One book, a film and a few lines of poetry. That’s all I really needed. Maybe a song or two to get me started and a strange dream to trigger the questions but always, always, the books and the writing to pull the universe together.
It was Adele‘s 2011 performance for the Brit Awards that got me going. She sang ‘Someone Like You’ so powerfully it made my forgetfulness hide under the bed. The tears came sometime at the end (2:40-2:60) when she perfectly sang these lines:
You know how the time flies,
Only yesterday was the time of our lives,
We were born and raised in a summer haze,
Bound by the surprise of our glory days
The host of the Brit Awards really knew what he was talking about when he introduced her that night. I hadn’t thought about heartbreak and love in close to a year and a half. Once the body has successfully purged all its illnesses and at the moment the last tear falls, a contract is made thereby binding the body and the soul. You feel the wound close and you don’t go about things the same way again. The routine changes, the wheel keeps turning and this time you get on it because deep inside you trust this motion to keep you afloat.
And then this music (or words, maybe a line from a book, maybe the entire book) plays, acts like a paper-cut, finely tearing a small line onto the skin of your wound. You don’t even realize it’s there until it begins to bleed and even then, there’s hardly any pain. There’s just this shock that engulfs you at the sight of your re-opened past.
And then perhaps an inexplicable dream to have, a delayed reaction…I fall sometimes in my dreams or in that cross between wakefulness and slumber, a second before I can finally doze off I’m jolted awake by the thud. I doubt if anyone remembers what they see as they’re falling or even what they hit when they fall. I imagine concrete streets and sometimes fields and grassy meadows but this time, I had fallen onto a wooden floor with someone and in yet another second managed to roll over transferring my weight onto him. I could tell from the shape of him that he was indeed a he. the warmth of the light hitting us compelled me to kiss him so I didn’t hesitate. Then, the familiarity kicked in. It was him. Then I woke up.
He called the next day and we spoke awkwardly as we often do about work and the general state of things. I hate it really because we used to talk differently, we were more engaged and less likely to endure lulls. But that day all I could think of was how to tell him that there’d been a dream, he’d been there and there was a kiss.
I lied to spare us both the pain. No one wants a paper-cut and sooner or later the skin comes undone paralyzing the hand for a while as the nerves register the sensation. It’s not worth it.
I took Ishiguro off the shelf and began to read. This is what we do to cope. We intrude into the lives of others by cracking open our books with steady careful hands mindful of the delicate spine. We read: words become form and image and then entire lifetimes happen in 200 to 300 pages, maybe more. In the end we’d have lived all our lives elsewhere in time with only faint shadows of ourselves playing out those moments we can’t get ourselves to bear in the real world.
Ishiguro was perfect. There was reason why I hadn’t hesitated with Nocturnes like I did with Never Let Me Go. It was partly on account of the cover and mostly because of the title. These five stories beginning with Crooner all the way up to the end with Cellist had been more than rewarding. In the end, the best one for me is still Crooner or the account made by this young musician chronicling one evening spent with balladeer, Tony Gardner. They are in Italy and this American musician had come with his wife to this place where they had been in love. They were ending their marriage because his career needed a younger woman and as a gesture of love, he had rented a gondola and convinced this local guitarist (our raconteur) to accompany him as he serenaded her. The story is well worth a read so I won’t spoil it further.
There is something to be said about places and love, however. One insight takes inspiration from Italo Calvino‘s description of the city of Isidora (from his Invisible Cities). The line goes as follows:
Isidora, therefore, is the city of his dreams: with one difference. This dreamed-of city contained him as a young man. […] Desires are already memories.
Italy for Tony Gardner and his wife, Lindy is not the same as the city of their love for they have changed immensely and it’s too much to ask of this place to be as it was and remain unchanged.
This is what I’ll sleep with now. I rolled thoughts of this into small pebbles that I’ll hide under my pillow. Hopefully I fall again but this time only enough to cause my body to stir and awaken. The next mode can wait until the sun sets later on and another night falls upon us.