Gift of days

We will meet in the place where there is no darkness, says O’Brien, and it sounds wonderful. No darkness, a clear mystic metaphor for truth, answers, understanding, enlightenment. It is that, literally: in these cells and corridors the lights are never turned off. But all Winston achieves there is the knowledge of his powerlessness, and that he will do anything, however depraved, in order to survive.

In Gift of Days by Mary C. Morrison, she describes her illness around the time of her 91st birthday. She nearly died from an infection, which weakened her so that she could not turn over in bed. She suffered paroxysms of shaking, so that she tried desperately not to shred her lips with her teeth, and wanted to die. “No, there’s more,” said a voice, as inexorable and terrifying as the Raven’s “Nevermore”. With occupational therapy, with the workout that is everyday life for a person in that position, she regained the ability to get about her house, to prepare her meals, to go outside her front door; this was after she started writing again, and found her hand illegible.

Something she had known how to do. How could it be that she could no longer do it?

She continued writing.

Possibly, she wanted to. She wanted to die, and she could not. She wanted to write, she failed, she failed again, she succeeded. She wanted to get back to her house, and she succeeded. When there, she found a way to silence her monkey mind. “Can’t you just stop thinking?” A total impossibility as far as I was concerned. Yet with three spoonfuls to go of her breakfast cereal, It came into my head to wonder if I had ever really stopped still enough in my mind to taste, savor, enjoy, really experience the pure pleasure of it. So she did. For once I was really there, truly present to the experience, I was living, not just thinking, thinking, thinking all the time.

What? 91, and only just learning to do that?? I can drop into that whenever I like; though relating it to what I must do is difficult, beyond cleaning my teeth, or eating.

Or, perhaps, writing. I am writing. I don’t care if you get anything out of this (she says bravely- of course I care- Please Comment!). It is for me.

Possibly, her task was to live as an old woman, cleaning her house, talking to visitors, writing. To live as herself. Other parts of the pamphlet might grasp my attention if I read it again.

Am I really squeezed out? Tried and found wanting so often that there is nothing left to try, known so that no game is worth playing any more, you can predict my tiresome response. Then we need a modus vivendi, and if there is no pleasure in it the important thing is to avoid pain.

Well, that is the worst way it might be.

Or that job. I thought about it, thought of applying, did not, approached the deadline and still did not. They did not recruit, so readvertised. Today at noon was the second closing date, and I did not see my friend yesterday because I wanted the energy to do the application. Instead, I wrote a poem, did my washing, watched TV. Today at nine I could have written something, even something I thought might appear sane, on the application form. So I thought about this, and about mystic understandings of what it means to be human- the way wherein there is no ecstasy- until I had no time to put anything worthwhile on the application. Then I watched TV.

The concept of a job application is simple. Do you want the job? Have you a reasonable chance of getting it, or, is the chance of getting it worth the effort of applying? If so, then you apply. Simply because of good luck, in this precise moment I do not have to apply in order to get money to eat. Jobseekers Allowance has the soul-destroying requirement of making a certain number of applications, whether you fit the job or not, pretending to apply because otherwise you will not get the JSA money.

It seemed to me that what mattered, considering that job application, was my self-image. I hope I have these particular gifts and qualities, fitting me for this job. I fear I have not. In applying, rather than wanting to get the job I want to shore up my hopes- yes, I am that admirable person- and stave off my fears, which overwhelm me.

I procrastinate because I imagine applying, and seeing my hope confirmed in my own words; but fear all my fears being proven. And there is outside judgment as well: on the few jobs I have applied for I have almost always had interviews, so gone through a process of judgment, and been found wanting- though people might console me, they preferred someone else, it did not mean you would not have been suitable. Though it did mean I did not get the job.

Self-image is so important to me that I might make a grand gesture to prove my noble generosity, only to find afterwards it proved nothing of the sort and I ended without anything I might want.

You must go by a way wherein there is no ecstasy.

Self-image. Failure after failure after failure!

the knowledge derived from experience…
imposes a pattern, and falsifies,
For the pattern is new in every moment

Possibly the most clear thing he wrote

And every moment is a new and shocking
Valuation of all we have been.

Oh Christ! Eliot understood this problem of self-image! Or at least, those words have this so personal meaning for me now.

Would that I could create a rule. That self-image or valuation is a fantasy. So, stop fantasising! But fantasy is the way humans work out what is possible, if we can resist the temptation of wallowing in fantasy of what is not possible. These two types of fantasy are not clearly distinguishable except by hindsight.

The best rule I can come to is, Appreciate. See all the good, all the things it is possible to be grateful for, all the things which could possibly be said to please, rather than always seeing failure. It seems to me that is a choice- cry for what might have been (in fantasy) or delight in what is. What is seems so little, but is all there is. No wonder we distract ourselves with alcohol or television.

My idea of Wisdom and what it could do for me gets in the way of true wisdom and gaining anything from it.

This is good enough. It has to be. What do you want to do, or try, now?


My pictures the last few posts have been by Louise-Catherine Breslau, or Maria Luise Katharina Breslau, a Swiss-German painter born in Munich who worked in Paris, because I love her work. The technical draftsmanship, and the psychological insight, appear to me as accomplished as far better known artists, yet the work seems mostly in pastels rather than oils, and I had not heard of her. I want to give the name she would prefer as a mark of respect to her, and do not even know that.

2 thoughts on “Gift of days

  1. “But fantasy is the way humans work out what is possible” – Very true, and some are much better at this than others.

    “The best rule I can come to is, Appreciate. See all the good, all the things it is possible to be grateful for, all the things which could possibly be said to please, rather than always seeing failure.” – Yes. Appreciation is not something everyones considers as life dashes along, pulling us by the ankles – it makes a huge difference to stop, take stock and appreciate the good I find.

    esme sat upon the Cloud with Clare watching sun go down


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