Finish your shit

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‘Be not inhospitable to strangers lest they be angels in
disguise.’ 
I heard these words on the radio recently.  Someone was describing a book shop in France, called
Shakespeare and Co, and these words among others are inscribed on one of its walls. 
The gist of the quote may have had its origins in the
bible; I can’t say for sure, but the meaning captures me. For one thing the
level of compassion called for – be not inhospitable – hooks onto a degree of self interest,
self interest that’s hinted at in the words ‘lest they be angels in disguise’.
 
Is it that we do well not to harm angels because they look after us or
because they can become avenging angels?
I had a guardian angel as a child.  She hovered behind me whenever I became
aware of myself. 
There was a laneway over the street in Wentworth Avenue that
ran along the back of a line of shops on Canterbury Road.  In my memory my guardian angel appears along this lane way – for no other reason than I associate people with places.  And this is the place that pops into my mind when I think of my angel.  
My guardian
angel belongs to the blue cobblestone secrecy of a lane that backed onto
concreted driveways where shopkeepers kept their cars and their bicycles.  
The back of the shops looked to me then
as they appear today like the rear end of people, not something we spend too
long admiring.  The rear view is never so appealing as the front view with its shop windows and inviting
façade. 
This laneway also provided what seemed like a short cut to
the park that filled the dip of Canterbury Road beside the bridge and between
the railway tracks and the station.  
In this park as a small child I encountered many a paedophile, only I
did not think of them as paedophiles then.  To me and my younger sister they were simply ‘dirty old men’, somewhat harmless to my mind then and not always old, whom we did our best to
avoid. 
Fear was not part of the equation in the outside world;
fear belonged at home. 
I have been searching for a new theme to preoccupy my
mind.  A new approach to the world
that will sweep me up in much the way I have been preoccupied these past
ten years with the concerns of my earlier life.  
Nothing comes. 
I keep drawing a blank. 
There are too many incidentals, too many possible leads.  I cannot go in any one direction
without something else calling me over. 
Recently, I read a list of advice for writers.  There is so much advice for writers on
the Internet, but this one appealed because the writer emphasised the need to
follow your own ideas first and foremost. 
What works for one will not necessarily work for you.  
Towards the end of the list the writer
included these words over and over:
‘Finish your shit.  Finish your shit.  Finish your shit.’
These words have haunted me since.  
I’ve posted this image before, a gargoyle from the Shillington schoolhouse in England.  He seems to be urging some sort of response.  
I am a master of unfinished
business.  I can rationalize that
this is the nature of life; everything remains essentially unfinished until you
are dead and even then memories live on in others. 
Events from your life leach into the lives of
others, the next generation ad infinitum, and the cycle keeps repeating
itself. 
But I cannot get far with such rationalizations, for I know
I have a tendency to begin and then to abandon.  I have the greatest difficulty of all with endings.  I can begin a story and move along
comfortably until a plea for closure, or a call for some sort of epiphany pulls
me up.
 
You must find a reason for what you are saying.  There must be a point to this story, a
reason for the telling, subtle perhaps, subtle preferably, but nevertheless
obvious enough to offer satisfaction.
 
And as in all my stories, as in all my blogposts, I wind
up almost mid sentence, lost for words.  
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6 Comments on Finish your shit

  1. Rachel Fenton
    January 26, 2014 at 9:52 am (3 years ago)

    With reference to stories, I think there's a lacuna between the intention and the word we choose to leave a thing be upon, and I don't think anything is ever finished – it's like asking where is the start of the cycle? Where does the circle end? That shit will finish you off.

    Reply
  2. PhilipH
    January 26, 2014 at 11:11 am (3 years ago)

    ‘Be not inhospitable to strangers lest they be angels in disguise.’

    What a smashing quote. Really great, even though I no longer believe in 'angels' in the heavenly sense.

    As a child I believed in such comforting assurances that nothing could harm me as my guardian angel was always watching over me.

    I also believed at the age of five or thereabouts that there were just children and grown-ups in this world and I was sure that this would always be so. I would always be a child.

    As time went by I learned how life really was. My childish 'beliefs' faded … then disappeared as logic and life moulded and sculpted me over decades.

    Yes Elisabeth, it is difficult to find an ending. It's easy in fairy-stories: "And they all lived happily ever after". The end. But in reality things are never so cut and dried.

    Still, as they say in "Mastermind" on BBC2 when the buzzer goes during the final question: "I've started so I'll finish…" it doesn't end the show.

    Reply
  3. ellen abbott
    January 26, 2014 at 3:46 pm (3 years ago)

    because the angels will tattle on you to god? I prefer 'be not inhospitable to strangers because one day you as a stranger may need hospitality'.

    Reply
  4. Anthony Duce
    January 26, 2014 at 5:49 pm (3 years ago)

    Your words here inspired me, more than usual. I have been procrastinating for days, in spite of much unrelated output to the real reason lost in the images, the words…
    Thank you

    Reply
  5. Jim Murdoch
    January 26, 2014 at 5:57 pm (3 years ago)

    This is how my short story ‘Over’ begins:

    When I was a little girl my mother told me I had a guardian angel. She didn’t simply tell me. It was announced one bedtime. We were even formally introduced. Mum used to sing to me sleep once upon a time: ‘Someone to Watch Over Me’ —that was her favourite. She never said it was Gershwin and she sang it as if it had never been anything other than a lullaby. It came as a very great shock in my late thirties to hear a cabaret act butcher it. It was an eye-opener. I never said anything at the time but Richard wheedled it out of me in bed later. I remember he laughed at me because of it. I’ll never forget that voice laughing in the dark. It was the cruellest thing he ever did and for no good reason.

    Faith is a funny thing. My mother didn’t just tell me about guardian angels like some parents lie about the tooth fairy or Father Christmas—she believed. I just accepted it all on trust. She said there was an angel assigned to every child the moment they came into being. I don’t know if I ever really believed but I played along with the game. Everything’s a game when you’re that small. I don’t ever remember thinking things were somehow safer because I was being watched over by an invisible spirit creature.

    My parents never said I had a guardian angel and my mother was not a great fan of Gershwin; she was far more likely to sing something by Gracie Fields. Angels were messengers. That was how I always viewed them, God’s hands and feet. I paraphrase that same verse in Milligan and Murphy by the way. Artists always depict angels as these fabulous winged creatures and surely you’d know if an angel was standing in front of you but what if they looked like you or me? The scripture that had a far greater effect on me was: “For the eyes of the LORD range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him” (2 Chron. 16:9). Long before I even read Orwell I understood the concept of constant surveillance. And it bothered me. Even when I wasn’t doing anything wrong. I’m still protective of my right to privacy. The idea of never, never being alone really bothers me.

    My wife’s also a master of unfinished business. She has so many projects planned and half-done it’s simply not true. I can’t work like that. I tend to get preoccupied with one thing and hang onto it until it’s either done or I realise I don’t have it within me to complete the task—I used to be good at multi-tasking but not these days—and even then I tend to keep it in the back of my mind hoping an in will appear sometime in the future. Endings are tough though, I grant you that. I’ve never known when or how any of my novels would end apart from Milligan and Murphy and I only knew that because the ending was inevitable; I wrote it months before I finished the book and simply filled in the blanks in between. I’m a big fan of Heinlein’s Second Rule of Writing though: Finish What You Start. This doesn’t mean I don’t abandon stuff—I abandon stuff all the time—but I quit before it’s become anything real. Once I’ve spent a year on something I’m pretty much committed. But a couple of hours … nah.

    Reply
  6. Kass
    January 29, 2014 at 12:29 pm (3 years ago)

    I have been a stranger to blogging for a long time, but I think of you often, especially when I dwell on the subject of revenge. I wonder how your thesis turned out – I wonder if any conclusions were drawn. I see from this excellently crafted post that the word "avenging" is there and I am happy that there is a thread of revenge still in your mind. I love this post title. Finished Shit becomes excellent fertilizer.

    As I have worked compulsively on my third home renovation, I have many hours in the slow methodical tasks (like painting) that give way to fits and spurts of introspective musings. In those moments I wonder if my drive to renovate, like the title of one of my blogs: "Redoing the Undone", is a form of indirect revenge (a somewhat different lane to wander down in terms of what I want to comment on here).

    What I am most recently dwelling on is how dependent on myth/or God my form of revenge is. In my imagined scenario, God is the only one/thing that can change the makeup of a narcissist/sociopathic perpetrator. (I have known for a long time that any revenge is meaningless to an non-empathetic person). God, with His Giant Movie Screen Review In the Sky, would show the impact of all misdeeds on me. He would reach his magic hand into the belly of this clueless person and make him FEEL. I imagine any of my perpetrators crumbling into writhing, sobbing wrecks of themselves – finally aware of the magnitude of hurt caused by their actions. And yes, this is somewhat satisfying to me because I realize this dark imagining is all I will ever have.

    ….looking forward to the next theme that consumes your mind and writing.

    Reply

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