The Blog

Flailing and Floundering

I keep collapsing into a ball of tears, mourning my father's departure (as far as euphemisms for death go, that one is bearable, don't you think?) back in September. It was followed swiftly by that of a close friend, Kate, an accomplished artist whose personal kindnesses to me had, over the years, become impossible to keep count of.

I keep collapsing into a ball of tears, mourning my father's departure (as far as euphemisms for death go, that one is bearable, don't you think?) back in September. It was followed swiftly by that of a close friend, Kate, an accomplished artist whose personal kindnesses to me had, over the years, become impossible to keep count of. And in recent weeks, a friend-of-a-friend, someone I thought I'd come to know one day, has also expired - very prematurely. So talk about black dog.

On balance, I prefer the tears to the cold pointlessness I feel the rest of the time. At least during the sobbing and weeping I feel alive and as though my feelings have some kind of motion and meaning. The rest of the time, I am stumbling. I write down lists of things to do, trying to invest my existence with routine and substance. I think about learning a new trade when the next academic year starts, since most pleasurable forms of writing are no longer remunerative. In any case, I am still unable to sit upright for extended periods and as for standing, when it comes to that I have a very limited store of time. I am flailing. I love the word 'flail'. It almost has an onomatopoeic quality. I know that doesn't quite make sense - that the word, here used in its emotional sense, can't really be said to have a sound that goes with it - but 'flail' nearly manages it.

As I wait for more physical recovery, dutifully exercising every day, I am anxious about Kate's memorial service tomorrow. I have to read a short passage from the Book of Matthew, which isn't a problem and is actually an extremely nice thing to be asked to do. But what about the walk from the chapel to the reception? I'm still living in a strange world where walking to Waitrose is an intrepid and exhausting slog, requiring advance planning and considerable forethought. I've lost quite a lot of my psychological pep, too. In my life, misfortune and error and loss and sadness appear to be caught in some sort of hideous, never-ending pile-up. I fear that everything good (and in that, I include everything good about me) is a lie, misunderstanding or pretence.

I'm aware of how I end up committing most of the mistakes and misdemeanours for which I judge others harshly. Slip-ups of grammar and punctuation are at the top of the list. While I'd never judge a grocer for using an apostrophe to make a plural (I'll leave that to Lynne Truss), I do think that men and women of letters should be held to an extremely high standard. Sub-editors appear to be a dying breed, if the errors I've seen in the press, the parts of the press that I'd expect to be rigorous, are anything to go by. And then, just as I'm settling into my role of sneerer-in-chief, I catch myself, made half-witted by grief, going on to autopilot, using 'their' when I mean 'there' and writing the hideous and unforgivable 'your's'.

And then there's base, petty snobbery. Oh, how I love to judge others for that. I overheard the expression 'low-class' the other day and flinched. I wanted to explain to the person using it that it's a vulgarian-ism, like 'common'. Then I realised, this is my form of snobbery, and it's no less unattractive. I'm a snob about snobs.

Chitter-chatter-chitter-chatter - my brain powers on as though life had meaning and purpose. Hasn't anybody told it the news? Life has been discovered to be an empty sham, a painful and regrettable dance that we best get through as quickly and painlessly as possible and, if necessary, bring to an end by our own hand.

I get jittery and confused trying to keep oranges in the air. I'm juggling at least twenty. There are foot specialists, GPs, surgeons, podiatrists, bereavement counsellors, psychologists, twelve-step groups. And off-shoots of all those things. Appointment after appointment. Some forms of help I only get access to if I squawk and squeak and call a second, third, forth time, trying to pin down dates and get balls rolling. Waiting rooms and bleak corridors flanked by drearier and drearier posters. Hard, plastic chairs. Wooden ones. Oh, at last, a soft armchair I can sink into deeply. I numb myself with bizarre little documentaries about homicide and religious homophobia. I try to pummel myself with information, both written and televised, desperate to keep my own feelings at bay.

It's two days later now and the world seems slightly less burdensome. My friend's memorial service at the Royal Hospital Chelsea was wonderful and unexpectedly uplifting. As much as I consider myself a hard-wired loner, to be surrounded by people, all of whom adored Kate as much as I did, was a cheering turn of events. All the apprehension I endured the day before turned out to have no substance - it melted away once I was in a group, forced to introduce myself to people I'd never met before. The handful of people I already knew seemed to know about my accident at the end of 2012. "Please don't do that again", said one. I smiled and assured her that I wouldn't. It was touching to discover that anyone cared.

Charles Donovan painted by Kate Grant

Photo: Charles Donovan

Now that it's Friday, I look back at the week and wonder if anything occurred in terms of growth or development. Back in 1983, Carly Simon issued a marvellous song called 'Floundering'. Set against a reggae backdrop but with chord progressions and melody coming from some other place, the song was about a neurotic woman going from specialist to specialist, religion to religion, New Age treatment to New Age treatment, trying but failing to identify what was wrong with her and then repair it. Among the appointments she puts herself through are bathtub therapy and laughter therapy. The song is a more concise and quippy description of my current predicament than I could come up with. On the surface, it looks as if my sole concern is learning to walk again, but dig deeper and you'll see that I'm actually trying to learn to live again. Every aspect of normal life seems removed from me. I flap over the slightest social engagement. What kind of chairs will there be? Should I bring a cushion? How do I get there and manage not to arrive already in painful exhaustion and quite unable to be sociable? And what new trade will I acquire, now that the only kind of remunerative writing open to me is SEO stuff? Or will I go back into SEO and web-related work?

Then I fret aimlessly over the mere acquisition of a sofa. I can't mill around in shops yet - I would end up on my feet for too long - so making my flat habitable is a pursuit that has to be conducted online. Then it's back on with the appointments - foot specialists, GPs, bereavement counsellors, psychologists, urologists, surgeons, physiotherapists, podiatrists. I entrust all the details to the care of my MSN calendar which syncs on to my phone, but still my head swirls and spills over with too much information. I struggle to get in touch with people, becoming despondent if I leave a message or send an email and don't hear anything back. 'It must mean they don't like me anymore' runs the familiar tape in my head. My attempts to keep a grateful state of mind are wispy and perfunctory. What I do know is that some of the anguish and some of the worry can be distilled down to a single question. Does life have a point? Answers on a postcard, please.