Sometimes when I sit down to write, it’s because there’s an idea bouncing around inside my head demanding to be committed to virtual paper, and I know that it won’t let up with its bouncing until I do so. I get the impression that the beginning, middle and end are all in there, and all I need to do is to let them pour out in something resembling the right sequence, put a full stop at the end and click ‘Save’.
This isn’t one of those times. This idea has been sat waiting for the ending to arrive for weeks now, and I’m sitting down to write in the vague hope that I can finally squeeze the idea into some kind of shape through the discipline of staying at the keyboard until my head gives up and surrenders the conclusion. And then maybe my brain can move on to something else.
The beginning presented itself in an Italian restaurant in Leeds after a good meal, a non-trivial amount of wine, and as we passed three varieties of grappa around the table. This was slightly before the three NHS Administrators sat at the next table got themselves all confused by asking the Californian who lives in Prague I was with whether he came from these parts.
“What’s the most beautiful thing you’ve seen?” the American asked. “Family excluded.”
Talking about the birth of children or wedding days would be too easy. He was looking for some kind of physical thing – a view of the natural world or something like that.
My mind emptied. It wasn’t that I was competing between the different entries in my Top 10, trying to work out which one I’d select as the ultimate most beautiful thing of all time. I had nothing. You’re sat there now, reading this, asking yourself the same question, and you probably have an image in your head of what you would have said. Not me – rabbit in headlights, seven year old child being asked for the square root of minus three hundred and nineteen, no idea at all, panic setting in.
The person to my right had an answer immediately to hand. I wondered whether he’d been prepped earlier. He described a tree near where he lived – the branches, the way it looked in the landscape. I could appreciate it as a beautiful thing. The questioner had two suggestions, both cityscapes. He talked about Warsaw, seen from the forty-fourth floor. Low cloud settling over the city below, and a rainbow stretch over the city. He talked about waking up in Tokyo and catching a far off glimpse of Mount Fuji across the city haze.
I appreciate these things as being beautiful. And if I’d seen them myself, and someone had asked me whether I thought they were attractive views, I’m sure I would have agreed that they were. But would I have filed them away as a candidates for the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen? Probably not.
“A really nice equation doesn’t count,” I was told. I’d been caught out earlier in the evening carefully stepping on paving stones in an L-shaped knight’s move. I’d shared the fact that I’d scored 38 on an Asperger’s test – ‘normal people’ score about 16. Neither had been surprised by my score. In fact, they hadn’t been surprised that I’d taken the test either, although that was probably just a combination of watching too much Parenthood and reading The Rosie Project.
I deflected the conversation – it moved on to less aesthetic matters – but I kept thinking about what the most beautiful thing I’d seen was. Never mind that – what was the last beautiful thing I’d seen? I thought about my walk to the train station that morning, looking out at the clear sky and seeing a moon sat low, just above the horizon, and a star (planet?) hanging just alongside. I’d been fascinated by it, glancing across repeatedly as I marched to the station. But had I found it beautiful? No. Just intriguing.
So we have the beginning, and there’s a bit of middle in there, if a little confused. And I know what the ending should be: a few weeks later, I’m looking at <insert beautiful thing of your (or rather, my) choosing> when I finally come to the realization that I’ve found it.
Except here I am, weeks later, and I still don’t have it.
And I’ve been looking really hard.