Which is not a line from a poem but a thought that came to me as I was doing my clumsy t’ai chi on wet grass in the back garden, listening to birds and looking at full-blown roses as I stretched and balanced.
Don’t we all crave radiance?
There’s bleak, there dread, there’s uncertainty, the dark tunnel, the bottomless well — and then there’s rainbow arcing right across the black stormy sky.
That happens with the writing too ( forward into Nano!) even though suspensce writer Mary Higgens Clark put it this way:
Writing a first draft is like clawing my way through a mountain of concrete with my bare hands.
From an email to a friend writing about how drinking made her feel special and lit up from within:
Historically, how do we reach back with any certainty or sureness? I feel I know exactly how you felt while drinking, that conferred ‘specialness’ and glow, that feeling of euphoria and lightness, that anything might be possible. But some of that is just generic tipsiness glossed over, the first few glasses, the initial drunken moments, an almost fleeting sensation.
How we like to romance the drink, the promise of the drinking, always a promise deferred or betrayed. After that there was the down-swing of the mood, the drunken weepiness and irritability, feeling misunderstood and neglected, the fury and disappointment, the ritualistic remembering of old hurts and grievances, the gradual blurriness and dread, the lostness. That was what came next.
But what we always wanted to remember was that first part, the part you describe so well. Before it goes sideways, before the move towards blackout.
I used to say to myself when I first sobered up: if you remember all of it, what it was really like, you wouldn’t ever want to touch that first glass.
Because sometimes it isn’t radiance, just a misty aureole at the bottom of the glass, vision fogged up from one too many. Rose-coloured spectacles knocked askew.
What I’m after is that rare luminous moment we remember for ever afterwards, The real thing, not the drunkard’s boozy flush.
What James Joyce called an ‘epiphany’ in Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, a transforming vision that begins when Stephen Dedalus sees a young girl wading in the sea on ‘a day of dappled sea-borne clouds’ and has a revelation: “Her image had passed into his soul forever and no word had broken the holy silence of his ecstasy… A wild angel had appeared to him.” The vision deepens into his desire to write of what lay within and behind the epiphany, to become an artist and to go into exile so that he can write freely of what he must write
“I do not fear to be alone or to be spurned for another or to leave whatever I have to leave. And I am not afraid to make a mistake, even a great mistake, a lifelong mistake and perhaps as long as eternity too.”:
As I write this it strikes me as being so close to the radiance of another kind of vision, theophany, the mystical and numinous. A 24-year-old girl dying of tuberculosis in a small French convent:
You know, Mother, that I have always wanted to be become a saint. Unfortunately when I have compared myself with the saints, I have always found that there is the same difference between the saints and me as there is between a mountain whose summit is lost in the clouds and a humble grain of sand trodden underfoot by passersby. Instead of being discouraged, I told myself: God would not make me wish for something impossible and so, in spite of my littleness, I can aim at being a saint. It is impossible for me to grow bigger, so I put up with myself as I am, with all my countless faults. But I will look for some means of going to heaven by a little way which is very short and very straight, a little way that is quite new…
Who, after an obscure, brief life and terrible death, will become St Therese of Lisieux, not just a saint but a doctor and theologian of the Church, her notebooks scribbled in pencil described as a brilliant study in ecstasy, the bleak radiance at the end of that dark tunnel that was her life. I think of those notebooks as love letters written in a time of doubt and anguish, written to comfort her sisters when she would no longer be with them.
What goes on shining.