Right now I should be standing, left foot forward, weight on the balls of my feet, guard up, in front of my punching bag. Ready to deal with some adrenalin and a raised heartrate - but I've opted to sit here, with adrenalin and a raised heartrate, doing some metaphorical boxing instead. Because I'm feeling anxious, flutter in stomach, emotions behind the eyes: for not particularly good reason. This is extraordinarily hard to admit. I've been getting bouts of anxiety ever since I went on LWOP. Nothing overwhelming, nothing clinical, but enough to not feel like myself, and enough to feel unproductive, immobilised, not engaged, and a bit dithery.
And I've never felt like this before, not really.
So finally I admitted it to Abe last night, that I'd been feeling a bit anxious, and he briskly and sensibly said, You Need to Do Some Exercise. Get onto your punching bag. And then I admitted that I know I should, but feel anxious about the time it will take, all the things I need to get done, the very small amount of time I have to do things, and so on. And he wasn't being glib. Abe is very thoughtful about anxiety and depression and coping and what you need to do, and exercise - and creativity, pleasure, intelligent responses to problems etc - is part of it.
But I also know that words can land those punches too, sometimes, can allow the sweat to flick off your shoulders and make the mat under your feet slippery with exertion. And sometimes instead of a hsst-jab-jab-cross that's what I need. When time is short. When deadlines beckon. When Things to Do and Am I Wasting this Rare Opportunity looms.
But then I fear being as self-indulgent as an Elizabeth Gilbert, with all her eat-pray-love, meet-play-puke, cliche-food-guru carry on. Add Julia Roberts' toothiness to the mix and it all sounds like a vision of hell.
Because yes yes I know, some would say that a child with a disability means that it should be ok to whinge about your life sometimes, but really . . . is it? My girl is well and healthy at the moment; she ate her banana and yoghurt for breakfast; she's off being entertained by some fabulous people at childcare. Last week, on the other hand, my cousin's wife died, at the age of 48, of mesothelioma. I didn't know her, and my cousin was a presence and memory rather than someone I knew. Older than me, he was the handsome one from a family of close-knit brothers - one went to university; one still lives at home with his mother my aunt, and has no front teeth; another was working on the railways and fell out of a train and was smashed against a pole at the age of 17, and his liver was split, but her survived; and then the Handsome One went to live in Cobar and was a miner. Three daughters, and his wife - who never worked in the mines - got the miner's disease. A dreadful story. Too sad.
And within a few hours, miners in Chile will be brought up that impossible shaft, 700 metres, one at a time, into the light. I read this morning that Isabel Allende is there, along with families of the miners, unpaid clowns, politicians, engineers, the army, and a huge contingent of the world's media. Awaiting miners, some of them illiterate, who have forged a collective agreement about benefiting from their stories together. How they'll survive the experience of blinking into the light is anybody's guess.
These stories make me want to erase my first few paragraphs, as it has already worked. It's like pouring warm honey onto a spiky burnt thing, melting and soothing it. Being reminded I have nothing to fear. It's about words.
I'm also reading Barbara Kingsolver's Lacuna - and the power of words is central to it. Well, of course, it's a book. That's not what I mean, it's part of the plot. Her fictional writer is saved by his words, and he uses them in many different ways. He writes journals and reports; he builds a novel out of Mexico's history and a reflective, leftwing, nationalism. He's funny and secretive, as he describes the pale skin and smooth muscles of the Dutch man he lusts after. He's exuberant when he describes the marketplaces and foods he buys and cooks with. He's occasionally naive as he writes letters to Frida Kahlo, who admonishes and hectors him, and swears like a trooper. Frida Kahlo. In the 80s she was everywhere, but I only had a simplistic feminist notion of who she was. Her powerful, bold, not-really-narcissistic images were so very familiar, but her voice was not. In this novel at least - drawn apparently from her journals, and those of Diego Rivera - she's stroppy and powerful, opinionated and sexy, a force to be reckoned with. And she values words just as she values colour, images, politics, and making everything from her dress to her table to her house, artful. And she wasn't one of the world's whingers, despite the withered leg from polio, hidden under the swish of her skirts; despite the shattered pelvis, the lung diseases, the skin inflammations.
So, girlie, why the hell should you be feeling a little bit blah?
No reason at all, it turns out.
I also listened to an interview this morning with the artist Jutta Feddersen, whose story gives us the "other side" of the second world war narrative. She was a middle class child from an artistic family, in Germany, whose world was destroyed by the war. Camps, Russian soldiers, brutality. And she still looks for and exalts in beauty, partly as a way to deal with loss, and stories, and memories. I know her work, or bits of it, and she uses repetition and large scale installations, uses miniatures and the gigantic, shadows and juxtapositions of feathers, toys, dolls legs, eyes, and woven pieces of steel, to tell her stories. The interview left me feeling a little flayed, but not necessarily in a bad way.
It also reminded me of Rachael Sieffert's The Dark Room, which I also read recently, after avoiding it for a long time - for some reason. Three stories, connected without it being spelt out, about Germany's history and the impact of World War ll. It's also about photography, and writes about it beautifully. Like chess, photography is often overused as a metaphor. But this time, the photography has been used well - the f-stops are there for a reason, the description of red flags with swastika's glowing in a grey square are described so they send a shiver up your spine, as alive as a Leni Riefenstahl image; and the inability of photography to capture some events is also well done. Not to mention that I couldn't put it down, and read it balanced in one hand while doing other things; stayed up late; opted for words over sleep.
And there was Berlin, in part of the book, divided and marked. I've never been there, but not long after finishing the book I was talking to a friend who'd just returned, days before. She has an eye for a thoughtful detail, and for clever analysis, and so she saw the present and the history of the place at the same time. The bumps in the cobblestones, designed to trip you up with stories of the holocaust; the spiral staircase drawing you up and through the politics of the Reichstag; the museums. And the conversation helped me make a (screamingly obvious) connection I'd missed, when drawn in by China Mieville in his remarkable book, The City and The City. This is a noirish crime novel, that's also fantasy, that's also about two intertwined cities, circumscribed by rules of seeing and unseeing, where the two populations can't and won't and shouldn't either see each other or cross over into each other's territory. It's also a story of conspiracies and politics. And while it feels very Eastern European, in the slightly downtrodden feel of the city/ies, surely Berlin is - or was - the archetypal divided city.
China Mieville is one of the most dramatically inventive writers around, I think. He is so so so so very imaginative, in a way that can be surprising, and which also draws you in great detail into other worlds. If more fantasy writing was like this, I'd read more fantasy writing. Sure, some of his earlier books follow that silly fantasy convention of beginning with an obscure chapter that makes no sense at all until you've come to the end of the book, and which need not be there at all, but he's still remarkable. I did read his first book for all the very wrong reasons: fancying the pants off the bloke who recommended it to me (years ago, pre-Abe). But I read The Scar and was astonished.
Mieville's subconscious - or wherever he sources his imaginative worlds, given that he's a political activist as well - resonates with mine. One of his books features giant moths whose wings blur and oscillate with colours and shapes, that drive anyone mad or kills them, who looks directly at them. Unfortunately, that's a feature of my nightmares: insects and flowers that, if you look directly at them, kill you. If I'm very very stressed, I've been known to leap out of bed with a yell when they appear. A-hem. Not at that stage at the moment.
But one of his other creatures, reminds me of that exposed spikiness that happens when you are outwardly calm and on top of things, but instead have a jagged armour that's ready to jump into place. There's a strange subplot in one of his novels - which will sound overly macho and aggressive, but here goes - in which these intelligent creatures are involved in prize fights, in which they slash their own arms and legs, and their blood spills to form a spiky armour that protects them. Stay with me, there's a motherish metaphor on its way. I imagine them greyish green and fierce.
There are days when I emerge from the world in which I cope well and happily with Morgaine's level of disability, and find I have spouted from similar wounds, leaving similarly spiky jagged armour. At home, we can play and interact and bring out her best. Can put her in her supportive seating and let her reach things. Can take her to childcare where the inclusion support worker manages the interaction with other children, and she's part of it all. See, it's not so hard. See, other children do know how to interact with her. And then I'll take her out for a walk, to the playground, and see once again that she's excluded from most of the park, see other children ask their parents why M is "like that", while never talking to us; see the hammock she should in theory be able to go on completely covered with regular kids having a fabulous time, in a way that excludes her unless I chase them off and do a "disability" speech, which would defeat the purpose; or means I have to wheel her onto the one thing she can use, and have to explain that yes this is a wheelchair and yes this is what it's for. And I think we're calm and happy, and realise instead I've slashed something and spilt spikiness, am interacting in a defensive way, am presenting a brittle armour to the world.
But the knot has now dissolved, so I think it's time to take those damn gloves off. To wipe down the mat.