The island life had stirred my creative pot, culminating in a productive year that had seen a potent change in the way I thought and wrote. The resultant album ‘Hopeland’ had been bathed in optimism’s glow after the retreat to Corsica had gifted me clarity of thought and a sense of well being that was startling. I had previously written about the journey, but offered no answers, just questions. With ‘Hopeland’ I had actually arrived somewhere; destination achieved. I unpacked. I was home.
The plan was to stay, but my furrowed brow kept moving me forward, beyond the bliss. What followed was no drastic regression, just an unsettling feeling that those peaceful waters were about to be disturbed. At the end of a perfect day there is still darkness and the inevitable notion that the following dawn would bring disappointment. I was in full song yet full of clumsy contradiction, each thought subverted the previous one. Where I had previously danced serenely through my days I was now walking on hot coals; I wanted to draw lyrical breath but was invariably rendered breathless, dizzy and dumb by the savage, intoxicating beauty of the island.
Closer to home, anything that was fleetingly familiar was reduced to homily, which I paraded in songs and poems as freshly minted wisdom.
Did these words even qualify as poems?
I continued to put pen to paper, hoping that the chaos might be revealed as a series of telling moments; my aim was true, but my hands were shaking, grasping at shadows. I found myself reaching for things that were no longer there, or whose influence had become diminished.
There was a constant humming in my head.
Maybe I’d had one drink too many.
At the beginning of the New Year I wrote an email to my ‘virtual’ friends:
I seem to be disappearing by the day, weaker by the week.
The new year didn’t start well; I couldn’t shake off the bug that seems to have afflicted us all; couldn’t shake off the effects of the Xmas lubrications; something I’ve never had a problem with before, and my feet hurt so much that getting from bed to bog was becoming a major issue.
Di complaining about me waking up smelling like a ‘shitty brewery’ was a sure sign that something needed to change.
Having been off the booze for 3 days now I can confidently say that I feel absolutely no difference other than an ever present thirst and a newfound ability to say ‘Unique New York’ 3 times really fast, particularly after that third cup of (now sugarless) coffee.
In further attempts towards betterment I’ve stopped taking sugar in my tea and started watching documentaries about animals and trees.
That should help me sleep.
We haven’t been for a while.
It reminds me of quote from W. H. Murray:
“In short withdrawals from the world there is to be had unfailing refreshment. When his spirit is burdened or lightened, the natural movement of a man’s heart is to lift upward, and this is more readily done in the wild, for there it is easy to be still.”
Usually when I’m in a funk I can sit down with my guitar and create something, or simply play. I was now getting nothing from this; the canvas was blank with no lead in the pencil.
Step two of any revival is normally the taking of a bath.
Sitting in the suds I have the choice of reaching for Flaubert’s ‘A Sentimental Education’ or last month’s Esquire magazine.
I opt for an article on how to throw a tomahawk, throw a perfect 180 at darts and throw flaming Sambuca from your mouth. There’s a piece offering a five-day detox (“what can you achieve in 5 days? Even God only got as far as the birds and fish.”) I learn how to do a ‘McTwist’ on a surfboard, mix a perfect martini, dismantle an AK-47 and how to avoid capture behind enemy lines: “Lie on a north facing slope and keep still. This is very difficult. You will develop sores. You will nearly go crazy. And remember, you have to demoralize the dog-handler, not the dog.”
I’m instructed on how to start a football chant (apparently if you are a Borussia Monchengladbach fan this involves not saying “Give us a ‘B’…”) and then move on to the eco-friendly wisdom that “recycled toilet paper’s like taking a cheese grater to a bullet hole” before drifting off into a dumb, numb slumber.
I wake up in cold water; everything is shriveled and my magazine lies at the bottom of the tub. I can just about make out a piece on ‘Famous Last Words’. There’s Bogart’s “I should never have switched from Scotch to Martinis” and Beethoven’s “Friends applaud, the comedy is over.”
This gets me thinking about the possible benefits of ‘getting serious’ and the diminishing returns of ageing.
Is this really the best I’m ever going to feel again?
With this question in mind I resolve to enrich what remains of my life with genuine intent; there’ll be no more parading and postulating about court sprints and investment in World Music.
I need to do some real gardening; plant a thought and watch it grow, rather than just moving on to another lofty deliberation.
So, here goes.
In endeavouring to prevent myself from weakening by the week I’m making some changes in an attempt to embroider that rich tapestry.
This week my attention is on:
- a daily regime of (yes) press ups; 50 in the morning, 50 before bedtime. I’m wobbling at 25… - Continuing in the refining of my drinking career. Fridays and Saturdays only.
I’ll keep you posted on my progress.
Any advice will, of course, be considered and ignored.
You could always try…
You might not recognize me at the bar, but if you do, be kind and don’t offer me a drink.
Baby steps, as they say.
Although I’d put it out there into the ether as an ironic missive to mates (who either ignored my self-possession or responded with concern), the self-pity of that letter is obvious to me now. One American friend offered the phone number of her lofty Harley Street therapist, another suggested voluntary work: “You need to immerse yourself in someone else’s misery; that would stop you getting so ‘up’ yourself.”
The swimmer leaves the shore
To test his mortality
He is the sole, vital engine
His actions keep him alive
The alternative is unthinkable
His discomfort is self-imposed
A discipline to ward off
That prize possession of middle age
I shrink against the cold
I do this to myself
Float then move my arms
Against the indifferent current
There is no disappointment
In the primitive simplicity of this moment
I must move to survive
And that begs the question
Do I need my life?
I turn my back to the kindling sun
And reach for the uncertain shore