Three days’ festival, ten hours’ sleep. Even so, I remain awake on the train home; it’s not over yet, there’s a lot to write down in the little hard-back book first.
Last summer, I was writing by the side of a canal during the Venice Biennale when I dropped a precursor to this book in the water. I immediately fished it back out, shook it out, and dried it off on my dress, but the blue ink had been washed away.
I was inconsolable. After the book had dried out, I spent hours trying to reconstruct the sentences, and trying to determine whether the pressure of my pen had left any indentations that, perhaps, under the floodlights… I was overcome with a feeling of panic that I’d lost something important: it seemed as if everything I’d recently encountered had no longer actually happened. In the end, I gave up, but not without first having stayed up in my hotel room typing until late at night, fifty thousand words all at once, completely rewriting my memory of the past weeks. The old weeks were still gone; now I had new ones. Since that night, I’ve been much better able to understand why I write.
Something else I noticed is how experiences — if you look back on them a week or two later — change with time. When I leaf back to my time at the festival now, it’s like a mountain range: rugged, craggy, with striking peaks blocking your view. I make brief notes that suddenly break off and don’t mention what’s going on outside The Hague: my job, Brussels, future plans. When you’re in the middle of an intense experience, your horizon is the here and now. It’s only when you step away from the memory that it becomes flattened and you get a clear view of it, a radiant whole you can observe from afar.
The following quote from David Mitchell can be found on the wall of my bookshop in Brussels, “Style is not what you excel in, it is actually everything you get wrong.” If this is true, my stumbling block is probably my use of metaphors. Leave the Netherlands behind, and get the impression you’re travelling away from mountainous scenery? Come on!
The great thing about festivals, and especially The Chronicles, is that you get to share the experience with other people. If I throw my diary into a puddle now, there’ll still be numerous accounts of it, running parallel to mine and adding new layers. Over the past few weeks, new photos have constantly been surfacing; reviews in newspapers; Facebook notifications from (new) friends. I’ve read Sjisjkin and Wortel — Waters, Debroey and Boström are still on my list — and I haven’t stopped listening to the CD I bought at Crossing Border. Instead of flattening off, sedimentation is making the mountains get bigger and bigger.
In a café where I sometimes go to write, I bumped into Wide Vercnocke. I’d just finished reading his graphic novel Wildvlees — another find from The Hague — about a rutty deer that goes storming across the Anspachlaan. It took me back to the graphic novelists in the reddish light of the Heartbeat Hotel, and their dance moves at the after-party, and suddenly a north face soared up above the rooftops on the Vlaamsesteenweg.
I anticipate extensive foothills rolling out from the Crossing Border mountain range for a while to come yet. Vea urged me to go to Vienna to present the German translation of my novel. And Alice, Laia, Guillaume, and the other Chronicles: if you’re ever in the vicinity…? Come to Brussels, and bring the mountains with you.