More friends for supper last night, overgrown pup behaved abominably. Boisterous and disobedient, showing off. Nevertheless we discussed recipes for broad beans past their best, the politics of food distribution in southern Africa and the latest volume of Samuel Beckett’s letters. In between cajoling the Abominable Beast to sit down and be good, and spooning up tarte tatin, shapeless and blackened with caramelised sugar at the edges, but yummy. I haven’t read the second volume of Beckett’s letters yet, but there are excellent reviews around and some moving extracts. He had a long and extremely difficult relationship with his Irish mother, but loved her deeply.
In 1948, from Dublin, where he was staying with his mother, Beckett writes this amazing comment on age and the second childhood: “The weather is fine, I walk along my old paths, I keep watching my mother’s eyes, never so blue, so stupefied, so heartrending, eyes of an endless childhood, that of old age. Let us get there rather earlier, while there are still refusals we can make. I think these are the first eyes that I have seen. I have no wish to see any others. I have all I need for loving and weeping. I know now what is going to close, and open inside me, but without seeing anything, there is no more seeing.”
Remembering my own long passionate involvement with Beckett’s work since I saw Waiting for Godot at the age of 17 prompted in part a post back to a sober friend on a mailing list:
Yes the morning routines are important for me — establishing certain routines to help me through the day began when I was working on a thesis in my early 30s and seeing a therapist about what I came to name as anxiety — some of us in recovery battle with depression, some with anxiety and some with both, or other issues — and in those years a formless anxiety, restlessness, despondent and immense dread seemed to take over my life at times. I couldn’t work alone, had to work on my own and hated what I produced.
I had experienced something like this years before when I was doing a dissertation in French studies on the work of Samuel Beckett (a magnificent writer the great Sam, but not cheerful) when I couldn’t bear to leave my apartment, was afraid of mirrors, empty streets and the sound of children crying, sat indoors paralysed and counting the hours until I could begin to drink at 5pm.
The therapist explained that some of this related to my war experiences and frightening childhood, that it would not go away easily because the body memories were traumatic and stuck in a loop to do with profound psychic helplessness and terror, this was how I would be for the rest of my adult life — she suggested I set up holding routines or small domestic rituals as anchors to keep me stable through the day so I went on on retreats and learned how to meditate, sit still and pay attention to the breath coming and going through my nostrils.
I also began doing stretching and balancing exercises, later t’ai chi, and these daily practices for me became self-soothing techniques that have helped me in sobriety. I still wake up at times feeling terribly anxious and unable to face the day ahead, unable to write, certain something terrible and devastating is about to happen (I used to think this was just the aftermath of drinking but it is part of the same old deep-seated anxiety, perhaps one of the reasons I self-medicated with alcohol).
So I get up and meditate, sometimes read a little, drink tea rather than coffee and do my t’ai chi, water the garden, feed my dogs, always have breakfast even if I am not hungry and then sit down and write morning pages, no fewer than three handwritten pages so that I get into the rhythm of writing that will carry me through the day.
The daily routines, as simple as running a bath or making green tea in my old white teapot, routines to hold the mind in place.
Beckett: “In the place where I have always found myself, where I will always find myself, turning round and round, falling over, getting up again, it is no longer wholly dark nor wholly silent.”