Monday, 23 February 2009

#1 - Something Is Squeezing My Skull

Dear Morrissey,

I'm hungover again and this time it's entirely my fault. Usually (although this is happening less and less frequently) I am able to make excuses for my slovenly morning-after form, but these days I only have myself to blame. And people know it.

In the morning, before lectures, I encounter strange looks from the freshly turned out women behind the counter of the campus shop. This never used to happen. Once upon a happier time I could hide a hangover as well as a BBC newsreader.

You see, I no longer know my own limits. Every night is an experiment with suicide. I've stopped going out as much, choosing instead to stagger and stumble through the narrow halls of my flat until I’m too drunk to type anymore. I don’t know how Bukowski did it.

Could it be, I wonder, that my tolerance for alcohol has diminished? Is this even possible at my age? I mean, I'm not quite so reckless, wild and free as once I was but I thought it took decades of liver abuse before any real damage was done.

Still, I suppose one has to be optimistic, and whilst there’s no cure for the way I’m currently feeling it is possible to soothe this self-induced hypochondria simply by reminding myself, every 37 minutes, that Shane McGowan, Keith Richards and Shaun Ryder are all still alive. This usually works better than Alka-Seltzer.

It’s nearly half six and another week of study is finally done. I’ve just started on a celebratory glass of red wine. I feel better already. I can only apologise, Morrissey, for going on like this – and so ineloquently – but please, if you have five seconds to spare, I’ll tell you the story behind it all.

Yesterday was the second of my bi-monthly dissertation workshops. We assembled, as we had two weeks previously, in a dismal third-floor classroom to discuss our story ideas, briefs, outlines, treatments, first chapters - whatever we could provide at this early stage. There are nine students in total though I am the only boy.

And what a wretched collection of human beings we are. The worst of the worst, really: 'aspiring' writers, 'budding' poets, the so-called 'literary minds of tomorrow.' These are all phrases taken from the prospectus. I want to vomit. I want to go back and apply to write an essay on Oscar Wilde, or WB Yeats, or Anthony Burgess instead. I want to leave University and never return. I want to be a North London plumber or a West End rent-boy. I do not (and I cannot stress this enough) want to be a writer.

I thought I did - just as I used to think I wanted to play centre-forward for Queens Park Rangers, or play guitar for a group that sounded like The Clash - but now I know this is not my calling. It has taken only one month with other people to realise that I never want to write another creative word in my life.

Oh well, I suppose I'll get over it. I arrived early to both dissertation meetings. I am sure punctuality is a trait I will one day lose. If you hang around anywhere for too long people begin to stare (classrooms, bizarrely, are a perfect example of this) and such looks do nothing for one's worsening paranoia.

Tremulously, I entered the room. My fellow students organised themselves with fantastic professionalism. Desks quickly became littered with plastic folders, uncreased sheets of paper, pens, rulers, dictaphones. (Note to Self: never buy a dictaphone).

My position at the long and awkward table, despite being usefully close to the door, leaves much to be desired.

'Welcome, writers,' announced John Barker, our esteemed leader, when all were seated. A disgraceful man of about forty-five, he appears to have adopted the role of University Poet Laureate. His grey trousers and overly-considered tone of voice are enough to drive the most devout Catholic to atheism.

But perhaps I’m overreacting.

'Let us start with Anna,’ he began. ‘I assume everyone has a copy of her work?' An unbearable titter of agreement half-filled the room.

'Good. So, what do we think? I, for one, believe it has a lot of potential. A very intriguing first chapter.' He rubbed his cheeks and chin in all seriousness, then demanded: 'Your opinions please.’

'I think it's really good. Almost film-like in style,' one girl said.

‘Yeah, it’s really vividly written,’ said another. ‘Definitely not too overstated.’

This went on for several minutes, until comment, criticism and consideration fell upon the next person. Just before the first hour was up they came to me.

'Now, Jack...'

Barker's eyes were upon me. He reminds me, Morrissey, of a doctor I had to see last year, when, despite being in my second full term, I caught the infamous, inelegantly-titled and utterly unnecessary 'Fresher's Flu.' It must be the eye-contact. Like the doctor, Barker seems to believe that by taking his eyes off someone whilst speaking to them he is showing a weakness - and so there his gaze remains, fixed on its subject, like a fucking predator. It's hardly a teaching technique designed to put one’s students at ease.

He continued: 'You have a treatment for us, correct?'

'Yeah, but it’s only a few paragraphs.' My voice - an awful mixture of shyness and false confidence – groaned and buzzed in my ears, as if it was being channelled through a microphone.

'Would you care to talk us through it?' He prompted. And so I did. I explained in intricate detail my willingness to produce a 15,000 word short story written entirely as letters to Morrissey. The room became unnervingly quiet.

'Ah. Yes. Well. You see, there is an issue with this idea, Jack,' he declared, happily, with the full weight of his position behind him. 'It's not exactly original. Tell me: are you familiar with the author, Willy Russell?'

I confessed my ignorance.

'Hmm, well perhaps I ought to introduce the two of you. Willy Russell is a playwright from Liverpool who, not so many years ago, wrote a novel called The Wrong Boy. The book is written in the first person and tells the story of a boy called Raymond, who documents his life on the road in a series of letters to Morrissey. Do you see where we might be verging on plagiarism here?’

I blushed. With a flourish, Barker produced the novel in question and slid it towards me. I started at it, dumbly for a few moments, agreed to come up with a new idea, and spent the rest of the workshop looking longingly out of the window.

On the way out one or two people offered words of reassurance. I smiled and lied about having other ideas. Two girls invited me for a coffee but I politely declined, opting instead for the student union. In the corner of the bar I sat and stared and worried about coming up with a new story. I started reading The Wrong Boy. It’s always terribly annoying when you realise something was never really your own idea, and that the person who did it first also did it better. And so I drank beer and made myself feel like this.

We are all plagiarists, Morrissey. Of this I am sure. We are all the sum total of our idols and influences. I am certain my story would bear no resemblance to Willy Russell’s. You could put the plot to Romeo and Juliet in the hands of a thousand playwrights and no one would turn out the same - such is the wonderful diversity of the individual.

So, bollocks to it: I'll write to you anyway. I'll write these letters and leave them to gather dust. And if I ever sign that book deal, I'll publish them in my autobiography.

Yours Craftily, with LOVE and TRASH,

Jack x