Caught by the River

Shadows and Reflections: Diva Harris

Diva Harris | 10th January 2017

…In which, as we enter a new year, our friends and collaborators look back on the past twelve months and share their moments;

As 2015 drew to a close, things were very different to what I’d envisaged they would be a few months previously. I had, perhaps self-deprecatingly, assumed that both my expensive English degree and my brain would be laid to rot as I whiled away the hours at a supermarket checkout in Liverpool, where I had been planning to stay for the sake of my bank balance and my relationship. But if I’ve learnt anything in the intervening year, it’s that you never know what the stars have in store for you: Jeff Barrett of this very parish offered me a job I couldn’t refuse, and I moved back into my parents’ tiny, terraced ex-council house in West London, leaving a trampled heart in my wake. 2016, then, started a little tentatively, as I waited for the dust of drastic change to settle around me.

But settle it inevitably did, and as the months slipped by, I found myself relaxing into whatever-the-hell-it-is-I-do. I still haven’t found a concise way of explaining it to people – for it is multi-faceted and all-encompassing. Whatever it is, though, it’s definitely also a royal Fuck You to all the people at my university who did ‘real’ degrees, and troubled themselves to let me know that I would never get a job in a creative industry.

By the time it got to the summer – a season of relentless festivals – I found myself firmly rooted in a second family, with whom I have shared a great many things. My most vivid recollections of June to September are muddy estuary swims; giggling in tents and caravans and cottages and portaloos; tobacco-coloured sheep spied from train windows; shooting stars across clear Cornish skies; the elation of dancing to bloody good records with bloody good people. And mussels in white wine sauce. My one free pass from vegetarianism.

All the inconvenient chunks of time between the office and the meetings and the gigs and the festivals, I have tried to channel into reading. Hurriedly on tubes; marginally less hurriedly on National Rail services. And over the Christmas break, indulgently, stretched out on my bed like a cat. Reading has revitalised me. It is – and always has been – the salve which cools the burn of this terrifying world. 2016 was the year of Alan Bennett’s short stories, pilfered from my parents’ bookshelves. Zola’s Germinal: one of the many battered paperbacks which found its way, via a ruptured carrier bag, from the Oxfam bookshop on Portobello Road to the precarious tower on my bedside table. And the most profound book I have come across in a long time: Eimear McBride’s The Lesser Bohemians. The most accurate depiction of love and intimacy in fiction that I have ever encountered, I think. My already-dogeared copy has been pressed into many hands since.

I have also, finally, found my feet with poetry – something I have yearned and tried to do over years of analysing and re-analysing the same, tired lines. Two roads diverged in a wood, and I – / I took the one less traveled by. All very well, but it’s never made me feel anything. Long have I pined for poetry which makes my heart lurch. I found it – accidentally at first – on the internet, in the form of Sara Sutterlin’s ‘Intimacy as I understand it’. I have subsequently filled my brain with the words of Crispin Best and Martha Sprackland and Rupi Kaur. The epiphany: poetry can revolve around iPhones and sex and be littered with swear words and still be beautiful and clever and meaningful.

Most significantly – spurred on largely, I think, by the incredible, kickass women I am lucky enough to find myself surrounded by – I have had my own writing published on these here pages. (To borrow some lines from the aforementioned Kaur: we all move forward when / we recognize how resilient / and striking the women / around us are.) Although there’s not been much of it (yet), I’ve taken the initial, gutwrenching step of handing my first ever piece of Real Writing to someone and asking them to believe in it. I hope, in the year ahead, to be able to write more frequently and fearlessly.

And finally, I would be leaving out a pivotal part of 2016 were I not to at least allude to the newfound companionship of a man who is utterly sweet, selfless, and thinks about knitwear as much as I do. May he always be safe from Tineola bisselliella.

Diva Harris on Caught by the River/on Twitter