“various things change you as a person and a writer as you age. you think more about time and memory; about what time does to memory, and memory does to time” julian barnes ”everyone is saying ’i can’t wait to get back’ and i have to say i don’t think we will. we won’t go back. it will be different and it will be something we don’t understand right now” darius marder
i have written before about how i find it impossible to get a clear sense of how my illnesses have behaved and changed over many years, and how this inability troubles me. i explained that up until a certain point i was able to hold on to at least a rough impression of the trajectory of my ill life. part of the confusion comes from the fact that my ill life has coincided with most other things about my life, making untangling illness from life or life from illness pretty much impossible. memory slips and slides about and becomes increasingly effortful to gain purchase on the more i struggle to pin it down. i feel driven to get a firm hold over my memories, as if achieving that would result in my having a stronger sense of my own existence.
when i have a lot of low energy or “crash” days in quick succession i soon begin feeling like i don’t exist. when this happens i ask friends for reassurance. “am i still part of the world?” i enquire, or “do you think i am still a human being?” i recognise that i wouldn’t base anybody else’s human credentials on what time they had to stay in bed till, or how often they ventured out. it would be a tremendous relief to learn to believe that i am here without the need for regular proof. i know some people who say they never wonder if they exist, and some who assure me that it has never occurred to them to question their entitlement to be here. this is astonishing to me.
there are days when i am hanging by a fragile thread. i am broken into uneven fragments which are held together in no particular order by pieces of sticky tape and bits of string. there are days when i wake up to find that this fragmented state is where i’ve landed; i might not have been in that space when i went to bed, and cannot explain how i came to travel there during the night. it is as if i was carried into a different room while i was asleep. the new room is in exactly the same position in exactly the same building that i rise in on other days, yet it feels as if it is in entirely another universe.
some time ago, i don’t recall how long, maybe three or four years ago, tiny plasticine models would regularly appear on the outside windowsill almost directly opposite the door to my building. they would always come in pairs and arrive when no one was looking. i wish i had taken photos of all of the ones which i spotted. for a time i suspected that a chap i know who used to work in the shop next door to my flat was responsible. they seemed to be his sort of thing – playful and witty and enjoyably nonsensical. but when i asked him he said they were not his work. anyway, last weekend two new models in the same mould (ha ha) appeared. it was long enough since their previous manifestations that i’d forgotten that they had ever existed. the return of these little creations needn’t logically have any connection to lockdowns ending or folk acting as if the pandemic is over, but because the arrival of this recent duo coincides with all kinds of behaviours which illustrate what commentators seem to be contractually obliged to describe as “going back to normal”, and because before they arrived i hadn’t seen any since pre-covid times, my mind connected them with whatever historical period our nowadays might turn out to be. there have been aspects of life transforming since “freedom day” which i have found incredibly disconcerting and others which i had imagined would feel strange and uncomfortable but haven’t. as current times are so bewildering i am going with my impression that the return of these examples of tacit communication is a rare, joyful aspect of humanity transitioning into whatever our next (hopefully ever so not normal) phase turns out to be.
returning to the matter of life trajectories, i haven’t always been aware of the fact that some people go through their life with some kind of overview and others don’t. i think what i mean by having an overview is being able to access information about other states of mind from the one we are in right now. so for example, when i am not depressed it is easy for me to remember how i feel when i am depressed; in fact it is too easy, in that if i spend more than a very short amount of time reminding myself of that mood-space i risk recreating it so convincingly that i return there for a while. this overview idea is complex to write about because it is too easy to convince ourselves that we see things a lot more clearly than we truly do. i’ve been overwhelmed lately by reflections on identity, memory and the passing of time. something is going on with my memory which rocks my world. i don’t know if it is a symptom or consequence of being my age. i keep thinking of homer simpson declaring that every time he learns something new, it pushes some old stuff out of his brain, because that is exactly how my current memory crisis feels. i can’t work out if it is because 55 is a neat number in visual terms, but i keep repeating this daft chain of thought where i say to myself: i feel befuddled and foggy of mind, and this must be because i’ve reached this palindromic age, and when humans get to this age their mind is so full of all the memories and thoughts and ideas and quotes and everything it has ever witnessed that it has necessarily run out of space for new information.
as i said, the more i fight to pin thoughts down the more slippery they get, and my crusade against retreating memories becomes part of the problem. i get bogged down in fear of lack of clarity and that fear takes over and stupefies my mind. it blocks any flow which might help me find my way out of the labyrinth. i’m engaged in an ongoing internal mental tug of civil war.
the model citizen and me have a running joke about me wishing i was him. it is only partly a joke, in that in many ways i do often wish i was more like him than myself. we are agreed on the fact that his life is measurably easier than a lot of other people’s lives in terms of his material circumstances and his temperament. i said once in this blog that i am temperamentally averse to an easy life, and that is true. i find it impossible to let myself off the hook. the model citizen certainly struggles with a few sticky hooks himself, but nonetheless the inside of his mind is a friendlier and much simpler location than the inside of mine. one glaring and infuriating example of his blessedness is that he has been happier and more at peace since his memory declined quite dramatically a few years ago. from the outside it is impossible to tell for sure whether this is because of his almost relentless tendency to look on the bright side: in other words, it is a choice of sorts; or is it just another example of how simply by luck his eggs always end up perfectly cooked?