Thursday, March 5, 2009


An extended illness has its obvious metaphoric uses, (see Sontag, Susan.) Otherwise, to be ill for any length of time is little more than a state of uselessness. It is not leisure. It is not restfulness or time for contemplation or a chance to catch up on one's reading. The specifics in the present case, which appears to be a resurgent and violent head-cold; eyes water, nose runs, head aches, throat closes, etc., preclude the kind of wistful, lingering reflections on the preciousness of life that traditionally justify, if for the reader and not the sufferer, a long spell of illness and ick. I have no wisdom to share. My disease is too pedestrian to be interesting of itself. My thoughts likewise. I can not justify my rising to write here. It is habit now. It is reflexive. I do not, at this moment, feel the cold touch of mortality, just cold, cranky, damp. What Edith Wharton called the "date of disintegration" seems, at least tonight, still far off and so urgency enters into this not at all. If I am compelled by anything other than the most stubborn resolution to not not write, then any alternative motivation must remain unreproduced and fruitless, too tangled in my mucky thoughts to be teased out tonight. So, here I sit filling up the blank with ramblings, to no higher purpose than to mark the one hundredth entry made here in a month plus a bit on either side.

My original intention, should I manage such, was to mark this mild milestone by writing an appreciation of the father of the essay, the originator of the "attempt" as a literary form, Michel de Montaigne. In preparation, during the brief window this week between infections, I bought myself The Complete Works, translated by Donald M. Frame, published in 2003, by the Everyman's Library in one clumsy volume, two and a half inches thick, in keeping with the long tradition of that institution of preservation by compacting, commemoration in bricks. My resistance to the format overcome by the temptation of having everything in translation added to the Essays, I bought and hauled the thing home. I needn't describe my unhappiness in handling the book. Anyone reading here, anyone who knows me, must know by now what I think of such compendious clunkers. In bed, unable to countenance or follow even a favorite, a ritually watched Thursday night dose of televisual reality, I hefted my new book into my lap and tried to read without dew-dropping on the fresh, white pages. But I failed my friend Michel; the type is smallish, at least to my rheumy eyes, Montaigne's clear mind rendered inaccessible by the opacity of my own. Oh, reading "On Experience," a ray or two manage to pierce the fog -- thus today's quote, but I was eventually forced to concede defeat, close the book and blow and moan and feel very sorry for myself indeed.

I feel denied the company of a friend. Earlier today, another ritual, that of my Thursday morning breakfast with my dear friend N., was marred by the necessity of a certain distance being kept between us so as to avoid, hopefully, the very real risk of infecting him with my present discomfort. So he sat just there, while I stayed some distance away. Usually we sit, our heads very much together, at a small cafe-table, exchanging intimacies, gossiping, reviewing books, reviewing each other's week. But this morning, woolly-minded and cotton-mouthed, unable to even taste my danish, I too often lost the thread of our conversation, the words went dry, the sentences snapped rather than stretched. I speak, as I write, in paragraphs that require patience, perhaps because I read Henry James at too impressionable an age, though probably just because I haven't the confidence for brevity. But this morning, feeling the words unraveling out of my mouth, I knew poor N.'s patience was being tested. He is the dearest listener I know, a writer with a cultivated expertise in story-telling, impatient only to understand, to encourage, and most days he keeps a firm grasp and tugs me back when I unspool too far, but this morning the task was too much, even for him, and we sat staring now and again, at a loss. Poor N. I failed him too.

I ought not to have gone in to work today at all. I ought to have conceded my unfitness and stayed home, but I have missed too much work in being repeatedly sick this winter, and Thursdays are the only days when there is no one else at the desk to buy until noon. I stayed just long enough to be replaced. No idea what I bought or from whom. This day, it seems safe now to say, has been something of a loss in toto -- a phrase that calls to mind, aptly enough, the reluctance dear Dorothy's dog must have felt in being dragged back to dusty Kansas where he had no voice, no say, as it were, in anything, his only option being mute, or rather barking compliance with the wishes of another to be elsewhere. And so, at last, just here at the end, a metaphor for my illness, which carried my home, reduced me to this frustrated barking and left me no better option tonight than to circle my miserable, smelly bed, whine and go, as I do now, to sleep.

If I'm lucky, I'll dream feverishly of OZ, that magical place where illness does not exist, where dogs and chickens talk, and where I wish I was tonight.

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