Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Slings and Arrows

Good news.  My doctor has given the thumbs up to coffee, chocolate and smoking.  Ok she is not a GP, she is the alternative kind who dispenses small sugar pills with exotic-sounding names and occasionally some lines of verse by Rudolf Steiner – but she is also a proper, medically-trained doctor.  Just in case you want to argue.  But why would you?  Here is the low-down: if you have low blood pressure, coffee first thing is brilliant and much healthier than any medicine that might be prescribed; stress is much worse for you than cigarettes and if the latter helps with the former then smoking can be seen as a health measure; chocolate, and sweet things in general, can help to bring “organisation” into the body.  Obviously one does not want to bring any of this under the harsh light of sensible scrutiny.  She would probably throw wine into the mix but the sad fact is that I can’t tolerate more than a little of this.  If it were otherwise I might, like the mater’s husband, begin drinking before breakfast and carry on till bedtime.  He is nearly ninety, so clearly it hasn’t done him any harm, unless one factors in what feels suspiciously like paranoid personality disorder, but that may have nothing to do with wine.  At time of writing he is not allowing the mater (who has Alzheimers) to have contact with me – hence my smoking as health measure.  It has been a time of stress and upset.  One has weathered this before, but this time it feels more entrenched and there is no telling how the situation will resolve.

Last night I felt too sad to eat.  This morning I breakfasted on kiwi fruit, fried fish and latte, made with my lovely Bialetti espresso-maker.  I breathed in the scent of mint and roses, given from my friend’s garden, now in a jug on the kitchen table. I am thinking about how the exhortation (in school hymns, in Bach’s Christmas Oratorio) to Be Joyful sometimes struck me as peremptory but actually makes a lot of sense.  Joy may sometimes come as a kind of grace, but mostly we have to do it for ourselves.  For some this is an extraordinary achievement in the face of overwhelming dreadfulness.  For me there is enough else to be joyful about to make it a properly sustainable activity.  I spent a couple of nights with daughter in Hackney last week and met with son for lunch.  My children are loving and beautiful = Joy.  I left my phone charger at daughter’s flat but neighbour had a spare one so she didn’t have to send it in the post.  The washing machine broke down and we thought we would have to replace it but then Mr. Signs (though he didn’t know how) fixed it.  While these might not come under the heading of Joy, it is still worth celebrating small wins of the more mundane kind.  As Tesco so eloquently puts it: every little helps. 

I got drunk in the middle of the day on Saturday.  I can’t remember when that last happened, and when it did it was probably for a more cheerful reason than wanting an anaesthetic for the emotions.  The after-effects (discounting the physical) were such that on Sunday I felt moved to attempt a visit to the mater’s house, making myself believe that the substance of good will and sanity would triumph over the forces of darkness, and that all manner of things would be well.  It was not a success.  Perhaps insanity is contagious, or the after-effects of drunkenness more interesting than we know, but I climbed out of the car outside Signs Cottage and announced that I was Jesus Christ.  My neighbour (the one with the roses) exploded with laughter = Joy.  The next day we went for a walk and I found a piece of twig with a catapult-like fork at the end of it.  It either represents a sling of the kind that David used against Goliath or a two-fingered salute. Whichever, it seemed to be an auspicious Sign.  Back outside my neighbour’s house, a young sparrow in mid-flight hurled itself against her kitchen window and fell dead at our feet.  The milky-white film was over its eye and there was no reviving it. 

Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing?  And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will (Matthew 10.29)

We wrapped the lovely creature in kitchen roll and binned it. 

The sparrow was not sent as an omen to forewarn me.  And I am not Jesus Christ. 


Anna MR said...

No, I don't think there was a forewarning there, either. I would see it more as a "this sort of thing is what you're entering" – not a warning, or a forewarning, just a statement of fact. Being Jesus Christ brings with it a necessity to be quite close to the Other Big Guy (who may be of a less benign disposition altogether). Although I would still really like to hold on to the idea of you as Jesus Christ, Signs. There's something highly comforting about that idea. So just indulge me, please. Ta.

By the way: they have brought back the beautiful number-picture word verification. It was, as you know, gone for a while; its return is, I believe, An Auspicious Sign (you've got me at it now, see).

As always, your writing raises many thoughts. On the healthy/not-healthy side of chocolate cetra: my hairdresser was very stressed out when she was pregnant, and the doctors told her it was perfectly okay for her to smoke three cigarettes a day, if it eased her stress levels, as stress was going to be worse for the baby than three cigarettes. As I understand it, you are not pregnant (although do correct me if I'm wrong), so I'm sure that your limit is way higher than three, if with it comes the easing-off of stress levels. Coffee is a gift from the gods, end of story. And chocolate, particularly the dark stuff (which I know you prefer), is packed full of healthy goodness such as flavonoids, which make it an essential part of a vegetarian diet (right up there with red wine). What's good for a vegetarian is good for everyone, surely?

That is, of course, unfortunate about the alcohol/wine situation, that only small amounts can be imbibed. I'm trying to figure out a way out of this predicament for you, but given that I am not Jesus Christ, it may take some time.

Joy. You got me thinking of its definition – is it a higher or a deeper-running thing than happiness? I am not sure. So I shan't say more on that. However, I will tell you that a great reason for joy occurred to me while I was thinking about what you wrote and told us: you have given your children (Joy) a life wherein they will never have to become Jesus Christ to try and get past a stepdad who won't let them see their mater. This, of course, is as life should be for all, but, as we know, isn't; and you have good cause to be proud of your parenting and the way you have led your life and the lives of your children (Joy).

With some major mwahs coming your way from here


Pants said...

Hearty hug and much love.


Reading the Signs said...

Anna, yes exactly my reading of the (sparrow) event, though I could hardly bear to acknowledge it. You are a sign-reader too, as you probably already know. and I suspect a highly talented one. We can keep this between ourselves, though, so that I can still claim the title. Though it probably won't bring me fame or a decent pension, one has to hold on to straws of hope in these straightened times. If it does I will share some of the proceeds with good friends like you. The champagne will flow and there will be a cherry on every cake. Let us hold on to this thought.

My first thought was that Joy was deeper, but working on the priciple of as above, so below, perhaps it is higher too. This makes mere happiness seem like the poor relation, which feels kind of unfair, especially as happiness is so lovely and always welcome everywhere. But Joy comes even when the conditions are such that happiness can't. It is not subject to the same rules.

Amen to the thought that my children will never have to become JC, esp with their own parents!

I have just had my morning latte and nodded to the gods. And last night I made the best hot chocolate ever. Here is the secret: you mix proper plain chocolate powder with a spoonful of Horlicks, a bit of cornflour and sugar into a pase, do the business with hot milk and grate dark chocolate into it. I got the Horlicks tip from Jamie Oliver. Healthy goodness, flavonoids and uplift in a mug.

Mwahs back atcha, sweet you.

Reading the Signs said...

Pants - thank you, Lovely :) X

Anna MR said...

Well funnily enough I had the very same train of thought as you did: that joy can come even when happiness cannot. And then all of a sudden I wasn't sure, and that perhaps I would need to properly define each one and then ponder upon it again.

But oh woe, how to define them? It is not easy, I warrant. Although I think there is a quality to joy that is perhaps more slicing? If you know what I mean. It can slice through you – a bit like stab through you, only with, you know, a slicing movement, longer wound, swift, long, sharp, more cutting, less aggressive than a stab although perhaps just as sudden. And then happiness, well, happiness often has that balloon-like quality, does it not? Only like the balloon is inside one, inflating enormously and sort of ecstasy-inducingly within one's chest, impossible, impossible that a feeling of such swelling and welling could remain within me, surely I will burst.

Or something?

And I do think that falling in love, or, in fact, being freshly, totally, suddenly, yes, ecstatically in love is a(n example of the) balloony happiness feeling; even if the rest of one's life, the universe, and everything is full of total and abject shite that one just cannot bear to face or carry, one still has that balloony feel, and perhaps it is all one has, so that the world and its shite can go on shite-ing itself all it likes, the love-ballooned-one cares not a button, cares not a fig.

Whereas joy can slice one throughout, slice right through one leaving a sharp wound of something beautiful realised and experienced in spite of it all – so that the shite and pain is still there, recognisable, palpable, but the painful beauty of joy, its lift, is there alongside it, making it bearable.

So hmmm. I guess yes, joy can come when happiness cannot – or joy can be felt when happiness remains absent - or something. But my original question – namely, which one is deeper, which higher – is, I am now beginning to think, a badly-formulated question and should therefore, perhaps, be scrapped.

I don't know. What do you reckon, Signskins the One-and-Only True Reader of Signs? (Although don't get me wrong, I am tickled that you should think I belong to that caste, too, and the mere idea of champagne flowing and cherries being picked, plucked, popped into one's mouth, topping every cake and being eaten is delightful enough to make everything more bearable, yes verily.)


Fire Bird said...

inarticulately newly returned from work, this post brings me joy, as well as a big frown at the outrageous fortune part... delving into some of my own archaic outrageous f. i am on the look out for all possible instances of joy

oh yes the weird doors and gates are back!

Reading the Signs said...

Hello Fire Bird - I wonder if the weird doors and gates are really Signs, and if only we could read them we would understand something about our destiny.

Anna? It's a thought, isn't it - and surely it cannot be an accident that I quite often find them so very hard to read. And me a Sign-reader. And yet in my heart of hearts I know everything - or at least I must have known that this mater-related business might happen because there is the dull, sad ou boum! of recognition. To know about ou boum you will need to have read Forster's Passage to India. Sorry about that, but it is a very good book.

I am in a quandary now because I am suddenly feeling that everything you say about Joy might apply to happiness too. I have known it razor-sharp at times. On the other hand, I have sometimes felt happy after taking pain-killing medication, and that ain't joy it's just a fuzzy elevation. There has to be some kind of love involved with joy, perhaps. But would a mathematician not experience it as exquisite clarity, or a fisherman as a deep satisfaction when pulling in a net of the silver darlings?

I think the way I feel now, I would choose a summer of airy happiness over joy - just as sometimes what I want more than anything is an afternoon tea with scones, cake and a pot of Darjeeling tea rather than any kind of proper food.


Anna MR said...

Goddamit, now I am exposed as not having read Forster's Passage to India. And me, with my reputation of being well-read. Deary me.

But the joy/happiness quandary – well exactly. That's what happened to me before, during my first comment session here. Whatever I said of one seemed to apply to the other also, depending on the circumstances cetra. However, I feel quite clearly and definitely that joy and happiness are not fully synonymous or interchangeable. I feel someone should sort this out soon, because it leaves me feeling all quandaresque all over.

And yes – joy is something that can be experienced within, say, the mathematics thing you mention (one extrapolates, okay, for one is not by any definition of the word a mathematician; of course, neither is one a logician (my highly charming Logic Professor would kill himself laughing and come up with some highly appealing sarky thing if I claimed to be such), but there is a definite joy to achieving some kind of intellectual clarity through managing for instance a logic problem that is very difficult for one).

And then you can be really happy if you get a good grade. Especially from logic or some other Very Difficult Thing where you couldn't have faked it, where the professor or whoever marked the thing didn't just fall for your routine (they often do, I believe).

I think choosing a summer of airy happiness is the natural human response, because joy is more extreme and carries the aspect of (potential?) pain.

Okay, now I no longer am sure about anything I've written. I will go and sit alone, scared and confused, pondering over this unsolvable mystery of happiness and joy…

(…not really)

x A

Reading the Signs said...

Anna, you mean you are not really going to sit alone and ponder the unsolvable mystery? Well dammit, I mean to say someone has to do it (bags not me though). I dunno.

Re Passage to India - I had to read it for my English A level. Was convinced it would be deadly dull and would probably never have bothered to find out for myself it it hadn't been on the list. It taught me something profound about what good literature could do. Please don't ask me what the profound thing was but it was a hallelujah experience only to be matched by the discovery of Virginia Woolf.

I am now going through Ibrato 393 :)

Anna MR said...

Will it ever cloy, this odd diversity of happiness and joy? (Or indeed, yes, misery and joy – I feel almost a sinner for having tampered with those lyrics, as I happen to adore the song.)

Well yes, "not really" in the sense that I refuse to be scared and alone in a corner (much as it would suit my general propensity and particular situation). (Actually, on second thought, why on earth am I refusing such a thing? It sounds pretty much the ticket, actually.) But this bloody thing with the unsolvable mystery is obviously something that should involve the hopelessly-doomed-to-fail-yet-of-cosmic-importance-to-be-attempted ponderations of various great and, let's face it, smaller minds. Verily yes so.

Funnily enough, I've never ever got very into Virginia Woolf either. Hush, don't be telling people. I read To the Lighthouse as a young girl (in Finnish translation, shame on me) and it left zip mental impression that would carry on until today. And – and this is rather an embarrassing confession, but I will remain honest, even at great cost to my reputation – I did attempt Mrs Dalloway not all that long ago, whilst I lived in Hawai'i (seven years, in fact; is that long ago or not?), and after a handful of pages, judged it overrated and left it at that. Yes, that's exactly what I did, God help us. However, I'm trying to become less of an arrogant tit: very, very recently (within days, in fact) I ordered the same Mrs Dalloway (the annual summer book sales are on, hurrah – whatever else happens, one always, always, always has to be able to afford wine and books. Did I say that already? Either way, the thought still holds) and am fully intending to read it.

So I am expecting a hallelujah experience, okay, JC Signs? You've virtually promised me one now.

I almost, but not quite, googled lbrato 393. I had already opened a new window to query it, when I realised the total error of my ways.Of my waylnam 412.