As some of you understand only too well, I’ve been doing my best to keep my mind active and distract myself while going through a worsening bout of PTSD. It is almost impossible to write about this while stuck in the middle of it, rather like trying to describe a panoramic view when you are suffering temporary tunnel vision. There are some nights that are better than others, some days when I get more done, but it is a strain.
The eccentric landlord, well into his 80s, calls late at night and threatens to sell the house because managing finances is all too much for him. He doesn’t trust his family, he wants to build great apartment blocks, he wants to fill up his properties with desperate immigrants who will pay him more money and be unable to answer him back. He is filled with vengeful and crazy schemes, he has no idea really who we are any longer. On and on late at night, that demented shaky old voice that inspires pity as well as dread. His adult children are at their wits’ end.
Ageing then, the delusional, frenzied behaviour as the mind disintegrates. We all hope to be spared that, but who knows? Outside there is a black storm wind rising, dark clouds stacking up over the valley, windows rattling, trees now denuded of leaves and pale branches blown back. A falcon riding circular eddies of turbulence high above the fields and rivers, that skill and beauty in negotiating danger.
When the going gets tough, the tough keep reading. I read writers’ forums, the years of rejection slips accumulating in the desk drawer, the years of paralysis when faced with a blank page. Read recovery blogs and silently applaud those coming up for air after years of obliviousness and mornings-after. There’s no wrong way to get sober. I read the day-by-day posts on cancer blogs, heroic endurance. As if they had any choice — sometimes enduring is all that is left.
I read about women coming through messy heart-rending divorces, coming through but altered, stripped down beyond recognition. The blogs of bereft parents mourning in an impenetrable fog or flaming whirlwind of loss, parents with kids trapped in addiction, parents with adult sons and daughters in prison, or incarcerated in asylums or locked wards. The blogs written by those inching their way through depression, the diaries of the lonely, the grief and terror of those living through the chaotic wars of the 21st century, writing to a faraway world that doesn’t want to hear what might be happening to them. Compassion fatigue, they call it. Emily Dickinson: This is my letter to the world/ That never wrote to me. There’s a world of pain out there. But also a world being made anew, such courage and tenacity. Bravery is contagious, and I store that knowledge away like acorns pouched safe for winter.
And as I read through blogs and follow random mysterious links, I come across the dreams of others, dreams of strange red cratered planets, dreams of ghosts, dreams about the dog the writer had when he was 12, dreams about the abandoned wooden frame house in the woods..Dreams of fleeting trivia or dreams thick and luscious with mythic archetypes. I too have a notebook beside my bed with dreams written down on every page. Some seem to make sense, others are snatched from the collective unconscious that flies like a great black bird through the sleeping world each night. Dreams that may signal new stories, shifts in perspective, messages in a bottle thrown into a stormy ocean.
Margaret Atwood in the NYRB:
Towards the end of her life, when she was already blind, my mother told me about a dream she’d had. She was on a canoe trip—something she’d loved doing—but suddenly no one else was there. It was totally silent; she was all by herself, climbing up a hill of bleached sticks. This dream impressed her enough that she told me about it, which wasn’t usual for her. What was she trying to convey? That she was frightened, I think. That she was sad. That she felt alone.
After she was dead, I put my mother’s dream into a story, which she must have known I would do. She understood, by then, what manner of creature I was.