I’m Tired of Being Tired
Sunrise, Cottage Point Wharf
It’s been two years and I haven’t been able to really write. That second book taunts me. A combination of factors has contributed to this creative inertia, summarised, in general terms, by the existence and subsequent evacuation of a brain tumour and by the summary afflictions that comprise recovery of same. I get tired, very tired, fatigue can sneak up on me like the burglar it is, a soporific haze descending as a result of walking to buy milk, the realisation that I’ve been doing the same thing the same way everyday for the past 2 years.
And so I have tried to get back to this writing, to find out whether the tumour has taken all of my faculties. I have also had more than considerable trouble reading, which is inconvenient, although for a writer it goes a little further than that. The world is not short of good writers, more good readers, so I’ve been trying to catch up a bit. Bear with me a little, as I delve into the world of obscure yet important literary figures.
I’ve been reading about Karl Tschuppik, the Austrian writer of the early 20th century, whose most famous works gained currency in the years immediately after the Great War. He predicted that something looking very much like Nazi Germany would ascend if that nation dispensed with decent democracy, and if it adopted the language he warned about thus allowing people like Hitler to ascend to power. Tscuppik was no politician, or for hire speak-easy in the mould of those modern confected pseudo intellects masquerading as spokesmen, or spokeswomen. Those genuine enough to warrant the epithet of ‘intellect’ would never make such a claim, they’d just keep doing what they do. Tschuppik was a writer, he had no permanent home, not unusual for one pursuing that craft but rather took his billet at a Vienna hotel in return for telling stories to the staff and to the patrons. The owner recognised the value of his activity. His art shined a light. He died before his catastrophic prediction could come to pass but come to pass it did.
While Tschuppik was alive though, Hitler destroyed the art that threatened the dictator’s regime. He burned the novels of the Nobel laureate Thomas Mann, not because he didn’t like reading, although Mann is not, admittedly, easy to read, but because Mann’s art, his depiction of German society, wasn’t to Hitler’s unimaginative taste. Mann, for a start, was inclusive, he encouraged a breadth of individual thought, try Buddenbrooks or The Magic Mountain if you’re game – Death in Venice is probably a better starting point. Hitler, self-evidently, was the antithesis of inclusion and the expression of individual thought generally was meant with one’s demise.
Writing is the first thing to come under attack from tyrants because the writer, or more generally, the artist, is not someone they can control. We see it today in miniature, perhaps not as miniature as we might think, with the attempt to coral the artist, or dictate the terms under which they operate, with sly grog incentives to conform, or idle threats to deport, whatever works for the unimaginative. The writing endures, as those who discover ancient civilisations can attest. The Art endures, not the business deals, or the political grandstanding, the overt diatribes of the permanently outraged, or the latest renovation. The phoney protestations of those who try and dictate are no more than self serving proclamations and wet cement, fulfilling every meaning of the term.
I have also been reading about Paul Valery, perhaps the most prominent French poet from the same period. He kept lines of poems, words, in a notebook, something that might be anathema to a post-modern artist, at times keeping it for years before transferring it to anything approaching the poetic but realising, a secret worth sharing, that the binding energy of a poem needs to be hidden from view for as long as possible. It needs to germinate slowly. Or, in remembering my reply to a friend, after watching my mother sight read Tchaikovsky’s final movement of the great Russian composer’s Piano Concerto No.1, a piece well worth investigating, at a school concert, receiving a standing ovation from a hall full of schoolchildren, a performance for which she was shoe horned at the last minute. When the inquiry came as to how long my Mother had been rehearsing that piece, I replied “about thirty years”.
I mention these writers, not because they bear any resemblance to a coherent narrative but because we discover that some of these artists of yesterday were onto something, it makes me think that I could possibly be onto something as well, perhaps even shine a small light into a dark room, to make an infinitesimal difference for someone perhaps. I mention my Mother’s piano playing simply because for me she attained the apogee of artistic expression that I can only but, on this day, the 14th anniversary of her death, stand back and admire, in awe of this magnificent woman.
I also engage in this gratuitous name checking in an attempt to ignite the creative fire inside me that has taken second place to just getting better, and coping with the after effects of having one’s brain opened up. I have twenty books at the side of my bed, I do not lie, it’s tragic, sad, a vice to seek counselling for but I long to be able to finish some so that I can start others. I have been engrossed however, this past two years, with the company of strangers, these people who inspire me, encourage me and above all, put up with me.
But I’m tired of being tired, wearied from the effort, worn out by it, being unable to finish a chapter before fatigue overwhelms me, or having to cancel reunions because my brain cannot currently cope with the menagerie of emotions coming at me. At the same time I stare into its face and say “come on, take me on, I’m here.” I’m not sure whether I’m ready but I am here, which is something. I get sick of wobbling every morning, sick of grabbing the railing halfway between the bed and the bathroom, just to ensure I don’t stumble down the stairs and force my wife to bolt like lightning to my aid. I manage, I laugh, I groan, I bear down, I focus and at the end of it, I conquer it. Till next time.
And so, I have, like Paul Valery, started hand-writing in a notebook again, I’ve started to pay attention to the pilot light that won’t be extinguished, it flickers like a North Sea lighthouse and it won’t leave me alone. I look at all my writings and wonder whether I should pick up where I left off or just start again. I have started practising picking up a pen, yes, a real one, and I’ve started to write real words in a real book, if only to feel the power of bringing it all back home.
In doing so I feel an energy that risked being rent asunder, split and turned into kindling and dust to be cleaned up in the morning but instead it’s a large slow burning piece of lumber that rests right there in the centre, still flickering the following day. And so one of my first outpourings of this tentatively re-established creativity was to think about the concerns I have for a good friend, he is going through some tough times, a time that I could not endure, rougher to be sure than my own. I sat down, I thought about him and so now I put down what came to me in a matter of minutes as I laid seige to this force, the thought that perhaps having a brain tumour expanded my ability to at least try and understand, that we need not be alone, that compassion is born from passion, that we don’t have to do all of this on our own. So here it is, without flourish or embellishment, not letting it germinate for long at all, as I probably should, a small offering of poetry for my friend. I imagine Clive James, with his deep mellifluous voice of granite, reading this, slowly, sitting in his armchair, single malt by his side.
Stooping down and listless still
the rain, the pavement scarried
the men they took my food and oil
and all that I had carried
They robbed me with a fountain pen
they left me in the rain
they said they’d come back God knows when
just to add more to my pain
I pushed my umbrella into the hail
I watched it rip and tear
onlookers sneered as they saw me fail
sideways with a glare
I begged for bread with steely eyes
my plate I wiped it clean
“the Government” they said “is telling lies”
it’s always ever been
My friends I found them, some up, some down
in rooms of soft fine leather
but I had business back in town
and stepped out into the weather
I know I’m welcome any time
to share the common bread
where fault is lost for any crime
‘cept what’s on in my head
If I could realise just one thing
that all is not at end
I have a verse, a song to sing
I am my own best friend