Just now, I accidentally freed a fly from a spider’s web on the outside of the office door. Maybe it’s a metaphor for something. Two-way guilt. Guilt at depriving the spider of a meal. Guilt at unleashing yet another fly on the world. How many unwanted flies will there be in the summer because of that accidental release? How many spiders may not now come into existence because the spider will be undernourished. There’s a flip-side as well, of course. The expanse of the empire of spiders will be slowed. More flowers will be pollinated by the flies that will now come into life. And this is where I am with my war guilt.
Yesterday, after I’d finished the radio, M and I walked into Norwich, spent time in a bookshop and bought books we wanted to read, browsed in some charity shops (and didn’t buy anything – she is very particular about what she wants; I keep searching high and low for suede pixie boots for myself and never find any, and am forever reluctant to buy new things). Then we went to the cinema (this sounds like a school essay), and sat outside before the showing in the last of the late afternoon sun. Whichever direction I’m facing, I always have the feeling, right now, that a war at my back will ambush me. We saw Death on the Nile, and if that wasn’t an example of how the goodness of humankind can be blind-sided by greed and evil, nothing is. And an illustration of how wealth can and does corrupt (on and off the screen, actually). Nice back story for Hercule Poirot, though, and a good watch, when the rest of the cinema-going population were watching The Batman on all the other screens up and down the country. I still haven’t asked O if he made good on his threat to walk out of that film because he was bored by it. By the time we got home, we had walked almost 7 miles, and felt like achy old people as we indulged in the luxury of a Chinese takeaway. Suitably weary this morning.
Back to the spider and the fly. I can’t work if there are any flying insects in my office, never have been able to. They distract and anger me. Call me intolerant. Call me unrealistic. Call me unable to cope with the wilderness. My perceived need for comfort makes me feel guilty, too. And sometimes I use my past as an excuse. A past in which I woke up to a shirt frozen solid over the back of a chair because the oil heater (that I had to manually refill from a tank in the cellar) had gone out and just wouldn’t relight. A past where I slept in coats under carpets, where I walked and walked round cities to keep warm because I had nowhere else I could be. A more recent past where fuel poverty was a reality for me and my family. And now I’m sitting in a warm, insect-free office, listening to one of my favourite women on the radio, and still feel guilty for it. I wonder why. There is realistically nothing concrete I could achieve by depriving myself of warmth to show solidarity, by strapping a gun to my back and entering any war anywhere in this world on the side of those I thought were the good people. What is the ultimate purpose of writers – to join causes and wars, or to observe and describe and polemicise, overtly or figuratively?
And, yet, when I see all the practicalities that are left undone around me because I’m writing, I ask myself if I should be writing at all.
AGGIE’S ART OF HAPPINESS – CHAPTER 29