On Edward Hopper’s Automat

Automat 1

I slip off one glove, can’t touch the cup through leather, other skin, can’t feel the heat rise. I want my capillaries to dilate, my fingers to glow, something good, so I slip off my glove. Keep my face down, eyes gaze at coffee swirls, listen to the machines in background whirr. I wait.

He’s watching me, behind the counter. I’m alone, object of curiosity, objectified, warm air on my décolletage, wish I had a scarf, more fur, to shield, drape, hide me. Watch the patterns on the table swirl, white formica stained where he has wiped, cleaned, wiped again, white dance on white spins before my eyes in time with the whoosh and swirl of the drinks machine.

Silk on my skin, silk lining in my dress, my coat, no shield. I can’t go back, won’t go forward, not ready, not yet. Automat coffee, automat life, never tasting quite right, not like the fresh version everyone else is living, having, man behind the counter, going home to his kids, his wife, dinner on the table for him. Not me.

The coffee’s black, too bitter, cooling, can’t face the dregs, still hold the cup, hope of warmth fading. False life, false hope, but as long as I sit here, stay here, nothing will move on. I leave the last inch of coffee, a promise that there’s something more. Soon, I’ll leave, before he wipes the table one more time, before he stacks the chair. Soon, I’ll move my legs, one foot then the other, slip out from warmth to the cool night air, from limbo to action, the next step. But for now, I wait.

For the Book Analyst Facebook Group Writing Exercise

Review: Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig


How do you write a traumatic life experience like depression? In the midst of it, picking up a pen and exploring your feelings is impossible.

Why do you write about depression? Because when you are deep within depression, it feels like no-one else in the history of time has ever felt like you … and once you have reached a place beyond depression, maybe you want to let others know about that elusive thing called hope.

When do you write about depression? When the drugs have started to work? When you feel like you’re living again? When there’s something new to say, or something only you can say, or the impulse to write it is too great and none of what you have written so far quite deals with the itch, the need, to stop other people hurting in the same way that you hurt?

I don’t think I’ve every written properly about being depressed. Much of it is a blur: the parts I remember will be hard to write and painful to share. Maybe, 13 years down the line, I haven’t yet reached that point.

Matt Haig experienced depression in his twenties, and now, around 15 years later, he had finally addressed it head on in Reasons to Stay Alive. It’s a beautiful book, pocket sized, white binding, orange inner covers, rainbows dancing across the paper outer. And inside, it’s beautiful too.

The writing takes the form of scattered pieces, part memoir, part lists, a few selected tweets, and the story builds between the short chapters and sections. I don’t always finish every book I start, for a range of reasons, but I finished this one. It’s honest. It’s compelling. And it doesn’t tell you not to be depressed.

Haig skilfully avoids the ‘them and us’ of most self help style books: he’s there, deep in the depression, he’s there again as his current self, offering help, proof of a future, and most importantly, hope. He does end with 40 bits of advice on ‘How to live’, but none of it is preachy, it’s all tempered by the fact that he admits he doesn’t always follow his own advice.

And to finish, here’s one bit from the book that I love …

Self-help

How to stop time: kiss.

How to travel in time: read.

How to escape time: music.

How to feel time: write.

How to release time: breathe.

 

Reasons to Stay Alive is an incredibly low priced £6.99 at time of writing. Well worth a read whether you have been depressed, or want to understand someone else a little bit better.