*ref post from 21 november 2020
“there’s a natural myth about the artist that you sit in your room and wait for the muse to come. it’s exactly as much hard work as making anything that you make out of nothing” stephen sondheim “if you meet the buddha on the road, kill him” linji yixuan
lots of people are starting this year by sharing their hopes for it to be an improvement on the previous one. i understand this drive, but i’m extremely wary of it: it feels a bit déjà vu and a lot jinxxy. (if jinxxy wasn’t a word before, it is now. i’ve read susanna clarke’s piranesi and thus discovered the term “bouncible”. like anyone who doesn’t love piranesi with a crazy passion, you’d have to be a total idiot not to want to add the word bouncible to your lexicon. and i am now claiming my inalienable right to invent new terminology).
i know many who have had a truly dreadful time these past almost two years: those who had got to their seventies untroubled by mental illness but who ended up on psychiatric wards as a result of the effects of the pandemic; those whose mental health wasn’t great, but they’d found coping strategies and were teetering around the sort of ok mark, and who now feel like they are starting over with beginning to work out how to be here; and others still who seem to have gone quietly and irretrievably insane without anyone who might have been able to intervene constructively noticing.
last summer when we were allowed to invite friends into our homes again i realised that one of my new and weird mental illnesses was stockpiling ridiculous quantities of water in the cubby-hole off my kitchen. apparently i’d taken shortages of bottled water and delivery drivers (which are nothing to do with brexit. brexit is working out great and there are crowns on pint glasses again – phew) so seriously that i’d taken to piling multipacks of water on top of one another, creating a small mountain range of plastic-encased water. i’d like to clarify that this practice isn’t as pettily selfish as it sounds. my sinuses are so problematic that i have to pour huge amounts of water through my nostrils on a daily basis, and i’m not reconciled to passing whatever constitutes tap water in these parts (mostly chlorine judging by its troubling aroma) so close to my brain. after all, for the time being, it’s the only brain i’ve got.
on a brighter note, many of my number of chronically ill and disabled folk realised that we had developed superpowers over many years of solitary hardship. we came into our own. lockdown? no problem when you’ve already stayed indoors for more than half of your life. it was liberating to find our experiences finally become meaningful to people outside our community: at last we were the ones who knew what we were doing.
some things which happened to me last year:
i had three pfizer covid vaccines. thank you to those who developed the vaccines, especially oxford astrazeneca and johnson and johnson who sell theirs at cost, unlike pfizer biontech who have made $32 billion from charging £22 a throw for theirs.
i had a consultation with an astonishingly patronising and humourless doctor who told me that i am losing all my hair. he said that i could have a bash at “holding onto what i had left” by purchasing a chemical and rubbing it into my scalp for ten minutes twice daily exactly twelve hours apart every day for the remainder of my life. i found this an incredibly alienating notion when it was first suggested, and it hasn’t grown on me (ha ha) over time. i can’t imagine anyone leading a life so entirely devoid of spontaneity that they could fit this regimented double-rubbing-in of a chemical into all of their days. (actually i recognise that this isn’t true. i suppose that if i was in prison it is possible that my life might be sufficiently systematic for such a routine to be achievable. on the other hand it seems unlikely, if i did have the misfortune to be incarcerated, that i’d be able to rustle up a spare thirty quid a month to spend on an anti-hair-loss product). i have wanted to write about my hair loss for a while now but i find the experience so distressing, and most cultural attitudes so cruel, that i can’t bear to say anything yet beyond the fact that this is happening.
my blog hits increased significantly and went up by almost a thousand in six months. (declare yourselves, mystery readers!)
i discovered a new and deeply rewarding relationship with birds. when i say “relationship”, i realise that this suggests a degree of reciprocity: in fact i’m fairly sure that the birds don’t give a monkeys about we humans. though i live in hope that some of them might notice the bird-feeder on my roof garden at some point in the future. i spent a lot of time last spring sitting on my roof listening to the song of a neighbourhood blackbird. blackbird song became a transcendent experience, and i was sorely disappointed when i found out that they only treat us to it for a few months each year.
i tested positive for covid on the 25th of december. i discovered that it was emotionally complex to receive confirmation that i had successfully become infected with this thing which we had all tried so hard to not catch for so long. i also found myself in the extremely fortunate position of omicron manifesting in my body as an exact replica of the common cold. i’m grateful to have had my booster two weeks earlier, and to have come down with a variant which my crackpot immune “system” was somehow magically able to cope with. most of all i am astonished and relieved that i didn’t infect anyone else.
as a consequence of my pcr test result being positive i had a very nice conversation with an extremely pleasant chap from test and trace. i was surprised that he was discombobulated when i explained that i wasn’t prepared to give him the names and contact details of everyone – or indeed anyone – i’d seen in the week leading up to my positive lateral flow test. i told him that i’d already given all of them my news, that they were each taking the action they deemed appropriate, and that i considered giving a government agency my friends’ and family members’ personal information an unthinkable breach of their privacy. my advisor felt obliged to inform his manager of my allegedly unusual refusal, and his manager said i would be pronounced as refusing to cooperate on the form. surely i can’t be that much of an outlier in this regard? i still feel a physical repulsion low in my innards when i imagine handing over my loved ones’ names and numbers; the prospect seems a particular and peculiar form of betrayal.
one thing which happened to me this year:
yesterday i met god on my way to the cafe (this was during a brief detour from being en route to an appointment i really must keep in samarra). or now i come to think about it, he might have only been jesus, which is a tad disappointing. it’s hard to be certain, since he claimed his name is “tim”. at any rate, this fellow definitely had an evangelical glint in his eyes as he explained to me that he has “saved many lives” by convincing people to abandon their treatments by medical experts who did ridiculous things like prescribing appropriate medications and carrying out surgery, and how it is “up to people whether they want to stay ill or get well”. oh goody. how i like this conversation. i’ve had it many times. but i’m cross with myself because i became overwhelmed with indignation and used unspecific phrases like “a load of bollocks” when what i should have asked is “if you believe illness is caused by faulty behaviours or beliefs and is not a natural part of life, how do you factor in the one hundred percent death rate among humans?”