White Lines

Throughout my life, writing has been important, especially in periods of changes. Even if I never sent a manuscript to a publishing house, the thought and desire did emerge after writing fiercely 250 pages in a few months. Somehow though, at the stage of re-reading and re-reading again, the courage left me. As if the writing experience had transformed me, I could not recognize my own style, I couldn’t vouch for these pages that felt already outdated. I decided to let it go, with no regrets. Some books are meant to be written, not to be read.

my bedroom, Tel Aviv, 2013 – photo © Francesc Pascual Torrens

I recall hearing a podcast of Paul Auster whom I admire, where he said that the hardest and most important thing in order to start writing a book was to find the very first sentence. A good first sentence gives the tone of a book, it’s only a few words but for Auster it’s the story-enabler, the point from which a story is being born.

She lifts her suitcase from the floor and steps out of her comfort zone.

Nick Cave, on the other hand, stresses that finding the second line is key. He explains how, to unlock his songwriting process, he turns to his notebooks filled with words, rhymes, ideas, thoughts, and looks for a line to which he would want to add another one. He says: A line in itself is much like a single note, without meaning. But add another line to it and together they begin to reverberate (*). I like this idea of merging, like the glued layers of a ‘collage’ coming to life as a whole. Nick Cave sees himself as a storyteller, character-driven and confessional. He cuts, edits and glues bits and pieces of his life intertwined with more fictional texts. And the editing takes place often times at the very late stage of recording in the studio, which is interesting. Surely, the sense of urgency in a recording reality must force surprising decisions. We understand better how his songs carry the many textures and depths that we love, without completely lifting the veil of mystery.

She lifts her suitcase from the floor, and steps out of her comfort zone.
It was three Novembers ago maybe four, she could not recall.

Two years after my non-published manuscript, I moved to Tel Aviv. Living with flatmates and having only a bedroom to work in, writing was a natural option to create without renting a studio. It was a time of adjusting and adapting to a new country and language, and it was simpler not to be involved in anything ‘too big’. Painting, sculpting, filming felt unsafe, needing materials, logistics, space, but moreover: a certain ease, which was not there yet. I wanted something intimate and small, in which I would take no room. I had the ambivalent urge to create without necessarily wanting to make a lot of sound.

The White Book was written with this conflicting sensation of wanting to stay discreet and yet, revealing facettes of myself and my story. I found a way though, to conceal the too-confessional parts by treating words in a graphical way, thinking it would lessen their weight. The book was built like a collage: selecting words, cutting lines, glueing pages, shredding papers, adding quotes and references, researching theories and merging the whole with my story. It was a very exciting moment. During the few months that I dug myself deeply into its making, I could hardly sleep, waking up many times with new ideas or developments. My bedroom walls were covered with notes and all my thoughts were directed to this project.

And still, I cannot really describe or understand my relation to language. Sometimes, I think that I don’t take words seriously, as if they weren’t charged with meanings; and other times I feel that I almost take them too seriously, wanting to escape from their semantic load. In music, I perceive lyrics as any other instrument tracks for their sound qualities, often forgetting that they convey a story. As a result, I rarely remember the exact words in a song and tend to replace them with others which, either rhyme with the original, or have some type of relation with the latter: morning turns to evening, love is changed to hate, revolution for manifestation, Kill me Sarah becomes Call me Sarah (this happened last night while humming to Lucky by Radiohead!) and so forth. Titles of songs fall into oblivion too, while the graphic of the album sleeve or the first few measures of music are well imprinted in my ‘selective’ memory.

Concrete poetry thus, was a very obvious choice for the White Book, even if unconscious. Worried about not choosing the most accurate words to describe what I wanted to express, I eventually found ‘tricks’. I borrowed from concrete poetry the possibility to use typographical effects, like a ‘visual poetry’ where meaning and aesthetics overlap. Words have as much weight as the space in-between them. The space itself, is an element, and can translate feelings of void, longing, loss, while lines on top of each other evoke confusion.

the White Book (2013)

Today, I realise that these tricks turned the White Book into a hybrid object: for lack of a better word, I call it a book. But maybe you will think of it as a spatial installation, a collage, or even a song?

She lifts her suitcase from the floor, and steps out of her comfort zone. Outside, the weather is ideal: warm and dry. The journey to the Forest will only take a few hours and she hardly manages to hide her excitement.

Love, Ethel

+ the White Book (2013) > here (digitally), the physical book is available at the Tel Aviv Museum library
* Nick Cave’s interview (2015) > read here
+ more about the project here

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