Of False Correlations

I’ve been trying to think what’s been happening around here lately to tell you all, and can only come up with events that involve unusual modal tenses.

There are things I ought to have done but haven’t. For instance, several months back I was invited to chair an author event at the local bookstore. I did that thing where you look far ahead at a blank calendar and think, oh I shall be so free and well-rested in those empty days! And agreed to do it. After all, I used to chair a great deal, back in the university era. Well, I quite liked the idea of it for a good six weeks or so, and when I had a chronic fatigue relapse I thought, I’ll doubtless be fine when the time comes. I even bought a new pair of boots (any excuse!). Then, when we got to a couple of weeks before the event, I began to feel the stirrings of horror. Did I really want to have to stand up before an audience and talk? I always did have stage fright, but there was a time when I was very stern with myself about repressing it. Plus I was practised then and knew I would do the performing stuff well. I reminded myself that this was a local event which would probably have no more than twenty or so people in the audience, half of whom would be related to the author, half of whom would have wanted to come in out of the cold. But still I trembled and the chronic fatigue was settled in for the duration; knowing your body can give out on you at any moment is a fun thought to take into a stressful situation.

Preparation is the key, I told myself, and so I went to the bookshop and asked whom I should talk to, in order to have a look at the space we’d be in and familiarise myself. I was a little surprised to find the bookseller had no knowledge of the event. And when I looked at the advertising posters in the shop, it clearly wasn’t on them. I went home and checked the internet, nope nothing on the website either. See, I told my chronic fatigued self: this will be the best event ever, because it’s going to be just you, the author and the publicist! You can all go down the pub! But I was still chronic fatigued and easily stressed and I began to think that finding someone to take my place might be the best idea. But wasn’t it unethical to hand an event over to someone else, knowing as I did that it was going to be…well, intimate?

Just as I was getting tangled up in knots over the various strands of worry involved, I received an email from the publicist telling me the event had been cancelled due to ‘poor ticket sales’. I’ll say! It’s hard to sell tickets to an event no one knows about. Through the immense relief, I felt a stirring of sharp curiosity to know what had happened. Had the event been cancelled before I went in the shop or after? Was there someone in a London office somewhere tearing at her hair and yelling ‘Christ, I knew there was something I’d forgotten to do!’ or was it more the case that no one had the heart to disappoint that poor blogger, who was probably gagging to appearing in the real world rather than the virtual one? Either way, I was just relieved, and it was a good reminder to myself that my public speaking days are over at the moment. Just because you were good at something in the past doesn’t mean you have to keep doing it.

Then there have been things I wonder whether I shouldn’t do but am still doing. The cancellation of the event meant I felt able to commit to writing another chapter of the book I am STILL working on, knowing it would be a tiring thing to do. Since I began writing this book in the early summer of last year, there has been a string of disasters, some acute, some chronic, all unpleasant, that make me wonder whether the universe is not on the side of this particular project. Despite my best efforts, I cannot help but read omens and portents into the world around me, and maybe these scare tactics of fate are a way of saying: Give up! Do something different! And still I stubbornly trudge along, churning out stuff that probably no one will want to read out of some cussed conviction that what I start I ought to finish. Of course there is a line of theory that suggests life is random, and cannot be interpreted as if it were a narrative whose end is obscured by future time. But given that every part of my life has been bound up with stories one way or another, what sense would that hold for me? Surely a refusal to interpret would go against everything I have ever held dear?

Mind you, away from these mental minefields, there has been some straightforward stuff, too. My capacity for comedy accidents continues to astound me. On the way into the funeral last week, walking in the slow, solemn procession into the crematorium, I suddenly realised my forward progress had come to an abrupt halt as the heel of my shoe got stuck in a grating. The line of mourners snarled up behind me as I struggled to hoick myself out, and I wondered for a moment if I’d have to walk in barefoot. To the kind woman behind me who said in a most sympathetic voice, ‘That sort of thing happens to me all the time,’ thank you.

And then yesterday I noticed as I headed out to my car that an industrious and quite substantial spider had constructed a large web across the garden path. Ha! I thought, and avoided it by walking over the lawn. Yes, sure spiders are great, but not on me. When I returned, I remembered the spider and carefully walked around it again. And then, mid-afternoon, I realised there was a book in the library I needed and I thought I would nip out quickly and collect it. You know what’s coming next, don’t you? I really hope my next door neighbour was not working in his garage as there was rather a lot of squealing. And I did a little raindance, too. Proof that troublesome as my brain may be when it’s working, not much good comes of switching it off entirely.



34 thoughts on “Of False Correlations

    • Ooh a new blog – how lovely! I shall come and visit. After my last attempt at a novel (which I went off of just before writing the final chapter) I probably ought to at least try to finish this one, and it IS fun when life stops getting in the way! 🙂

      • Do you know, I don’t think I will. I’d been enjoying it but it suddenly struck me as such a silly book. I think it’s like when my students used to come to an end of an essay and realise they had no conclusion – then they had to face the fact they’d had no argument. I had to face the fact the book hadn’t really been about much of anything! But it was fun in the early stages.

  1. Life seems to be full of the bigs and the littles doesn’t it? In some ways, perhaps it was meant to be that your event didn’t come off. As for the writing, it’s hard to say because my only writing is my blogging – and if I wasn’t enjoying that I wouldn’t do it. We had spider fun this weekend clearing out my son’s room (he has finally gone off to start another job in a bigger city!) – he is a total arachnophobe and as we moved his computer desk we discovered a giant specimen lurking behind it. Thank goodness he didn’t realise that was so close to his feet all those months….. 🙂

    • Oh Karen, my toes are curling at the mere thought! I’ve actually just checked under my desk in case… What fab news that he has a new job – yay for him! You’re so right about big and littles – it’s telling one from the other that can sometimes be tricky!

  2. My daughter and I were talking just last week and we came to the firm conclusion that life is not random. And yet one of my most oft used phrases to explain an odd happenstance is, “How random was that?” So I guess the question is still open to debate. I would have bought a ticket to hear you speak on just about any topic. If you speak the way you write, you would make drying paint seem worthy of contemplation. Write on, Litlove, but do it because you love it.

    • Aw you are such a dear heart! That’s exactly it, though – what looks so random seems so often in retrospect to be inevitable and (even) right. If only we could know as much beforehand as we do afterwards, though that would rather negate the use-value of experience, alas. But I still wouldn’t say no! 🙂

  3. Well, you still have your new boots. I can understand the relief of the stress and tensions, but just too bad for the author. And all the inefficient organization and promotion. On another note, I can’t believe Karen Joy Fowler got shortlisted for the Booker. I was surprised the book even got on the long list. I’ve the feeling that she just might win or the other U.S. author forgot who, just because this is the first year The Booker is opened to other countries so they must have a winner from outside of the U.K. Speaking of the U.K., I’m holding my breath for the referendum in Scotland tomorrow. Even though it’s not my country, I feel a kind of sadness… one way or the other, the world as I know it will be irreversibly changed.

    • I think we got the right result in the referendum and just hope now, that the dust will settle and some positive impetus can be gained from it. As for Karen Joy Fowler, my co-ed Simon would completely agree with you! He wasn’t particularly impressed with the novel. I have my fingers and toes crossed for Ali Smith to win it – she deserves to, I think. I’ve got some interview answers from Monique Roffey so I will do my bit towards her promotion by writing something nice about her in SNB!

  4. Oh how familiar and how well described. I agree with every word Grad has written above. I’ve just been ‘told’ to attend a CFS clinic after struggling with depression and anaemia for 2 years plus. Very hard to come to terms with.
    But you are a wonderful communicative writer, I look forward to your every post and you don’t stop producing them do you? Thank goodness. Writing is both important and necessary and a joy of its kind to you. And therefore to us.

    PS I found out once that fear of spiders is atavistic and therefore nothing to be ashamed of, if anyone is. That caution saved our lives and brought us here.

    • Oh Carol, isn’t it hard to come to terms with the diagnosis? It was an awful shock when I was first suggested it, and then it took ages to align myself – my sense of who I was – with the idea of CFS. Do let me know how you get on. After 13 years of CFS I have ended up with a few tricks that are sometimes worth a try and would love to pass on anything that may be of some use. Thank you for the lovely comments about my writing and for the reassuring words on spiders. I like the idea of a necessary and useful caution!

  5. A friend of mine did once speak to an audience that consisted of me and the person who had organised the event. Very embarrassing, especially as he had travelled over a hundred miles to be there.

    And as for embarrassing yourself at funerals I once brought a very long Quaker funeral to an abrupt close by fainting away. It was very hot and the place was so packed I had to stand. Never a good idea if you have my low blood pressure problems. No one ever lets me stand at funerals now!

    So, console yourself that it could all have been so much worse.

    • Alex has reminded me of a rare childless evening many years ago. I went to pub theatre performance of The Bacchae. Such a treat. The only other audience were a couple deeply into each other and an older lady. I soon discovered she had to be the the mother of the background drummer. So in reality just me. And it was dire. Embarrassingly so. I didn’t have the nerve to leave, up steep creaky steps, in the dark, in the middle. When I was practically the only person there. And I’d chosen a good seat, very close to the performance. So I sat there more and more appalled as – sorry about this – inelegant lumpy and/or skinny maenads mumbled or shouted the poetry with no semblance of understanding or pleasure, and pushed their hips around unrhythmically (is there such a word?) and out at odd angles attempting an expression of sexiness. And it went on and on. I found it so hard to keep on sitting there but I could not inflict hurt and scorn on these people by in effect turning my back on them. The mum spent much of the time sort of waving to her son. The couple only had eyes for each other. I couldn’t understand why the people involved were doing it, they obviously weren’t enjoying it in any way
      At the end I attempted to relieve my feelings by mumbling a joke about the waste of an evening to the couple, I needed a connection of some sort, no response. The mum went down the steps to her son while I left stumbling up the awfully dreadfully hard high steps past the gauntlet of the director and another who both beamed at me and made a point of asking if I’d enjoyed myself – oh mumble mumble leave me alone, let me out.

    • Alex – lol! though my heart goes out to you, fainting at a funeral. That was NOT nice. Your event reminds me of one I went to at Waterstones. I was staff there at the time but no one had turned up so we shut the shop and everyone working went to listen instead. We made a small audience but an attentive one. Your poor friend – I hope he could look upon it as practice for his book promotional work in other places….

      Carol – yikes! What a horrendous performance – both onstage and in the audience. I long to be at home with a good book in even averagely good evening events – you must have been so relieved as soon as you stepped outside the building!

  6. Well now you are going to have to find a place to wear your new boots! What a relief the even was cancelled though it would have been nicer to know sooner before all the worry and stress about it set in. You made me laugh with the spiderweb story. I was wondering how long it would take before you forgot and walked through it. 🙂

  7. I’ll add an anecdote about low audience numbers and an unfazed presenter who had travelled all the way from New York to San Francisco! In 1993 I made my second visit to the W coast of the USA for a conference. I stayed on for a few days in Palo Alto as I was giving a seminar at Lawrence Livermore; a former PhD student of my department living and working at Stanford plus another former student who was attending the same conference went to a talk at Stanford on Oppenheimer and the atomic bomb. The only other members of the audience were the organiser, the speaker and her bored teenage son. Despite the fact that she had only three “genuine” audience members (all Brits) she showed the film, gave a talk and was delighted with our questions! I was, frankly both amazed and in awe.

    I want to see the new boots too!

    • Way to go, lady speaker on atomic bombs! My first lecture at Cambridge was scheduled just before the exams and on an author (Colette!) who was rarely studied then. I had only seven students to talk to, but it was a wonderful chance for me to practice lecturing without too much pressure. By the time I stopped lecturing, Colette was hugely popular and the room was packed. So back then the practice was very helpful!

  8. Did you ever read that picture book Brave Irene? We had it when I was little — it’s about a girl who has to go out in a snowstorm to deliver a fancy dress to the ?governor’s? wife for a ball. Her mother’s the seamstress, but is too ill to the deliver the dress herself. So Brave Irene goes out in the snow, and the whole time the wind is howling “Go home, Irene! Go home!” and she keeps saying “You wicked wind! I won’t do that!” I think of that a lot when it starts to feel like life is trying to push me away from the things I want to be doing.

    How lovely that your event got canceled! Events getting canceled is one of the loveliest things in this world of lovely things (if you are an introvert, and I am). Even when it is something you were looking forward to, there’s the lovely upside of getting that gift of TIME. (And ALONENESS hopefully as well.)

    • Jenny – YES!! That is exactly how I feel about cancellations. Have you seen that t-shirt doing the rounds of facebook? It has on it the words: Introverts, unite! We’re here, we’re uncomfortable and we want to go home. That makes me laugh every time I see it. Oh that precious gift of extra time – it is wonderful. I also love the story of Brave Irene, which I did not know before you told it to me. I will now have her as an icon in my mind when the wicked wind of obfuscation starts blowing!

  9. Unusual modal tenses-haha. I love the way you paint with your word brush. Brilliant.

    Speaking of things not done–I owe you a book review. I have not forgotten. It turns out not as easy to write as I thought!

    Speaking of creepy crawlies: apparently I can jump like Michael Jordan as evidenced by the high-leaping escape I did to flee a giant spider by my head yesterday. And Mom got stung by a scorpion! Eek week.

    • Take your time, my friend! Some book reviews need to simmer a bit and there is no hurry whatsoever. Not like there would be if I found myself in the vicinity of a scorpion. Woah. WAY OUTSIDE my comfort zone…. A giant spider by my head would be equally awful. I always think of you as a braveheart, so I’m relieved to know they make you jump too – solidarity! 🙂

  10. Good story. I also think that someone messed up with the organisation. And selling tickets to a book launch? Here they’re free and they bribe us with wine and snacks 🙂
    I would also have freaked out if I’d walked into a spider-web. I’ve learned that our spiders tend to spin their webs at night here so I’m hopefully less likely to get a scary (and probably equally stressed) spider in my hair.

    • Pete, the Savannah Book Festival is charging $100 for a “book launch” for a very obscure local writer. $100! I have his first book only because I know his father and it was gifted to me. He’s pretty good, but seriously? The wine and snacks idea sounds like a much better one to me.

    • That’s good to know! Ours seem unbothered by time/daylight/the presence of well-used paths… I imagine your average South African spider might be a bit bigger than ours is, too. Ugh! My toes curl at the mere thought. I know, it always used to be that book events were free and then recently there’s been a charge imposed for some of them. I think it’s the literary festival effect. If your town has a big festival and people get used to being charged admission, book shops hope they’ll pay a few quid for a more intimate venue. I’m in no position to say how well that works! 🙂

      As for $100 for a ticket, wow! Who would pay that kind of money? Amazing, Grad.

  11. I hope the spider survived this dreadful encounter. I guess it was him/her (?) doing the squealing. 🙂
    I’m glad the event didn’t take place. Forcing yourelf to do something might not have been a good idea. I’m sure you would have done well. But at what cost.

    • Lol! They say that the spider is supposed to be more frightened than the human, but I think we were quite well matched! And you are so right – as I get older so the cost of doing things I’m dreading seems to get worse. It really isn’t worth it!

  12. Lucky escape for you!

    The writer Aimee Bender says she doesn’t believe you should finish writing something just for the sake of finishing it – abandon it! You might come back to it later, you might not. She seems to have any number of (short) stories on the boil at once. But if you’re still enjoying it on some level, keep on.

    As for spiders, you have all sympathy, I HATE that. My most horrid similar experience occurred a couple of years ago in the presence of my small daughter. I cannot bear large spiders to touch me, but after a lecture from my partner about not teaching small daughter to be scared of spiders too, I was affecting heartiness whenever we came across them. And then I walked into a really big web liberally decorated with bits of half-eaten fly which clung to my hair and took ages to pick off, and I couldn’t even allow myself the luxury of shrieking and running about, but had to be all, oooh look the lovely HUGE spider how HAPPY mummy is that it’s scuttling down the side of her face. Urgh. I feel nauseous just remembering it.

    • Oh Helen! Motherhood so often involves doing things that require a sort of mad, reckless courage, but that is beyond the pale!! You were incredibly brave but ouf! Yuk! Ugh! *shudder* How horrendous.

      That’s good advice from Aimee Bender (and you). Now I just need to figure out if I’m enjoying this or not. I think maybe I am, when life stops getting in the way. I’ll certainly ponder on that point! 🙂

  13. Re tips on CFS. I thought I was doing quite well having managed more mid-September (via will power) and then lost a whole week to absolute, no beyond, exhaustion. I now get to a stage when it’s bad, I can only believe that’s it, finis. I can’t move but I can’t really grasp why? My plug has been pulled out but how? Why? I’m hoping to creep out somehow tomorrow but but… Is there a decent book on all this?
    (I’ve missed anticipated and special events – lunch at the HofP included).

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