There’s a game I play when I’m stuck with writer’s block, one that I definitely did not invent. I’ve probably spent hundreds of hours of my life, particularly during secondary school, scrolling through Tumblr, endlessly reblogging photos and gifsets and even making my own. During the summer, I gave it up and found that I was a lot happier with a lot more free time but came back last month. I don’t use it anywhere near as much as I used to but I’ve found, as I’m sure other people have before me, that it’s a good source of inspiration.
When you start a new Tumblr, it asks you what your interests are and it seems regardless of what they are, you will inevitably, and against your will, end up following a bunch of hipster blogs. These sites are filled with images of loneliness and love, forlorn teenagers probably near the sea, screencaps of tv shows like Skins taking innocuous quotes out of context and giving the phrase a new poignancy. Eventually, the first time around, I found my way out of this labyrinth of caption-less florals and collarbones, diverting to fandom and its cynicism but now I’ve returned and have begun to appreciate more the stories that can be told from these seemingly voiceless images.
So I took them. I find photos that I feel I could tell a story about and they’re not great, there’s sometimes a lack of plot or no characterisation. I’m heavily influenced by certain writers who I may or may not be writing my dissertation on (hi, Ali Smith, if you’re reading this). But they’re good at getting me to start writing, a bit like primary school writing exercises.
Hell, it’s just a prompt, let’s be honest here. There are competitions like this, 50 words to make a story out of a picture of a bunch of hot air balloons in the sky. Ah, well. This is working for me so far. This is the first one I did. Feel free to leave a comment or give feedback!
‘In this picture’
Your hand reaches up to the sky, two fingers raised in a sign of peace towards those birds that aren’t doves. They cawed in their scattered throng, rising and diving towards the river, following the scent of some poor dead thing. It was theirs now, left to be picked at by beaks until it was nothing more than a skeleton. The sky is pink behind us as though tinged with blood, the buildings lining the riverbanks into the distance.
In this picture, we are standing on a bridge and you make a peace sign and raise it into the air to whom? The birds? The people in the buildings? Somebody on land, somewhere, might have seen you, might be questioning you too, wondering why this person is gesturing so wildly and why the person with them, why I am laughing and staring at you. They could be wondering who we are to each other, why we came to be on this bridge next to these seagulls under a rose-coloured sky.
Or maybe not. Maybe there is no one watching, no one to whom you are imploring with your gesture. Maybe it’s just the two of us, standing on the bridge. You throw up your hands in a peace sign, an empty gesture, an attempt to feel something. To feel some control in a world that’s vast and produces such glorious skies as this one.
Or maybe it’s not peace you are signalling for. Maybe your other fingers will rise, hand open, palms spread, ready to clutch and grab at the sky. You will grab a hold of a wing and hoist yourself on to the back of a seagull, now an eagle, and you’ll fly away, away from me.
I realised then how much I don’t want this to be the case.
The image moves. You unfreeze, your hand curls back, you turn away from the skyline and back towards me, standing on the pavement, feet firmly on the man-made ground. The hand is now in mine and we’re walking away from the seagulls. We walk away from the sky.