a fine time. They were drinking the town dry while turning out some amazing work. You read about Hemingway living at the top of some building in a flat without much furniture, writing in the dawn light until his first wife and son would wake - doesn't it just sound so romantic? (Mind you, if his stairs were as awful as mine, I can begin to understand why he drank all afternoon...) Anyway, the image has always stayed with me, and I loved the idea of it.

Or Christopher Isherwood making his way through Berlin as a tutor and writer, capturing the place with his words. Or even all the many artists and folk singers of the '60s over in New York. Those of the 'Beat Generation'... There is such a romantic image surrounding the authors and artists of earlier times: living in pokey places without much of anything (except alcohol). Fuelled by their art alone, perhaps.

While I am by no means a starving artist (I wouldn't survive a week - according to my mother I eat like a dockworker...), I am revelling in the fact that I'm living in an attic room, able to write until all hours of the day; to play my guitar and craft new songs and rework old ones. I've always had a sort of dream that I would one day either live in a pokey flat like Hemingway, or a Cornwall cottage with only the sea for company like D.H. Lawrence - to write all morning, then nip out for fresh air and a baguette or a walk along the sea...

That I have been able to fulfil another of my dreams is very satisfying. And it is this that I will take with me. This feeling of accomplishment of having strived towards a dream, albeit rather unconsciously. I think I am just in the habit of doing what I love (as we all should be). And while my books may not find publishers, and my songs may not reach millions, the words pour out anyway. And I am glad.

I don't think I'm really a Bohemian (though my hair is rather bobbed these days, and I do have a Persian rug...), but I'm enjoying living like one for the time being. Living right in the city centre is quite new for me. It's so intriguing! I can pop out to the open air market and buy anything imaginable. And the people! I sometimes wonder if my life isn't like a film. For example, there is a chap in a flat directly across from me who sits at his desk by the window for hours, pulling at his hair. I feel I should write words of encouragement on a sign and prop it up in my window.

Downstairs someone has a moped with a dodgy motor and has to stamp on the starter for about 5 minutes before it roars into life. There are two schools on either side of me that ebb and flow with noisy children at ungodly hours. There are pubs and tanning salons, florists and corner shops. The church clock strikes every hour to remind us of the passage of time.

It is glorious. I feel young and alive - filled with artistic desire. Perhaps pokey flats and stairs of death do serve a purpose...