Adrian Miller was born in London in 1966. He has worked as a library assistant, a barman, a courier and a journalist. This is his first published work.
After Olivia delivered her calm, insightful but righteous goodbye I put the phone down, brushed the ash off my thigh and sat in dizzy silence for a while. Forty minutes, let’s say. Could have been more. Probably it was less. I was thinking about what she’d said, re-experiencing her inflections and nuances, checking them for clues. Then I did the washing up – omelette, very difficult to deal with – wiped the surfaces – obstinately oleaginous – switched off my phone – who was going to call? – and started work on the above.
Library assistant and journalist I like: literary, but not obviously so. Barman, I have to say, very nearly didn’t make it into this, hopefully final, draft. Not because it’s not an honourable profession but because it felt, what can I say, a little too obvious. But in the end I chose it for the same reason I chose journalist: both suggest easy access to other people’s lives, and also to alcohol. Courier, a new addition is, I think, a particularly nice touch. It taps into the mythical notion of the messenger - Mercury, winged confidante of the Gods, shadowy keeper of secrets. It brings with it the suggestion of movement, of transience, of urgent importance. It’s crafty, challenging but subtle. Yeah, I’m pretty pleased with this one.
This information is intended, as indicated in the text, to accompany Worry, my first published work. That’s not to say it’s my first piece of work, or my first publishable piece of work or, strictly speaking that it has been accepted for publication, but we’ll leave that for now …Grand in sweep and audacious in style, he attends to the psychic wounds of his generation without sedative or shame. It’s steeped in rage and sorrow but it’s not without hope. The hallucinatory prose suggests a writer for whom reality has the shifting beauty of a sandy beach, daily remade anew…
Anyway, satisfied with these twenty-eight words of autobiography I returned to bed where I dreamt I was staring at my reflection and that each of my features – eyes, nose, mouth – was at a different stage of development. I had the bulbous, poisoned snout of a hopeless alcoholic and the tiny, round chin of a baby, which I happen to know indicates vast but inescapable woe. This is just something I know.
So, it’s like this. No. Save that for later. Next morning I woke early. I was working as a filing clerk for a Jewish telecommunications company. I filed invoices for whatever service it was they provided. Something to do with…No. Don’t really know. It was a temporary thing. I’d been there nine months, patiently labouring in the womb-like basement. From time to time other temps would turn up, breathily apologising for their presence and explaining that actually they were actors, musicians, writers. These ambitions protected them from the slings and arrows of whatever outrageous misfortune had brought them to a fusty Tottenham basement and they approached the business of filing as if it were a game. As if it didn’t matter that Trou- came after Trot- and not before, and that when presented with two identical names we file not according to whim or fancy but customer service number. Their carelessness and their flippancy infuriated me and they littered their conversation with things of which they clearly imagined me ignorant: music, clubs, theories of thought. They bobbed about like children with obscenely over developed bodies. Christ, I loathed them.
But then I was older, generally. Older, certainly than my boss, which is significant, at least in my case, and also the only smoker in the company. Joel would eye me sadly as I emerged from the basement for a speedy puff on the Seven Sisters Road. Contempt for the body and so forth. But I was happiest when the desire for nicotine was almost, but not quite, intolerable. A simply satisfied need imminently to be resolved by a solution which is itself the problem. Wheels within wheels, escalating irony. Nice. Like that sort of thing… Anyway.
As I arrived at work that morning Joel acknowledged me with a slow dip of his head. If only Olivia could have seen me then, purposefully entering my office, courageously preparing to perform my work, later to collect the wages that fell so dramatically beneath the level of subsistence. Max nodded too as I passed. I don’t think he disliked me. I worked well and spoke nicely. (All my life people have commented on the pleasantness of my speech. I had a brief career, a time if you like, as a child actor. The pleasantness of my speech has gone some way to concealing the fact that most of the time I have nothing to say about anything.)
Gratefully then, I made my descent. In the corner of the basement was a little chair and an even smaller desk. In proportion to me this furniture was like child’s furniture, the sort of stuff you might encounter in a playgroup, upended and scuffed. I don’t know what anyone thought I did at that little desk, my work consisting solely and exclusively of filing. Planning forthcoming filing perhaps. Recalling former filing. Penning (odd word that, often read it in magazines) my memoirs. Whatever.
I picked up a pile of files and prepared them and myself for the day’s work: numbers first (2000 Communications, 321 IT etc.) then Aacht, Aaden, Aakee and the myriad Aarons. They slid into place on the metal shelves, addresses to the front, customer service numbers to the left, and I was filled with a fleeting sense of completeness. I knew what I was doing down there in the basement. Knowing what I was doing was a large part of the job’s appeal. Clearly defined goals, easily achievable objectives. Rarely having to speak to anyone. That sort of thing.
Anyway, it’s like this. No. Not yet. I came to this job, fragile and faint, from what was ostensibly a very much better job. Taken on face value – shorter hours, longer lunches, more money, greater prospects and the fact of it being an occasionally bearable way to spend nine hours of every day – it was a better job. But there were ethical problems. There were personal problems. Monday to Friday I couldn’t look myself in the eye. (Weekends I didn’t want to.) Every morning my employers chowed down frenziedly on my soul, spat out my shell at five. I cried on the night I left, overwhelmed by a complicated compound of grief and relief, and vowed that from then on every moment must be made to matter.
But that morning, the morning after the night when I experienced so much difficulty with the omelette pan and the oleaginous surfaces, things weren’t going well. At around eleven o’clock time slowed down and took on a sort of impenetrable density. I couldn’t see my way through it. I had a hangover as well, actually, and my thoughts were slow and stale, swilling about in the stew of last night’s undigested toxins. They had a life of their own, my thoughts, and they were drifting. Skirting icy precipices of, you know, desperation. Worry was calling.
Adrian Miller was born in 1969. He was brought up in and around Enfield where he attended a number of schools. He studied English at Leicester Polytechnic but decided not to complete the course. Since that time he has held a number of jobs including postman, barman and office assistant. He lives in north London. This is his first published work.
Alright. I lied about being a journalist, but it just sounded so good next to courier and barman – clearly these are the occupations of an urban adventurer: an experience junkie, a man unbound by traditional notions of employment and identity. And postman is a fine vocation. My uncle was one. They gave him a silver-plated letter opener when he retired. As you can see I’ve also included office assistant, but this isn’t necessarily the final draft.
OK. OK. It’s like this. Worry has been occupying me for a while. It grows. It spreads. It infects new territories with the relentless force of an air-borne virus. Frequently it veers off in unexpected directions, finds new subjects with which to concern itself, encloses them within its fold. But basically, at its core, it documents a writer’s obsession with a vast, ever growing, possibly non-existent book. It’s a demanding, ambitious and fearlessly subversive work. So challenging and defiant that it’s very existence - or the process of bringing it into existence - has become for the author a sort of torture, an act of magnificent, mythic futility. There’s other stuff too but that, in a nutshell, is what’s happening here.
Olivia was always suspicious of my commitment to Worry, didn’t like it when I downsized my life to devote more time to it. Oh Olivia. With her well paid job at a magazine for unmarried young women and her cheerfully furnished flat in Highgate environs. And her older cousin who also worked at the magazine. Olivia was paid extremely well to write positive reviews of books and films that secretly she despised. Sometimes she interviewed quite famous actors. Not long before she delivered that calm, insightful but righteous goodbye we met up in a bar. Not a pub, with the nicotine stained fittings and leaking urinals associated with age and empty time, but in a bar with the stripped wooden floor and metal furniture associated with youth and urgent leisure. Though not much urgency among the staff. I was trying to get us drinks. Vodka and tonic for her. Vodka and tonic for me too, but also a pint and another vodka. I returned swervingly to the table where Olivia sat looking quietly amused.
‘Thank you Adrian,’ she said. We’d met when my life was run along more conventional lines, and during our time together I’d made a lot of promises, perfectly aware when I made them that they couldn’t be kept. Not by me.
‘So,’ she said. ‘How’s it going?’
I started to tell her about Worry but swiftly realised the enquiry had been of a broader, more general nature. She sighed resignedly. ‘Why don’t you let me have a look at it, Adrian?’ I hate it when people use my name. It makes me nervous.
‘Well, you know. It’s not ready yet.’
‘You could read some of it out to me. Just the good bits if you like. Wouldn’t have to take long.’
The conversation had started on a good, strong, equal footing, but then Olivia began to talk about the office, her cousin and some protracted disagreement involving the local council, all of which made it difficult for me to sustain any interest. At one point she excused herself and got up, her grey skirt delightfully tight around her hips. (There hadn’t been a lot of touching recently. Maybe that would change.) I waited for her to return so I could ask her one or two things. Like: how do you present a screenplay? I see Ewan McGregor taking the main role when the film’s made and may write in a small scene for Christopher Walken. I’m quite aware that compared with Olivia’s friends, indeed among Olivia’s friends, I’m a joke. I turned my back on my own life and by implication theirs. But I’m no longer corrupted by consumption, debased by trivia. Synthesising a new language from the fragments of dreams. Straining to hear the secret engines of the imagination…
When Olivia didn’t return I finished her drink myself.
Adrian Miller was born in 1970. Largely self-educated he began writing two years ago. This is his first published work.
OK. I’ve decided I no longer wish to define my past by reference to the things that… happened in it. I will not be constrained by convention. I come to break it. And in its place I will erect a monument. A monument to purity, to clarity, to unencumbered thought. It’ll be startling and it’ll be new.
But it’s hard. Some time has passed since Olivia delivered her calm, insightful but righteous goodbye, and today Joel summoned me to his office. Max was there too. The office was small and filled with a huge desk, a plane of processed timber so vast I couldn’t imagine how it ever arrived at its present position. It was like a ship in a bottle. Joel was behind the desk, Max on it. There was no room for any other furniture so I stood in front of the desk and bowed my head as if before an altar.
‘Adrian,’ said Joel. He looked sad, and I knew what was coming.
‘Adrian,’ said Max. Now I was nervous too. ‘Adrian. We can’t tell you how much we appreciate all the work you’ve done for us. But as you know this was only ever a temporary position…’ He raised an eyebrow sympathetically.
‘Elizabeth will be taking on your filing duties,’ said Joel.‘It simply isn’t a matter over which we have any control.’ He spread his hands expansively. There was an ornate ring on his little finger, an unexpectedly decadent flourish. ‘I’ve had a word with the agency. I’ve told them how great you’ve been and they say there’ll be no problem finding you something else.’ He shrugged his shoulders. ‘Sorry Adrian.’
‘Sorry,’ said Max. ‘You know…’
Anxiety swelled within me. Perspiration broke the surface of my skin. But my hurt was only local and beyond it lay a vast reservoir of relief.
‘Fine,’ I said, might even have smiled because that’s what Max and Joel did. I worked out the week and enjoyed a final smoke on the Seven Sisters Road. Said goodbye. Returned to Worry.
Oh yeah. I’ve lopped a couple of years off my age. They say that if you can remember the sixties then you weren’t really there. Well I can’t remember them, and now I wasn’t there.
Adrian Miller was born in 1972. He has been writing full-time for six months. He lives in London.
Right. Well. There’ve been some changes. Awkward narrative progressions, plot discrepancies, kinks in the causal chain, the results of which have brought our hero here: to a tiny room on the top floor of a grimly functional tower on the edge of the city, one of many that rise around London like unjoined fence-posts. All through the night the solid thwump of music and movement pulses through the walls. There are fights and couplings, sometimes simultaneously. The air is filled with indeterminate sighs and moans, occasionally my own. But these aren’t the only things that persecute me. So too does language. I consider words for cadence, rhythm, associated imagery. Each one must justify its contribution to the whole, each one must sing in harmony with the others. But when I look at the page I see only complicated symbols, ciphers in a system I no longer understand. Perhaps what I’m creating here isn’t literature at all, but some sort of visual art. I stare at the strokes, the flourishes and paraphs and wonder wherein resides their meaning. They’re like mystical symbols in some arcane code, no more intelligible to me than the graffiti that spreads like ivy through the corridors and stairwells here. Words – swelling, mutating, buzzing in the hive.
Afternoons pass – the saddest segment of the day. I stand by the window and watch the trees bowing in the wind. I follow the movement of vehicles on the distant ring road. The sky scurries across the earth, imperceptibly grinding it away. And I wonder how the shapes on the paper in front of me might be made to refer to the world beyond. Or how these things might be understood by language at all. And I confess that when I consider this matter no answer presents itself. And I’m struck by the senselessness and the absurdity of even trying. I exist in a series of complicated states. I long to describe them, to map the intricate corridors of my own interior. But instead I write sentences like that one, which draw attention to themselves but say nothing. And the harder I try to express a single, simple truth the more strained becomes the process of communication, the greater the chasm between phrase and phenomena. (That one was another waste of time.)
Still, these are precisely the sorts of problems that Worry must address. I see it now simultaneously as a commentary and countermeasure to capitalism, and perhaps as a meditation on identity. Here’s the author, defined by his work. Work provides his life with meaning and purpose. But when the book’s completed, if it’s completed, if in fact he’s written it at all, this definition - all definitions - cease to apply. Conclusion in this instance is a sort of death. Implicit in creation is a final act of destruction – the death of the writer qua writer. Ending, closing, finishing, forgetting. Who’s doing what there, and to whom? And why? Still, this is all significant stuff. I’ve set myself a deadline six months hence. Give myself some time to iron these problems out.
A month has now passed since I wrote that, during which time the only thing I have written is ‘a month has now passed since I wrote that.’
And this month, again, was much the same as the last. But I’ve been thinking. I’ve been thinking about who to dedicate the book to. Dedications – a little glimpse of the author’s real self before being dragged into the swamp of his lies – are problematic. But I think I shall dedicate Worry to Olivia. To Olivia, I shall say. And these shall be the truest words I ever wrote.
…Some time had passed since last he’d been out and he left the lift cautiously, as if uncertain that his descent was complete. The air in there had been so acidic he’d struggled to take it down and around the tenth floor it had grown heavy and rank suggesting the frank instructions scrawled on the elevator’s smooth walls had been followed. Warily he left the building behind him, cool in its shadow and acutely aware of the many concrete strata beneath the car park’s mottled surface.
At the building’s side was a file of bins, black plastic sentries spilling unbagged refuse. Curious, he examined them for a while, then moved on until a greasy burger wrapper leapt from the ground and clung longingly to his ankle. He tried to shake it off with an awkward, hopping dance but it was reluctant to leave him and finally he had to shoo it away with his hands. It scurried off into the undergrowth where it went to rest among a nest of cans. He walked through the Close to the Garden to the Grove. Passed the pub where all the neighbours he’d never met went to resuscitate their sorrows. Headed along the Drive, went up the Avenue, trod the Boulevard, skirted the Park, followed the Way, reached the Road, found the Street and was finally fed by a matrix of pedestrianised Lanes led into the Place.
And there he sat a while, just watching. Observed shapeless shoulders struggling to sustain the weight of shopping, children, clothes. Saw bodies that strained against outfits marked with strange insignia, bodies trussed with straps and buckles and zips. Watched faces too, pitted and raw as if scoured by some chemical astringent.
At his feet was a battered leather bag. It too bore one of the emblems displayed on the hoardings and banners all around. He didn’t remember waking and he didn’t remember sleeping, but he felt no more tired than usual. He’d given this matter a great deal of thought and it was, he supposed, the most logical conclusion.
Having gathered his strength he shouldered the bag and set off again. He had a destination in mind, a particular spot but he wasn’t sure how to get there. Eyes down he began walking until the residential streets gave way to a fast moving carriageway. He trudged along the grass verge and imagined himself as if seen by some omniscient narrator: a tiny, stumbling figure by the side of the road, dogged and oblivious to the traffic. What else? He looked up. A sky as clear and empty as…what? The unmediated perception of an infant? Old eyes at the point of death? Fresh foolscap? Did that work? He had no idea.
Finally he left the road, clambered up a verge and through a hole in a fence, until eventually he came upon a stretch of unexpectedly fertile wasteland. Delicate little flowers bloomed at his feet. Hunks of metal rose like rock from the earth and all around him were sharp-leafed shrubs, their branches waving in the breeze like clustered blades. It was difficult and his progress was slow but through all of this he passed until he came upon the water. A reservoir of some sort, divided into a series of deep, rectangular pools. From the concrete shore he turned to look back at the tower from which he’d come, the lonely, looming garret that seemed to link sky and earth. He turned again to the water and his first impulse was to describe it, to alter it by alchemy into words. But not this time. Not now.
He dropped the bag and took off his shoes. It had occurred to him earlier that he should have brought a weight of some sort, maybe some bricks. But he hadn’t, so the shoes would have to do. Unzipping the bag he stuffed them in among the sheaves of paper, glanced down at the title page marked, simply, ‘Worry.’
And then he hurled it at the water. It bobbed around for a moment, sustained by the swell before sinking beneath the surface. Most of it of course he could remember. He’d read it yesterday, as he read it most days. He felt great relief, as if he’d just discovered that a fatal diagnosis was in fact a mistake. Tomorrow everything could begin, again.
Adrian Miller was born in London This was his last published work.