The best-laid plans

Other people’s words about … waiting

Nick didn’t call me that morning, or that night. He didn’t call me the next day, or the day after that. Nobody did. Gradually the waiting began to feel less like waiting and more like this was simply what life was: the distracting tasks undertaken while the thing you are waiting for continues not to happen. I applied for jobs and turned up for seminars. Things went on.

From ‘Conversations with Friends
by Sally Rooney

I hadn’t planned to write this post. I thought that I would be — I planned to be — too busy to post anything between now and next week. I had family celebrations planned, after all, and a holiday trip away with a dear friend, and even a couple of shifts at work.

But I haven’t been well this Christmas, and so most of my plans for the holiday period so far haven’t eventuated.

Christmas is a tricky time, isn’t it? For some reason, I often get sick around this time of the year (and at other times of celebration). Like Sally Rooney’s narrator, Frances, in the passage above, I keep waiting for this to change, but the thing I am waiting for — not to get sick at Christmas, not to feel sad about getting sick at Christmas — continue[s] not to happen.

So why am I writing a post now, after all? Partly, I’m writing because I have unexpected time on my hands. Mostly, though, I’m writing because I wanted to reach out to other people who might also be feeling sad — whether unexpectedly or otherwise — this Christmas.

I don’t have any advice. I wish I did. The only thing I can find to do at times like this is to wait them out — which is ironic, given Rooney’s words above.

Still, whoever you are, wherever you are, if you are feeling sad right now, know this: you are not alone. Sadness is part and parcel of the deal.

And it passes.

Like the weather, like the tide, like footsteps in the sand, like all those hackneyed things — like Christmas, even — sadness, too, passes.

You are not special

Other people’s words about … transformation

I looked out the window at the station. I had the sense that something in my life had ended [since my diagnosis], my image of myself as a whole or normal person maybe. I realised my life would be full of mundane physical suffering, and that there was nothing special about it. Suffering wouldn’t make me special, and pretending not to suffer wouldn’t make me special. Talking about it, or even writing about it, would not transform the suffering into something useful. Nothing would. I thanked my mother for the lift to the station and got out of the car.

From ‘Conversations with Friends’
by Sally Rooney

I’ve written before about sickness and my own experiences of it (here, for example). What I like about Rooney’s words are the way she addresses what I believe is our culture’s pernicious need to make sense of our physical suffering and of our ills.

There are many, many ways we may try to do this. Some of us, for example, tell ourselves there must be a reason for our pain or our illness. Some of us tell ourselves that our condition makes us special, or different, or somehow better than we might otherwise have been if we hadn’t experienced it. Some of us try to see our condition as character-building. And some of us believe that if we talk about it, or write about it, we can make something useful of the suffering that it causes us, and of our lives.

But I think Rooney is right. There is no reason for illness and pain and suffering — not really. These things are, as she calls them, a mundane fact of our existence.

I don’t think this is a depressing realisation — or, at least, I don’t think it has to be — and I wish I had figured it out for myself a long time ago. The important thing, I think, is to accept the truth of your situation, however far away it is from the one you would prefer, and then to get on with the business of living your life — however you choose, however you can, however it happens to you.

Because the light will always filter through, if you look for it hard enough …

Snatched phrases on … pretty days

‘The grass had been cut and gave off a warm, allergenic smell.
The sky was soft like cloth
and birds ran over it in long threads.’

from ‘Conversations with friends’
by Sally Rooney

The image in today’s post doesn’t quite match the words, I’m afraid:

Still, it’s a pretty image, and perhaps it captures a little of the essence of Rooney’s soft spring day …

The poetry lover

Other people’s words about … poetry

It rained all day before we went for dinner at Melissa’s. I sat in bed in the morning writing poetry, hitting the return key whenever I wanted.

from ‘Conversations with Friends
by Sally Rooney

I had to smile when I read these words. In the last years of his career, my father, who was a professor of English literature, taught an undergraduate course on poetry. Ever a traditionalist, he taught his students to appreciate the form of the poems they read as well as the words themselves.

Though I’ve never studied English literature at university level, through some mysterious form of osmosis I absorbed some of what my father was teaching his students. Through this process, I now have a passing acquaintance with terms like blank verse and iambic pentameter, and with poetry forms such as sonnets and villanelles. And I’m with my father on this: discipline is a vital ingredient in poetry writing. Where there is no recognisable form or structure to a piece of writing, there is no poem: there are just words on a page, with a few strikes of the return key employed for good measure.

Funnily enough, when I happened to mention to my father that I was writing this post, he alerted me to this piece by David Campbell in The Australian, which my mother had first pointed out to him. In it, Campbell bewails the lack of rhyme, metre and set forms in current Australian poetry. Perhaps these things will become fashionable again one day. We can only hope.

Meanwhile, do you have a favourite poem? What is it? Here are the links to some of mine (including one by David Campbell), each of which transcends the strict form in which they are written in order to produce something more than its parts:

Tea, by Jehanne Dubrow (a sonnet, and the excuse for my tea-themed photo today)
Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night, by Dylan Thomas (a villanelle)
On the Birth of a Son, by David Campbell (a sonnet)
The Watch, by Frances Darwin Conford (a strict rhyming system of which Campbell would most surely approve)