Hello. Remember me?
There are two writers (well, more than two, I just mean two I’m thinking about at the moment) whose work I admire immensely in a nervous kind of way.
In our supermarkets here in England, to discourage people walking through and out with goods not paid for at times when no cashier is there, they have a little barrier in place at the checkout saying: “This till is alarmed.”
I can identify with those tills! I too exist in a state of incipient red alert, and nothing sets the bells ringing and the lights flashing more surely than when a Highly Emotional Person hoves into view.
A friend who Had Theories About Me once made the (incorrect) observation that I need to be needed. I thought about it a little while – one doesn’t like to insult people’s intelligence by instant dismissal of their sagacity after all – then replied, with bottom-of-the-heart conviction, “No. I need not to be needed.” Because strong emotion and sustained interaction wear me out.
And the two writers I started out with (don’t worry I haven’t forgotten them) are Anne Lamott and Ann Voskamp. 1000% alive, both of them, they feel everything to the uttermost.
Anne Lamott has written a new book, Help. Thanks. Wow. A Facebook friend quoted this from it:
“There’s freedom in hitting bottom, in seeing that you won’t be able to save or rescue your daughter, her spouse, his parents, or your career, relief in admitting you’ve reached the place of great unknowing. This is where restoration can begin, because when you’re still in the state of trying to fix the unfixable, everything bad is engaged: the chatter of your mind, the tension of your physiology, all the trunks and wheel-ons you carry from the past. It’s exhausting, crazy-making.
Help. Help us walk through this. Help us come through.
It is the first great prayer.”
Heartfelt responses began to roll in, showing that this prayer hit the button for people. “Yes,” their hearts said. “Yes.”
I read Travelling Mercies a few years back with real enjoyment. Loved it. On the strength of it I bought a couple more of Anne’s books, read them and enjoyed them. But after a while I found myself lagging behind – not through any inadequacy of Anne’sfaith or writing style or intensity of being, but of my own.
Same problem with Ann Voskamp.
From time to time friends link to posts on her blog A Holy Experience, or refer to her wonderful book One Thousand Gifts. I know people whose lives have been transformed by her writing, encouraged to go on, understood, revitalised, their spirits lifted.
And I sit here in my eyrie concluding, guiltily, “It’s just me, isn’t it? It’s just me . . .”
Because I don’t really feelstuff like these Ann(e)s do. In fact, even being close to that level of emotion results in my shutting down. The full-on, full-tilt, full-throttle pulsing aliveness of their writing e x h a u s t s me. I can’t hack it. I have to stop. I just checked across to A Holy Experience to see what the post for today might contain. Here.
Did you read that? It’s wonderful, isn’t it? Beautiful. Moving. Profound.
But instead of feeling met, heard, understood, instead of feeling a deep swell of answering emotion, all I feel is AAAAAGGHHH! GET IT OFF MEEEE!!! (Ahem. Sorry to shout.)
My life pendulum-swings between feeling profoundly guilty that I do nothing for anybody, and feeling overwhelmed because I interacted with the human race and it was too much for me.
I like small things, quiet things, inconsequential things. There’s a book about gypsies written in the 1950s called Smoke in the Lanes, and I can live a long time just on that phrase, imagining it, the gradual permeation of the fragrance of woodsmoke, its implication of travellers gathering, stew-kettles set up over fires of sticks from the hedgerow . . .
I love the smell of the night air. It’s like drinking cool, clear water.
I love being in the bath, while the morning sunshine streams through the window.
I love the quiet and peace of sitting in my own room.
Tonight, we sat round the candle-lit table sharing supper. Fi had made risotto – the best risotto ever – and we had some fresh bread, some tomatoes and oranges and lettuce, and a chocolate cake to enjoy with a cup of tea afterwards. And it felt so successful – I could hardly believe that we actually got it together to have organised proper food, and with a dessert as well, and were sitting down in a tolerably clean and tidy house, with all our bills paid up to date and nice food to eat and no problems, nothing scary happening, nothing on the brink of sliding into chaos, no terminal illness or divorces, no suicidal friends or ex-cons, not even dogs or small children (who never seem to stop needing something that isn’t happening or isn’t there for five minutes together – I remember wondering, when my own children were little, if a day would ever come when nobody in our house cried about anything at all). Nobody lecturing us about the Old Days or reminiscing about the War, nobody asking us what we’d achieved today or if we’re keeping busy or what work we’ve got at the moment – oh, I can’t tell you how peaceful it felt! Just supper, and cheerfulness, and the fire alight in the stove.
And I know – I know – I should be having strong up-swells of gratitude and comparisons leaping to mind of something about Jesus, but . . . sometimes it’s nice to just be.
I love the ordinary, the mundane, the every day. I love it when things are calm and clean and uneventful.
Waiting for the bus. Watching the sun rise. Listening to Fi singing while she cooks, or the music of Alice playing her flute drifting down to the garden on a summer day, or Hebe playing her guitar quietly by the fire on a winter evening – I love it. I love the taste of fresh herbs. I love the smell of the garden.
George Borrow Lavengro wrote:
“There's night and day, brother, both sweet things; sun, moon and stars, brother, all sweet things; there's likewise a wind on the heath. Life is very sweet, brother; who would wish to die?”
I love that. And he was born at a place called Dumpling Green, and I love the thought of that too.
There have been times in my life when I’ve belonged to those groups – maybe church home groups or family gatherings or whatever – where when it’s time to go home everyone wants to kiss you (AAAAAGGGHH Noooooooo). Sometimes I manage to get out of the door before the kissing starts so I’m too far away before they get into it. Sometimes I manage to manoeuvre things so there is a large bulky item of furniture impeding access.
When I was a baby, my mother would lie me down in my pram to look at the sky or the leaves on the tree above, and that suited me just fine. Later, as a small child, I was expected to sit quietly . . . wait . . . be good . . . and that was just fine too. It was all I wanted to do. My older sister, fiery, bubbly, full of life and curiosity, active and adventurous, was foreverin trouble. But I just wanted to be left in peace, to watch and listen and be.
When I read the work of the Ann(e)s, it feels stronger than vodka and bright red sitting right by the bank of speakers at a rock concert.
Wonderful. They are just wonderful. But I think I was born to be beige.
A lovely paraphrase of the Tao.
Charlie and Lola – love ’em. Taken up permanent residence with the Wretched Wretch.
Returned to rightful owner – I borrowed this when I expected to be writing a sequel to The Clear Light of Day – but not enough people bought it for a subsequent story to be required.
Emily Dickinson – now there’s someone I can relate to! "Dimity convictions" - yes, indeed.
Oh – a really delightful small book of poems.
Yet more Bollywood music – fab!
Bollywood music. I saw a programme on TV (or was it an article I read?) about A.R. Rahman – what a wonderful man!
Ha! George Harrison’s groovy Krishna chants – remember them?
Two small flowerpotty things that had candles in them once.
A thing to hold the curtains back. Why bother?
Amorphous jumble of electrical paraphernalia.
What? Oh, right! Wii games.
Two large cushions, fellow travellers for many a long year.