So there I was, pootling around in my big desk notebook, (not, of course, procrastinating, no, not a bit), pretending to collect up the bits and pieces of thought about the nameless new novel because it wasn't just the right moment to dig back into my PhD commentary. And I came across this sentence at the bottom of a page:
Pain of trying not to be in love with someone.
True enough, I thought, absently. Don't think it was to do with the novel. Maybe a story? Can't remember what I meant. Has the milk come yet? I'd kill for some coffee. Standard stuff. Come on Emma, either keep going or do some other work. Goodness knows there's enough waiting. There didn't seem to be anything else useful on that spread, so I flipped over, and found the rest of the note:
R2 Will Young session: 'Think I'd better leave right now'
Coffee pots etc. at the session (apparent) casual workingness of it (maybe it's real) cold friday morning doing something all night-time + glamorous, this can be a cliché but also true
And suddenly I saw the studio: the crumpled-looking, concentrating session musicians, tangles of leads and amps and mic stands, production staff standing contained and listening. And the table with all those big vacuum pots of coffee which someone has routinely ordered, because there'll be work to be done. "Strange how potent cheap music is," said Coward's own character in Private Lives, and, well, I don't think many of us would call that track expensive, and as pop performers go Will Young's not much to my taste. In fact I can't now remember why I'd clicked on the Radio Two clip, though procrastinating has taken me to some odder places. But the song pinpoints with some accuracy the complexity of feeling in a single, particular moment. It's one many of us have known: on that cold, grey Friday I was knowing it all over again. It was the knowing it that made me reach for my notebook.
What I first wrote down was the abstract idea I'd used to name what I was feeling. But abstracts can't make you feel again what you felt then. I had to turn the page and see the coffee pots, remember the red carpet with the tipped-over plastic cups, before my body could remember, could feel again the small, visceral memory of something that was once not small at all.
I should have known there'd be more over the page, of course: I realised years ago that abstract notes aren't enough. What makes me want to write something down in my notebook - a comment on the radio, a view from a railway bridge, a thought about people or things - is always more than the fact or the feeling on its own. The world and our own minds throw facts at us all the time; it's the faint, radioactive glow of feeling that the fact has around it which makes it seem to matter, just as it's action and affect interacting which make a novel. So it wasn't the note telling me about the pain on its own which brought it all alive again for me: it needed a note showing me the coffee pots, the concentration, the cold Friday morning.