Time is pressing
Time is pressing, which is why, for the first time since we’ve been writing these letters, I’m scrawling mine directly onto my blog (can you scrawl with a keyboard?) rather than hand writing it first. For some reason, I’m more aware than ever that I don’t know how much time is left to me, and that I need to really make the most of what’s left, even if it is all those years till I’m 125 years old, which is the age I tell everyone that I’m going to live to.
This has been a really difficult week, one which has seen me pulled this way and that by all sorts of events and emotions, a week where I would willingly have given up my day job, would willingly have given up writing, would have given up my life, just to fix the broken soul one of my children is at the moment. And it doesn’t matter that with the right advice and support she’ll be able to lead a full and fruitful life. It’s just so unfair that someone who has so much to give should spend any time locked in the dark well that depression is. Ironically enough, I was on the radio talking about mental health the day before C told me on the phone she was struggling more than ever before. I have told her that if what it takes to get her through university is to come home every fortnight, then that’s what we’ll do. This is what parents do, isn’t it? It’s not all about letting your children out into the wild and not welcoming them back again. I know my parents always gave me sanctuary, always, right up until the day Mum had to move into a residential home because her dementia was just getting too much. Part of me wishes we hadn’t had to sell that house in Doncaster, but it went to some good people with an organic family, which was great.
Anyway, to add to the ruggedness of the week just gone, the day job is just manically busy, and depressing in that charities are having to pick up the slack left by governments cutting more and more funding out of their health and welfare budgets in order to appear tough, or in order to pay for the mistakes their kind have made not just over the last few years, but over many generations. And on the altruism front, I even had to send an email to the main teacher of one of my other daughters telling her that “I cannot and I will not stop my children from being altruistic.” I mean, if we can’t help other people anymore, then what is the point? Life can seem pointless enough without people being criticised for helping friends, without people, especially young people, being told to be selfish, that the self is all that matters. It makes me so damn angry. Maybe that’s why I’ve never become successful in the terms of wealth and status, the fact that I’m not as selfish as bankers and politicians are.
The straw that breaks the camel’s back, literally almost, is that I’ve managed to injure my back – again; this has been going on since I damaged it playing hockey when I was 17. I’ve still managed to fence, and stack wood, and go for a fast walk, and cut back the big bushes by the back door, but I can’t run, and it makes me feel so old that I creak and groan every time I try to do something other than be the lazy man I am at heart. I keep shouting at myself on the inside to get a move on, to go do things, to get all those tasks done that need doing before I can even think of sitting down to finish Ice Child and do some other writing. Stupid. I need a body transplant. If I got a nice 25-year-old body with a six-pack, M might actually be delighted (however much she denies she would).
Anyway, so much for the week that was.
I am guessing, and I haven’t reread Kleist’s piece, that he meant that marionettes are totally unaware, just like you hit the nail on the head when you say that we we’re looking at ourselves objectively when we catch a glimpse of ourselves, and don’t initially realise we’re looking at ourselves. And that (and the way you say you’ve been reacting to selfies lately) brings me back to the Invisible Woman Syndrome we first spoke about when we met in London about four years ago, that women get to a stage where they think they shouldn’t be seen, when they think they shouldn’t wear clothes that will draw attention to them, when they think they’re too old to be beautiful or sexy or interesting. And that’s sad.
I guess what I’m saying is that acceptance and forgiveness is all well and good, but that no woman ever should feel she has to give herself up, that she has to agree with the patriarchy that says she’s too old to be sexy and happy and lively. That’s what the patriarchy wants – women to be subservient, women to be too afraid to be in control of their own bodies. M says she can’t bear to look in the mirror because she all she sees is an old hag, and I know that she’s suffering from that syndrome, that she, too, has been brought up in a world where beauty is always in the eye of the white male beholder. I always say imperfection is perfection. And yes, here’s that ambivalence of mine you mention – if I say she’s sexy and beautiful (especially in those cheap horn-rimmed reading glasses she made herself buy so she could read in indifferent light), am I not just being the patriarchy myself, am I not just objectifying her the way I say women shouldn’t be objectified? Should I not tell her how I see her? Should I not tell her that I could just stare at her body all day? It’s a dilemma. Because that would mean throwing all the love poetry out, too.
Ah, men as the prize, the thing of value and beauty. The thing is, though, that men, in the main, have a much easier time of it as they age. We become even more rugged and handsome, we mature like fine wines, we become role models for good living, however badly we’ve lived, however craggy our faces become, however flabby our bodies become. Except some of us who dream of being heroes even into our old age, even those of us who think the alpha males are the ones who win every time, even those of us who think we were at the back of the queue when it came to courage and good looks.
Oh, and 21st March is the official start of spring. At least it always was when I was young. I suppose the meteorologists have changed that to 1st March for the sake of dividing the year neatly into four quarters rather than abiding by nature.
This is turning into far too long a letter, but I have to say what’s in my head. The current political situation is really putting me off writing prose. How can I continue to write a book that makes no reference to what’s going on with Trump and brexit? It’s feels like I’m writing into a vacuum, unless I write poetry, and protest poetry at that. Maybe I should learn to compartmentalise more, in all aspects of my life.
Although there won’t be a handwritten version of this letter, I am going to print it off and put it in an envelope to you, because I don’t want the cycle of you receiving hardcopies of these letters in an envelope with a seal to be broken. And I found some old notepaper of my father’s a few weeks ago and scanned the seal and the motto.