The other day I was sitting here wondering if there was anything interesting at all I could say about headaches – my headaches, that is. Almost immediately I decided that no, there wasn’t, because the moment I think about it all that comes to mind is a litany of well-worn images, and the few that are less well-worn are still not interesting. It is the kind of thing that a creative writing teacher (who hadn’t bothered to prepare a decent lesson) might throw at you, though: your headache is a teapot – just what kind of a teapot is it and what is your relationship to it? Write for ten minutes and remember to go for particulars rather than abstraction.
My teapot is made of clay, it is dense and gray and has never been fired so it absorbs everything, and no-one would want the tea in any case because it would taste of clay. It is a completely useless teapot. It is huge and ugly (sorry, I can’t be more particular), it takes up a great deal of space and demands to have pride of place on the kitchen table so that everything else has to fit itself around the useless and ugly teapot. It will not be discarded or ignored. Try chucking it out and you will find it has mysteriously beamed itself back onto the table, it never breaks or turns into a prince/ss no matter how often you throw it at the wall.
Actually that was only about three minutes but I ran out of things to say, and anyway I had a headache. Happy to report that it has gone now and taken the teapot with it. It is a homeing teapot, so I am almost resigned to the fact that I will doubtless be seeing the wretched thing again.
I have been reading (yes) a novel by Janet Frame – “towards another summer”. It was published posthumously but was written in the 1960s, is autobiographical, as so much of her writing was, and I love it as I love almost everything she wrote. I think that for Janet Frame, writing was the only possible way she had of being alive, and she would have carried on doing it even without a single word of it being published. That kind of writing is worlds away from the writing which sets out to tell a story with a clear and particular point to it, and some kind of planned dramatic focus. The focus is always here and now, whether in the here and now of memory or present moment, each lived particular a revelation of self and of what it means to be alive here, now, then, in the world; everything a wonder, as well as a conundrum, problematic, especially other people; every part of them eloquent – the strange flecks in an eye as much as the words that might be spoken, her response, her attention so complete, nothing held back. No wonder she fell back on solitude and her small desk with its Olivetti typewriter and neatly-ordered pens and pencils which had been sharpened into fine points; when even the cracks in a paving stone spoke and everything, even the consistency of a biscuit in the mouth, has a language, and everything speaks to you. No wonder they locked her up, and would have lobotomised her if it hadn’t been for the slim volume of hers (The Lagoon) that had just won a literary prize. When she said that her writing saved her she meant it literally. She looked on everything with a wide and open eye. No wonder she required the confinement of a small room and asked only to be allowed to carry on conversing with herself in the way that such writers do.
And I can read the lady, my cognitively-impaired brain notwithstanding. Her words are food wherein I find nothing I cannot digest - I can take her whole and complete. Thank you, Janet.