For some unfathomable reason it’s an intolerable pain day. Pain management is a short term proposition. I love distraction. I prefer finding joy despite it. I have grown accustomed to it and that allows for a higher level of tolerance. Today distraction fails, strawberries are left untouched and some things I will never grow accustomed to. I draw my knees up against my mouth, sat on the floor amidst a pile of books. It’s not the books of worlds I love to escape into, but those that somehow reflect the best of what I feel. I don’t need to read the beginning and endings, I know them well. I find comfort in beginnings and endings like these:
The journey starts with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. Hamlet is my favourite Shakespeare, Tom Stoppard my favourite playwrite and so obviously, this is my favourite play. The beginning:
Guildenstren’s bag is nearly empty.
Rosencrantz’s bag is nearly full.
The reason being: they are betting on the toss of a coin, in the following manner: Guildenstern(hereafter ‘Guil’) takes a coin out of his bag, spins it, letting it fall.
Rosencrantz (hereafter ‘Ros’) studies it, announces it as ‘heads’ (as it happens) and puts it into his own bag. Then they repeat the processs. They have apparently been doing this for some time.
The run of ‘heads’ is impossible, yet Ros betrays no surprise at all – he feels none. However, he is nice enough to feel a little embarrasssed at taking so much money off his friend. Let that be his character note.
Guil is well alive to the oddity of it. He is not worried about the money, but he is worried by the implications; aware but not going to panic about it – his character note.
Guil sits. Ros stands (he does the moving, retrieving the coins).
Guil spins. Ros studies the coin.
He picks it up and puts it in his bag. The process is repeated.
The sun is going down. Or the earth’s coming up, as the fashionable theory has it.
Not that it makes any difference.
What was it all about? When did it begin?
Pause. No answer.
And he [Ros] disappears from view. Guil does not notice.
Guil: Our names shouted in a certain dawn … a message … a summons … there must have been a moment, at the beginning, where we could have said – no. But somehow we missed it.
He looks around and sees he is alone.
Rosen – ?
Guil – ?
He gathers himself.
Well, we’ll know better next time. Now you see me, now you –
… the play fades, overtaken by dark and music.
Perhaps not the brightest of moment, but a good place to start. Watch someone else stare into the abyss and suddenly standing on the edge is not that lonely a place to be. I can move on to something else. I’ve read everything written and published by Virginia Woolf, but the opening scene of To The Lighthouse is a favourite:
“Yes, of course, if it’s fine tomorrow,” said Mrs Ramsay. “But you’ll have to be up with the lark,” she added. To her son these words conveyed an extraordinary joy, as if it were settled, the expedition were bound to take place, and the wonder to which he had looked forward, for years and years it seemed, was, after a night’s darkness and a day’s sail, within touch. Since he belonged, eve at the age of six, to that great clan which cannot keep this feeling separate from that, but must let future prospects, with their joys and sorrows, cloud what is actually at hand, since to such people even in the earliest childhood any turn in the wheel of sensation has the power to crystallise and transfix the moment upon which its gloom and radiance rests, James Ramsay, sitting on the floor cutting out pictures from the illustrated catalogue of the Army and Navy Stores, endowed the picture of a refrigerator, as his mother spoke, with heavenly bliss.
Quickly, as if she were recalled by something over there, she turned to her canvas. There it was – her picture. Yes, with all its greens and blues, its lines running up and across, its attempt at something. It would be hung in the attics, she thought; it would be destroyed. But what did that matter? ash asked herself, taking up her brush again. She looked at the steps; they were empty; she looked at her canvas; it was blurred. With a sudden intensity, as if she saw it clear for a second, she drew a line there, in the centre. It was done; it was finished. Yes, she thought, laying down her brush in extreme fatigue, I have had my vision.
I have had the same copy of ‘Lost in Translation’ since I was nineteen. I didn’t have space in my bag for it when I originally came, but went back for it ten months later. I rifled through nostalgic possessions and came away with only this and my copy of the Norton Anthology of English Literature. The opening line:
“It is April 1959, I’m standing at the railing of the Batory’s upper deck, and I feel that my life is ending.” The happily ever after: “The small space of the garden expands into the dimensions of peace. Time pulses through my blood like a river. The language of this is sufficient. I am here now.”
Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar is not as good as her best poems, but still a book I treasure. The beginning:
“It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs… It had nothing to do with me, but I couldn’t help wondering what it would be like, being burned alive all along your nerves. I though it must be the worst thing in the world.”
“There ought, I thought, to be a ritual for being born twice – patched, retreaded and approved for the road. … The eyes and the faces all turned themselves toward me, and guiding myself by them, as by a magical thread, I stepped into the room.”
And then there’s my favourite book by my favourite author; Cat’s Eye by Margaret Atwood. The beginning is my favourite beginning of all books:
Time is not a line, but a dimension, like the dimesions of space. If you can bend space you can bend time also, and if you knew enough and could move faster than light you could travel backwards in time and exist in two places at once. … I began to think of time as having a shape, something you could see, like a series of liquid transparencies, one laid on top of another. You don’t look back along time but down through it, like water. Sometimes this comes to the surface, sometimes that, sometimes nothing. Nothing goes away.
The last chapter:
I’m on a plane, flying or being flown, westward toward the watery coast, the postcard mountains. Ahead of me, out of the window, the sun sinks in a murderous, vulgar, unpaintable and glorious display of red and purple and orange… I have the window seat. In the two seats beside me are two old ladies… They seem amazingly carefree. …Responsibilities have fallen away from them, obligations, old hates and grievances; now for a short while they can play again like children, but this time without the pain. This is what I miss, Cordelia, not something that’s gone, but something that will never happen…
Now it’s full night, clear, moonless and filled with stars, which are not eternal as was once thought, which are not where we think they are. If they were sounds, they would be echoes, of something that happened millions of years ago: a word made of numbers. Echoes of light, shining out of the midst of nothing. It ‘s old light, and there’s not much of it. But it’s enough to see by.
On days where I feel as if I’m being burned alive along all my nerves, I find other people’s words very comforting. Words somehow have more weight when spoken by someone else. I no longer have faith in my own reassurances. I have too many memories of assuring myself that it was going to be okay, but then it wasn’t. Something bad happens and it’s a crack in the wall that can be plastered and covered, but never truly fixed. Getting lost in a world made of different shades of pain is something bad happening. It’s an attractive proposition not to be alone, to have someone say ‘It’s going to be okay’. There are different ways and different words of soothing and in that moment where time stands still and I am lost, I pull my knees up against my mouth and touch the well-thumbed pages. In that moment it’s not that it is going to be okay, it is okay. Seventy-six is just a number. There is always the thought of something good happening tomorrow. There is enough light. I am here now. This is not the worst thing in the world. I haven’t disappeared.