You’ll wonder whatever has happened to me; it’s been an age since I posted this frequently to the blog, but it’s nothing more than a little writerly frustration. Something like the second post I wrote here, back in 2006, was about Thoreau, whose lifestyle was fascinating me. Thoreau declared that he needed ‘wide margins’ to his day, empty spaces in which he could find himself and process experience and, back in 2006, about five months into my extended leave from work with ME, I wholeheartedly agreed with him. My wide margins to my day almost met in the middle. Things have changed a lot since then, not least that I’m back in work at the university now, but last week I realized that my need for wide margins hasn’t exactly left me.
It’s always my reading habits that let me know something’s up. Since I’ve been blogging it’s been usual for me to have a few books I’m reading at once. I never used to do this, but now I like the freedom of choice afforded by stacking up a novel, some non-fiction, a classic. Two or maybe three books is comfortable for me, but when I start to pile in more my reading becomes fragmented, nothing gets finished, the pleasure of choice diminishes and the sense of wading through text with no end in sight takes its place. At the beginning of last week, I had books I was reading about motherhood, books I was reading for my academic work, books I was reading for challenges, books I was reading because I wanted to… and by that point I was feeling hassled and harried. Never a good sign for a would-be-ex-chronic fatigue sufferer.
Crunch day for me was Tuesday. In the morning I had to take my son to the chiropodist. Not a big deal, but it’s amazing how long these things take, when you factor in the journey to his school to pick him up, the journey across town, the appointment. As most of you know, I am extremely squeamish, so I spent the appointment trying to read my book (naturally) while the chiropodist was working. She was a young and extremely pretty woman, so I kept quiet and let my son do all the talking – he needs the practice right now. Happily things have obviously moved on in the foot world since I had veruccas at the age of eleven or so. I remember vividly the doctor saying to me ‘Think nice thoughts’ before removing them, slowly and unanethetized, with a scalpel. I was afraid it might be worse having to watch it being done to someone else – honestly the things people never warn you about before you get pregnant. Anyhow, the treatment was not gory, no one fainted, even if some of us felt a little tense, and we went home for lunch. Then I had a full afternoon of seeing students. I’m enjoying the new learning support job at the university; I really like working with students and it’s a great pleasure to watch them improving and gaining in confidence. It’s funny how I’d run a mile from the hospital casualty ward, but intellectual ER is fun and intriguing. However, the job is beginning to grow. Last term not many people knew about me and my workload was manageable, but by Tuesday last week I’d already had seven new students apply for help. I was looking at my timetable and wondering how I’d fit them all in, and what sort of judgement of Solomon I’d attempt if I couldn’t. As it is, I’m seeing them back to back now, no time to write up notes or prepare. Still, it was a good afternoon’s work, and I was home shortly before five, although by now I was feeling tired. That evening I had t’ai chi class, which I began attending last week. It starts at seven, which means eating by six; going without food to a two-hour class is simply not an option for me. I had time to send a few emails for work, and then it was down to the kitchen to get our meal ready, leaving my husband’s in the oven. By the time I got to t’ai chi I was in a seriously bad mood. I hate it when my day concertinas up, when there’s no point to stop, take a breath, take a break. I did class and it was okay. I felt cold all the time and kept wishing I were at home, being quiet and calm. When I finally did get home, I had a brief chat with my husband and son and then all I was fit for was bed.
And so, inevitably, Wednesday I was tired. And not the kind of tired that most people mean when they say tired, but chronic fatigued. It would be easier if another name for it existed to prevent healthy people from associating it with the slightly dreary and inattentive feeling of normal tiredness, a state it’s perfectly possible to drag around with you on an average day. At least after all this time, I no longer freak now when I feel this way. I have my strategies, and mostly they work. But prime among them is thinking about those wide margins of Thoreau’s and realizing that I need them still, not just to bracket the day, but to cushion the events within it. When I’ve been seeing a lot of people, I need time to process all the emotions I’ve absorbed from them. When I’ve been doing something taxing, like anxiously waiting for something unpleasant to befall my son’s toes, I need spaciousness and quiet afterwards, to balance myself out. For a long time, I’ve felt just plain wrong in needing these things, as if I were a defective human being, someone born without carapace or defences, without useful, helpful indifference to combat all mildly worrying situations, and often still I will wince for myself and my lack of resilience. But I suppose I do accept more that I simply am that way, and that I’ll have to live with it.
And so I thought about all the books piled up beside my bed. If I were just working, that would be one thing. But I’m currently trying to write an academic chapter on magic realism and experiment with commercial non-fiction to produce something about motherhood. I feel the weight of this work at the moment. I saw my academic publisher about ten days ago and he was encouraging me as nicely as he could to finish the book out of sheer uncertainty for the future of the publishing house. Not that he thinks anything will necessarily happen, just that every publisher doesn’t know what to expect in the current climate. I’d been trying to scale up the work I was doing, but I find academic writing with its complex, analytic creativity needs the widest margins of all. I realized with some regret that I would have to hold off writing that chapter until the vacation comes, economic uncertainty or not. The motherhood chapter is easier in some ways as I’m not ready to write that yet – I just need lots of practice in general writing. And so, I decided that the best thing to do was to blog more, which requires the smallest margins of all, leaves most of the day free for work and rest, and feels like the easiest, most playful forum I have. And so here I am, just trying to reconnect with writing as pleasure, not as obligation, necessity or a skill I have yet to master.
Curiously enough, my search engine terms on the blog started sending me subliminal messages during the week. On the weekend I noticed two sentences, each clearly a quotation, one saying ‘Dearest, i feel sure i am going mad…’ whilst the other declared ‘i feel so tired and uninspired at the’. On Tuesday the message came ‘what art can i do?’ On Wednesday ‘how can i remain positive and keep doing’. By Thursday I was intrigued to find out whether I had appeased the gods of the search engines sufficiently with my decisions, and I checked the list in trepidation. I wasn’t disappointed. The message read ‘i think i can stretch to that’. Well, that’s a relief, then.