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Bibliotechnik // Automyth

Library Encounter of the Day: I was sitting there, minding my own business, clearly engrossed in reading/note-making, and also wearing big fat ‘pls go away’ headphones. Nevertheless, a man I had never met before made a confident beeline for me and started asking some unintelligible question (unintelligible because I could understandably hear more of Tangerine Dream than I could of him). I half removed the headphones and caught some quickfire babble about what sounded to my ear like ‘Camembert’, though who knew… the man (he sounded Spanish) was trying to explain what he meant, but I was in too much of a daze to work out what he was saying.

The matter was complicated by his brandishing a till receipt - had I dropped it, I wonder? - but it became clear that he wanted me to write something on it. Do over-enthusiastic requests for strangers’ phone numbers still happen in libraries in these po-faced times? That seemed laughably unlikely - for one thing, though I am undoubtedly pleasant to look upon, like as a tree or a nicely-decorated room, I am neither ‘attractive’ nor ‘gettable’ in any functional sense. I half thought it might have something to do with the book I was reading - think long enough and there’s bound to be some connexion between matter and form on the one hand and soft cheese on the other - but before I could think into the thing, my table neighbour came boldly to the rescue, pen in hand.

I watched, with what can only be described as ‘mild interest’.

What did my petitioner want? He wanted to know how to spell ‘Commonwealth’.


I am frequenting the Library a lot these days, whilst we have our kitchen redone. (No, I don’t want to sit at home and supervise through clouds of dust, drilling noises and frequent tea consumption.) Though I wish it looked and felt more like the libraries you see in Dario Argento films, rather than a spick and span modern municipal resource, it is not a bad place in which to loiter in a semi-productive way. And it’s always busy! If you go away to have lunch and then come back again, it is hard to find a seat in the study-room. (On a related note, those chairs… those chairs are hard.) Listening to music is, alas, necessary, because it’s on a sort of mezzanine, and noise from downstairs is audible (along with every phone-susurration, coffee slurp and deep, heavy sigh from other patrons).

Laptops are everywhere - not many people make actual notes with a pen, and those that do often have a laptop as well. Most of the people in the room look to be students (A level or undergraduate), aside from the occasional Library Habitué - there’s one chap who wheels in a huge suitcase and sort of sets up camp. At first I thought he must be killing time before his train, but I’ve seen him several times now. This is, in my opinion, a vital function of libraries. For all that they ought to be places of information, learning and literature, they must also be… places to sit and stew, especially for those who may not have anywhere else very pleasant to go. They must afford the sort of equality that allows learned professor, bored student, weirdo conspiracy theorist, suburban dilettante and sheltering itinerant to sit next to each other peaceably.


I have to report that I am yet again fatally allured by shades of mauve. It’s a melancholy business: rarely, if ever, do I feel even slightly curious about people who are alive and knowable. It’s always the semi-obscure, the evanescent, the defunct, the extinct, with me.

The creature that called itself ‘Alastair’ danced, made pictures, composed, wrote, translated, and… inhabited costumes against backdrops. (That is the only proper way to describe it - ‘wearing interesting clothes’ just doesn’t put it across at all.) The drawings bear a superficial resemblance to Beardsley, but when you look properly an individual character shows itself. There’s a note of humour, and sentiment. The characters aren’t just arrayed in splayed attitudes, swathed in detailed drapery - they are not just doomed, tragic and venal - they are coy and sweet and winking at you, somehow. My instant comparison was Edward Gorey, whom he pre-dates, and apparently our friend Ogdred Weary was indeed an admirer of Alastair.

You can glimpse the faun, the ghost, the glint of him here, and here. I have just got my hands on this book, to read which hurts a little in a pleasant way, for there is not much more to know of A. than what is contained therein, and what there is to know only makes me wistful.

Much mystery (much of it self-made) surrounds Alastair. This is what you might call Automyth. It’s a practice - a phenomenon - that appeals to me instinctively. Confecting identity and costume with self-conscious reverence… I am probably altogether too tame and too ‘real’ ever to achieve my futile dream of some day causing some future someone this same lovely feeling of lorn mystery when they discover, quite by accident, that I Existed. (…Or did I?! *dramatic organ chords*)


All this gives me to think on what I am to do with myself - how I am to express the (seemingly) inexpressible. Always, half my will bids me hide, whilst the other half cries ‘Parade!’ The first option is safe in one way but very, very hurtful in another: not to be known, not to be seen, not to be sensed, is lonely. Loneliness is excruciatingly safe. The only person who can hurt You there is yourself, and You are the best at doing that. Worse, this way You are letting down all your fellow invisibles - every person who might take heart at seeing You take brave shape before the world’s eyes.

But I’m doomed to diffidence. How much certainty does it require, to feel that You have the right to Describe Yourself? Though sometimes other people’s honesty is inspiring, at other times it’s a muzzle. Don’t want to detract from their moment. Don’t want to seem to mount the bandwagon as it trundles by. The saddest words in the English language are not ‘Too Late’ but ‘Me Too’.

Words, indeed, are perhaps the problem. I want not to need them, in this case. I am not an answer: I’m a question, a wordless question. Trying to frame the thing in speech or text is a fool’s errand. What is wanted is some way to make manifest that question, to stop asking it myself and let other people ask it instead. That’s it: that’s it, exactly. I present people with a false certainty, a drab obviousness that is a lie. They should look at me and not know what to think. And in destroying that lie, I do not want to hand out an explanation that no-one has asked for. I would rather hand out pure beautiful honest confusion.


Here’s a question that I shall happily answer, or try to. Ages ago I asked for writing prompts and then (despite my fair-to-middling efforts, offstage) failed to respond to one from the esteemed in_thy_bounty. So I requested an alternative question, and here it is:

“If your personality were a fabric, what would it be?”

At once, my mind fills up with variety. In life, I am very bad at sticking with One Thing. One colour, one opinion, one mood, one identity - the compound lens of perception makes a mosaic of every attempt at (in)sight.

One of my very favourite garments, though I don’t wear it often, is a waistcoat constructed from kimono remnants. It’s reversible, and patternwise, here be dragons. When I bought it, it had a black silk lining, but this ‘shattered’ (in textile-conservation parlance) to reveal more patterned, multicoloured fabric underneath. I’m not sure you could make or find a piece of clothing that better approximated Yrs Trly: it’s decorative rather than utilitarian, it doesn’t really go with anything, it’s not only reversible but could do for any gender, and it’s made of leftover stuff that would otherwise have got thrown away. And… it’s silk. (I may be many things, but polyester is not one of them. *pout*)

But that is clothing, the applied mathematics of fashion. What we are interested in here is fabric itself - pure number.

I think if I were a fabric, it would have to be a natural fibre, but its hue would be synthetic. At all times, in all ways, I aspire to the colour Mauve, but as for actual attainment thereof, that’s not exactly for me to say. But I think this fabric would have been through the dye process a few times. It would perhaps once have been some other colour - hopefully and sincerely applied, but which proved not to suit in the end. Cue some painful and risky remedial process, with false starts and accidental horrors, which might eventually result in a completely unrepeatable, accidental and intensely satisfying shade of… yes, whatever this is. Of course it does not co-operate. In certain lights, a casual glance would pick it up as pink. It’s unlikely you’d perceive it as blue, though that would be just as inapt.

You think this fabric is for everyday wear, but it is at once more fragile and more durable than it appears. Its full brilliance comes alive under very specific, special circumstances. It wears out through constant use yet it wants to be tested - it may be battlefield-appropriate. It hates being felt by importunate, unmeaning, grabby paws, but unfurls meekly at the touch of a connoisseur*. [*I can’t decide if this is intentionally or unintentionally risqué… ;-P]

One day, a pair of eyes will remark this fabric, and see it as its maker - and let us not forget, we mortals weave ourselves - intended it to be seen. Until then, it fades from view; except: that very inexact colour only intensifies in its… inexactitude.

Special order; price per yard: *draper’s assistant purses lips* …I’m afraid sir/madam’s budget may not quite run to it.

{That was a fine question. I thank you for it.}


( 4 confidences — Confide in me... )
Apr. 30th, 2016 02:49 am (UTC)
Commonwealth! :) Great interaction :)
May. 3rd, 2016 02:35 am (UTC)
He may have been warning you of the giant, feral wheels of Camembert marauding through the countryside!
May. 7th, 2016 02:41 pm (UTC)
*bland everyday comment warning*
We are also having our kitchen redone at the moment.

Now to more important matters. I think I have decided that the entire focus of my life should be to one day be recalled in the pages of Wikipedia (or future equivalent), as Alastair is, as "Mysterious, flamboyant, enigmatic and attractive to many people". All else is now secondary!

Your polyester comment reminds me of having indignantly stated "I'm dry clean only!" in past witterings. We must value ourselves first before others will, I suppose! I can certainly imagine you as a mythical fabric that bemuses to the point of no-one even being able to conclusively state what colour the thing is, let alone what it is or where it came from.
"Sir, we've found this... it's a... it's some sort of.. you better come and look for yourself"
Jul. 2nd, 2016 12:54 am (UTC)
I don't anything about French cheeses in Spanish, but... Happy upcoming Birthday!
( 4 confidences — Confide in me... )

Eavesdrop, snoop, and sigh with yearning...

This journal is not a private diary, it is more like an occasional, imaginary column. Therefore, much of it is on public display. However, if you want to read my occasional attempts at creative writing, my Caution Elf tells me I should only show that stuff to my friends. You know what to do. :-)

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