Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Rage, Rage

One of the very few reasonably significant things we can say we know with any degree of absolute certainty - about life, I mean - is that it ends. One of the others is that until it ends for you personally, it goes on, no matter what. And the third is that when the end comes, often it will scream with so much poignancy, passion and terror that it will seem as if it’s been engineered by a particularly malicious god, or a particularly heavy-handed, washed-up sit-com writer.

In my fairly limited experience, death and suffering always come mired in layer after layer of suffocatingly cruel irony or coincidence. It’s as if God doesn’t just want us to die, He wants us to die laughing – Him laughing that is, whilst we shake our heads, baffled by the unfairness of it all, incredulous at the bad taste timing. But then, I imagine, there’s probably never a good time to die.

There are a couple of people I know reasonably well who are going through some terrible things at the moment. Things which are pretty much as terrible as it’s possible for things to get. Life and death things. You know the kind of thing. And there are a couple more whom I know only virtually, living through similarly terrifying times.

When I think about these people, I shake my head. I can’t get my head round it. I’m baffled, incredulous and scared.

It isn’t right.

And it’s everywhere. Every which way I turn at the moment, someone has died, or been diagnosed with something scary or been rushed to hospital. It’s like there’s an epidemic of bad news out there and it’s taking all my concentration not to panic or take it personally. What I try very hard to do instead is to force into my head some sense of perspective; I try to use this litany of personal tragedy to reinforce awareness of infinite possibility and actual reality, and to feel gratitude for my own good fortune and determination to make the most of it. Or – if you prefer – I count my blessings. Because of course, as I mentioned yesterday, at the moment I’m the lucky exception that proves the bad news rule. At the moment everything is going swimmingly for me.

Which is precisely why I found myself on the verge of panic earlier today.

It's like, how long can it last?

How many times can a coin turn up heads?

In general, I like to think of myself as realistic rather than particularly pessimistic or cynical. I observe life, and I draw what I like to think of as fairly even-handed, reasonable conclusions. Therefore I am frightened. I am frightened because my observations have led me to conclude that life could not be any more cruel, or any more unlikely, even if it were written by the most world-weary, sensationalist hack imaginable. Therefore, when things start going exceptionally well for someone, I fully expect them to turn on their head and start going exceptionally badly. I expect that lucky someone to come a cropper. Because that’s what would happen in fiction, because fiction is emotional manipulation brought on by unexpected and often cruelly unfair or ironic happenstance, and life is nothing more than live three-dimensional fiction, author unknown.

So I’m paranoid. For the last three days I’ve been getting a pain in my left testicle, increasingly regular, increasingly sharp. I know, I know, I know. I’ve been trying to get it seen to, I honestly have. Along with the pain in my gut which I was complaining about a couple of weeks ago. That too. But I have reasons for not having done it as yet, including work, moving house, new doctor waiting lists and old doctor bizarre appointment systems ruled out by work.

I mention it now because it’s got to such a stage whereby I am pulling out all the stops to get seen. As in pushing back work. I’m scared. It’s painful. I’m paranoid.

And it doesn’t stop there.

Lately when I’m out and about, I’m alert, I’m waiting, watching, expecting the unexpected. I’m paranoid. I know it’s going to come now, because things are going well, and if we know anything about Death, we know that it strives for irony, even irony on a very base level, hardly irony at all in fact, just the worst imaginable luck or nasty poetic injustice.

So I’m ready, and even as I’m knocked into the path of the hurtling full Circle Line train, I compose haunting tributes on your behalf. ‘It just doesn’t seem fair. He was so close to getting everything he ever wanted.’ ‘He was just about to finally show the world what he was made of.’ ‘He was on the very meniscus of excellence. He could have been the next Tommy Steele.’ ‘Life is impossibly cruel.’ ‘Not only was he a great writer, but he was also really good at sex. I was blessed to have known him. In that way.’

Then I drift for a second and drive into the side of a bus or a train in the rain or I step out - distracted by some nonsense playing out in my head, some worry or fear or death scenario, I step out into the path of a taxi, a motorbike or an ambulance. John Lennon’s mum was killed by a drunken policeman. Thousands of people are killed every year by emergency vehicles in a hurry. And sometimes they're not even drunk. Sometimes it's my own fault.

Then I hear the screech, crunch and whistle of cold steel contorting, tearing and exploding at 100 miles an hour. Seconds later I’m torn to pieces myself, my body popped and pasted between concrete, metal and plastic. I never discover whether it’s an arbitrary engineering catastrophe, a single bolt for example, coming loose in the train or the track at exactly the wrong time; or something mucked up in the fabric of society, a single screw for example, coming loose in the head of some loon. It doesn't really matter.

On my way home, late, walking down unfamiliar streets, walking back from an internet café, I am stabbed in the gut, in the heart, in the face, every night without fail. Sometimes there is real irony and the knife cuts out the cancer in my belly, inadvertently saving my life. Sometimes it misses my heart by a millimetre. Sometimes the blade is dragged deep from my crotch to my neck like a giant zip and my insides flop to the floor in a wet heap. Sometimes I stop the blade with seconds to spare and disarm the villain with my lightning reflexes. Sometimes I sit on him till the police turn up. Sometimes I turn the knife and take furious, disproportionate revenge. Sometimes I even go on a rampage myself.

Sometimes, when I’m finally opened up after months of grumbling, the tumour in my belly has spread into my groin. Sometimes it's gone up into my lungs and I’m given six months. Sometimes I arrived just in time and I'm successfully exorcised. Sometimes my pains are passing trifles, niggling innocuous nothings of less than no import. Sometimes they’re stress bubbles, physical manifestations of fear and insecurity. And sometimes they’re self-fulfilling prophecies somewhere down the worried line, tumours within tumours within tumours within tumours...

I have been going mental with this stuff lately. Morag tells me again I will worry myself sick, which is a horrible thing to tell a hypochondriac.

But I’m being seen tomorrow. Finally. The testicle ache has today reached touching point, which is to say I have become a very sombre Michael Jackson, two gloves, surreptitiously checking myself out, giving myself a little squeeze, consoling, it’ll be alright, wincing.

But soon at least, eventually, I’ll know one way or the other, then I can get to work on the fatal freak occurrence fixation. Because I’m beginning to think it isn’t healthy.

But even now I’m not entirely sure. I mean, a certain amount of awareness of how fragile and precarious it all is, of how sheer and frangible is the thread by which we all hang is, I think, definitely a good thing. It encourages you to live more acutely, to appreciate more keenly. I personally also feel naturally drawn to death. Not in a morbid way, I don’t feel. Just in a fascinated, shocked and awed way. But when does that become unhealthy? I don’t know. And that’s part of the reason I wanted to talk about it here. Plus the fact that it’s been weighing on my mind of late. Increasingly.

Like a shadow.

Creeping. Encroaching. Imminent.

I know, I know, but the thing is, other people’s bad luck keeps knocking the stuffing out of me, and although I accept that my life will end, I just don’t want to be taken by surprise by it. I want to see it coming. I want to pre-empt Death, not in order to avoid it, just to show it that I was onto it, that I was intelligent enough to predict it.

Maybe that’s what it comes down to.

I don’t want Death to make a fool of me.

But of course it will. Just like Life.

Aaaah, Death.

It’s absolutely everywhere. Just like Life.

It lurks in the dark and leaps out when you least expect it. Just like life. Or else it squats in your peripheries, expressionless, for weeks, months, years. Forever.

Just like Life.

They have a lot in common.

In fact, the only reasonably significant distinction to be made is that unlike Death, Life goes on. Right up until it stops, the fucker goes on.

And Life is never more acutely appreciated, and Death never more acutely feared, than when the latter slips out of your peripheries and into the foreground, edging toward centre-stage, creeping toward the camera. That's when we have to fight. Or as Dylan Thomas put it:

'Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.'

I like that.

If you are sick, or scared or scarred, or just feeling battered by the cruelty of life and death, my thoughts and hopes for the absolute best are with you.


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hen said...

so glad to see you changed your mind about only blogging for a year. so glad.

Anonymous said...

Bete you are a MONSTROUS hypochondriac and you clearly have worried yourself into a near FATAL case of BALLACHE the like of which will have the DOCTORS groaning in the aisles for months to come. At least you have a modicum of insight and the grace to worry about and try and console other people with real illness. Don't distrust your happiness, savour it in the knowledge that it won't last.

Luka said...

I think it's quite common to feel that things are surely too good to last. Worry is the human condition, and it's a shame, as then we're not enjoying the here and now, which is all we have.

Tim Footman said...

Why don't you photograph your hurty bollock and put it on the interweb for all of us to contemplate?

The Princess said...

I think you should stop smoking weed.

Clare Sudders said...

Two of my closest friends lost their fathers this month. Both were particularly stressful deaths. Another close friend is languishing on a sofa after major surgery.

Me? I'm pretty good. OK, so I'm poor and lacking in a much-awaited book deal, but I have the wanted child I went through hell to get, and I am a full time writer with three enjoyable books to write in 2009, and I don't have to go to a job, and I have all I ever wanted. So I'm happy.

I learnt a long time ago that it really fucks you up if you allow other people's misfortunes to get you down. It also does them no good whatsoever. It's singularly unhelpful to everyone. So I don't do it any more.

Here's the way I look at it: I don't want my friends to be unhappy. I don't really want anyone to be unhappy. I want the whole world to contain as much happiness as is physically and philosophically possible. And this is a ridiculous position to hold unless I also extend the principle to myself. Because I'm human too, and just as I want my hearest and dearest to go well, they want the same for me. And I care about them. So I owe it to them to do my damnedest to raise my head and not dwell on stuff.

As for my own mortality and impending bad luck? Of course bad things will happen to me. Whether or not I anticipate them. So why bother? Why not just continue blithely on, assuming that everything will be fine? And when the shit hits the fan, why not look forward to when the graph bends back on itself and good times come again?

I don't always manage this. I am by nature a worrier. But this is what I tell myself: When my head snaps up and I think, oh God, what if my son is dead? What if he has been hit by a car and nobody has told me yet? Well, if he's dead, he's dead. I'll find out soon enough. There's nothing I can do about it. Ignorance is bliss. At the moment I'm happy because I haven't yet been informed of his death. The misery will come soon enough. I should make the most of this state. And more generally: When the misery comes, it will be miserable. But as long as it's not here, I should make the most of its absence. My job, everybody's job, is to maximise global happiness. And that job starts here, in this chair.

PS I too am drawn to death, darkness, gloom and despair. In a [whisper] kind-of-revelling-in-it sort of a way. I was brought up by a woman whose idea of a good Sunday out was to visit random churchyards and read the gravestones. And wrote children's books about necromancy. That's fine, there's nothing wrong with that. Each to their own. Melancholy can be beautiful. As long as you remember it's just a hobby, and doesn't mean you have to be miserable.

Clare Sudders said...

PPS I told the child of a friend recently that she was a hypochondriac and her response was, oh my god, hypochondria, what's that? Oh my God, I have a MENTAL DISEASE. I'm really ill!

Zoe said...

I too get the vivid imaginings of what it is like to be run over.

Hope the pains are easily explained by something mundane like tight underwear

Lindy said...

Well, all I can say categorically is that it won't be a Circle Line train....there bloody AREN'T any!!! x

Anonymous said...

Bete - if you could live forever with life exactly as the way it is, i.e. disappointments, fear, happiness, sadness all intertwined, would you want to?

To quote one of my favourite philosophers, Nietzsche: "What, if some day or night a demon were to steal after you into your loneliest loneliness and say to you: "This life as you now live it and have lived it, you will have to live once more and innumerable times more; and there will be
nothing new in it, but every pain and every joy and every thought and sigh and everything unutterably small or great in your life will have to return to you, all in the same succession and sequence-- even this spider and this moonlight between the
trees, and even this moment and I myself. The eternal hourglass of existence is turned upside down again and again, and you with it, speck of dust!"

The question is: "Do you desire this (i.e. your life as it has been as it will be) once more and
innumerable times more?" Or how
well disposed would you have to become to yourself and to life to crave nothing more
fervently than this ultimate eternal confirmation and seal?

Think. Reflect.

emordino said...

> Sometimes the blade is dragged deep from my crotch to my neck like a giant zip and my insides flop to the floor in a wet heap.

"Till he unseam’d him from the nave to the chaps..."

This post reminds me of this poem, which is excellent and which I like very much.

Geoff said...

I've had the camera down there.

The bloke with the gelled hands said I should break open the champagne.

He didn't give me any, though.

Anonymous said...

Bonjour La Bête,
You know, when you've aknowledge the fact that life is a cruel bastard, you are just left with one very simple option : Stop thinking too much and enjoy all the pleasant moments and people.
Be a simpleton.
You are too clever, bad luck.
Uncle Did

Lainey said...

Get a grip, man! (This is the part where I would give you a slap around the chops).

Clive For Coffee said...

There was a bloke on the radio last week, said, 'I'm the world's worst hypochondriac. If you don't believe me, ask my gynocologist.'

Maria said...

Finally, someone as neurotic as I am, in very similar ways. I also agree with Luka and Clare Sudders. You MUST enjoy the present.

Maria in Oregon

Anonymous said...

A few years ago I was diagnosed with prostate cancer, the disease you cannot name. Treatment was varied and long, the upshot is that I can no longer fulfill my sexual desires, which were powerful. I fear death but I would have liked to have some enjoyment beforehand to ease the blow. The man said I was cured, but I am not all that sure. I see death at every corner and I hate him. I am determined to go kicking and screaming. I think I would have preferred to be taken by surprise, I can't stand the anticipation. So hang on in there, it is not always dark at night, sometimes there is a full moon.

Assassin said...

Thank you if you really do mean what you've said in the last paragraph!;)

La Bête said...

Thanks for sharing, everyone.

Princess, you really think smoking weed once every few weeks will make a difference to my testicle health?

Thanks for that poem, emordino. I like it very much.

Sorry to hear your news, Anonymous. I wish you the best of everything.

Of course I meant it, Assassin!

Anonymous said...

I'm 30 and was diagnosed with Cervical Cancer 6 months ago (on the day of my grandmothers funeral. Good day.)
I was lucky and caught it relatively early (ladies - have your tests!) but it's honestly not as bad as you think it's gonna be! Once you know, you just kind of get on with it. I did anyway.
Hope that's cheered you up! =D