The morning is no good. All my worst memories come back to me. Every painful thing that has ever occurred, or is likely to occur, occurs to me. I am tormented by such disparate topics as the decline of the NHS, the man who bullied me at my first job, my friend’s upcoming promotion, and my inability to sort out baby swimming classes. They all tend towards one inescapable conclusion: I am shit.
There's an awesome artwork by MichaelBrack which beautifully expresses this deluge of negative thoughts:
This is me. The monsters are me too. But I have no sense of there being a victim in the case, just as I have no sense of there being an aggressor. It feels like the truth. I’m just telling myself the truth. And, sure, I wouldn’t think those things about other people, or consider telling them so bluntly if I did, but I’m with myself, and I have no notion of cruelty. Just misery.
So I started listening to Edgar Allen Poe, but this turned out to be a mistake, because his short stories were just as dark, unwholesome, and melodramatic as my inner monologue. Also, the baby wasn’t sleeping through the night at that point, and Edgar Allen Poe combined with sleep deprivation is a heady, worrying brew.
I’ll give you an example. There’s a story called ‘The Imp of the Perverse’ (not perverse as in kinky fetishes, though I’m sure Edgar Allen Poe had plenty of those, but perverse as in perversity, contrariness, rebelliousness without good reason). And, in it, the narrator has committed a murder, and covered his tracks so brilliantly that no-one thinks of suspecting him. He’s walking along the street one morning, congratulating himself on this fact, when he suddenly thinks how funny it would be if he just blurted it out, right there in the street. And, because he’s thought it, he has to do it. He starts running, to try and suppress the impulse, or get away from all the potential witnesses, but the trouble with running in a public street is that people tend to assume you’ve done something wrong, and run after you. By the time they catch up to him, he’s shouting about his crimes at the top of his voice, betrayed by his own perversity.
Anyway, I know this imp of the perverse. Several times a day, it will occur to me that it would be particularly stupid, particularly suicidal, to do a certain thing, and then I become paralysed with the terror that I will actually do it. I can see it happening. There seems such an infinitesimal gap between thinking it and doing it. Like when you suddenly change your mind ordering drinks, and you’re struck by the vertiginous thrill of just how quickly reality can change as a result of your actions. All the way into town, I thought I was going to get a Diet Coke, and now here I am looking at a gin and tonic. I’m not an impulsive girl, so these moments genuinely shock me.
But the worst of it is the train. There’s a fast-moving train that comes through the station three minutes before my train to work. It’s heralded by that familiar, jerky, automated message: ‘Please stand well away from the edge of Platform Three; the approaching train is not scheduled to stop at this station’.
Anyway, one morning after listening to Poe’s Imp of the Perverse, it occurred to me that it would be particularly stupid to run out in front of the train. I mean, nothing contentious there. Probably nothing unusual either. I daresay it has occurred to many a commuter that it would be stupid to jump out in front of a train. Only I had to hold onto a nearby pillar for fear that I would actually do it. Not because I was depressed (although I realize I shouldn’t have prefaced this with a description of my early-morning inner-monologue) but because it would be an awful thing to do.
Anyway, Poe was a bad fit – too much like me, no power to draw me out of myself. After him, I tried Neil Gaiman (oh my god, he’s good! But I couldn’t seem to fall in love with any of his characters except for Coraline – and I defy anybody not to love Coraline), Joanne M. Harris (considering how much I love Severus Snape, I’m not as keen on Loki as I would have thought), Luke Smitherd’s ‘The Physics of the Dead’, and Peter S. Beagle’s ‘A Fine and Private Place' (both made me feel so sorry for dead people that, when a colleague recently died, I felt guilty as well as upset – as though there could only be so many places amongst the world of the living, and I had no business hogging one when she’d been turned out of hers – until I said to myself ‘Lucy, you are going to die too, and your funeral will not be so well-attended’).
I then embarked on a joyful reunion with Charles Dickens. Oh, it does me good, listening to Charles Dickens (as read by Martin Jarvis) on my way to work in the mornings! It fills me with a genial curiosity about my fellow commuters. Listening to the way he observes people – the dry, funny, quizzical, bemused, and delighted way he does it – makes me think that it wouldn’t be a bad thing to just sit back and look at the world, rather than agonizing about my place in it. And Martin Jarvis is so good. He never gets lost in those long sentences. He really brings home how lively and funny that writing is.
I don’t really get on with Dickens when he starts moralizing. I think he’s too hard on a few of his characters, but I don’t think (at least, I don’t think I think) that his heroines are lifeless, idealized and dumb. In fact, thinking about Dickens’s female characters inspired the following section in my story (which I will paste in here because I can’t resist pushing my story on people):
They were silent again, though it was a prickly silence. There was something about her now which reminded him of Estella in Great Expectations – something of that mild, composed astonishment that other people should have feelings, or expect her to comprehend them.
He’d had a crush on Estella when Ellini had read the novel to him. Perhaps it was because he recognized something in her. They had both been lonely children who would have done anything to be loved, they had both been shown love late – but, in Estella’s case, too late. She hadn’t been able to understand it. Jack hadn’t either, come to that, but he had known that he wanted it. Neglect had given Estella a heart of ice, but it had given Jack a heart that was always hungry – and, when you had spent three years in an orphan asylum, you didn’t use the word hunger lightly. It was not a tickly little distraction but a bleak, full-bodied ache. It took over your identity.
Strange that he was now comparing her to Estella when he had once compared her to Lucie Manette. You couldn’t conceive of two more different characters – and yet Lucie Manette had never seemed like a character to Jack. She had not seemed like a person in her own right but like a symbol of the grace that brought out the best in others. A sign-post pointing the way to virtue. And whether Mister Dickens expected all women to be a symbol, and got quite upset when they stopped pointing the way to virtue and, for example, scratched their noses, was a question which was answered, in that novel at least, by the lovely, flawed humanity of Miss Pross. Jack would cheerfully have married Miss Pross in preference to Lucie Manette, but he would most cheerfully – though the thought quite depressed him at the moment – have married Estella.
I think audiobooks are a good solution to my problems with reading (and oh, I have many problems with reading – don’t think that laziness isn’t one of them, but probably the biggest is fear. If you knew how many books I’d started and then never finished, in the expectation that I was going to get my heart broken, you’d be amazed. I could fill a library with the books I never finished).
Lots of people say you can’t be a writer without being a reader, but I think it’s my frustration with other people’s fictional worlds, and my desire to have a world of my own that I can control, which makes me want to write. I suppose people would call that escapism, but I don’t agree with the stigma that has become attached to that word (matter for another journal entry, I hope). Anyway, I have no problems with escapism. I was born to escape. I was doing it before I even knew what I was escaping.
So, my major problem with reading: I get too emotionally involved in books. I fall in love with characters who die and relationships which end. I find myself unfairly resenting the second person the hero falls in love with, and cheering on his first love, even if she’s a bitch. I think I can sense an unhappy ending coming, because I will sometimes dig in my heels when I’ve only got a hundred pages left, and mutinously refuse to go any further.
Audiobooks help because somehow – counter-intuitively – they create a sort of distance between me and the text. You’d think it would be the other way around, because it’s actually being performed into my ears – every scream and sigh and whimper is being voiced – but, somehow, because it’s less personal, because my brain isn’t creating those voices, and giving them characteristics I recognize from people I love, I am less involved. Which isn’t to say that an audiobook hasn’t made me cry. I was crying a lot at the beginning of David Copperfield (because it was about a boy whose mother couldn’t stand up for him, and I was wondering whether I’d have the strength to stand up for my own little boy in similar circumstances) but I just pretended I had the sniffles, and watched my fellow commuters politely squirming away from me.
Bad things about audiobooks: you can’t throw them across the room in frustration – at least, not without damaging valuable electronic equipment. This was particularly a problem for me when I was listening to Mayhem by Sarah Pinborough (I was pretty angry with myself for sticking it out to its moronic conclusion).
Other bad thing, particularly with Dickens: you really can’t (or I really can’t) appreciate lovely images or well-worded sentiments as much as if you were reading them in print. I hit the ‘rewind thirty seconds’ button pretty damn regularly, but it’s not the same as having the words written out before you, to linger on and savour as much as you’d like.
So, in conclusion, I’m reading again, and I’m happy about it (that was a lot of words, just to say ‘I’m reading again and I’m happy about it’!) I wanted to start writing journals again, because a) I wanted to dislodge that whiny ‘Not too Shabby’ entry of three years ago, b) I’ve been through a big life upheaval (or Michael, as we call him) and I’m just starting to recover and sort my feelings out. I thought it would do me good to write out my thoughts on everything that has happened since. So, coming up, you lucky things, will be journal entries about such treats as Motherhood, the Never-ending List of Things that Went Wrong, Writing Postnatally, my Inner Monologue and How it Refuses to Engage with CBT, plus Anything Else I Can Think of That Might Make Me Less Confused. I will not write a whining journal entry if nobody replies. I will continue to resist the Temptation Train (actually, I stand on the footbridge now until it has safely passed, and mostly my own train is so late that this doesn’t cause any problems). And I will always, always keep writing.