Work. Work. You’ve fallen behind with your work. So you work without stopping. Except for meals. You can’t taste the food, really, because you keep glancing at your watch. Time to get back to work. When you go to bed at night, your eyelids become a screen on which the computer pages of your work are projected. Every time you close your eyes, you see the pages of your work. You dream of running after trains. Of forgetting where you live. Of walking up a mountain, carrying a large rucksack on your back and a heavy supermarket carrier bag in each hand. You wake up feeling exhausted. You decide to stay in bed until just after the news headlines on the radio but fall asleep again for over an hour.
You just want some rest.
You decide to sit down and do some work before breakfast. Just translate one chapter, then you’ll get dressed and have breakfast. It was a short chapter, so you might as well do one more. Get ahead. You get stuck at a word you don’t know. It’s a section of a Mediaeval castle. You can’t find the translation into English in any paper or online dictionary you consult. Forty-five minutes later, you discover that this architectural detail existed only in one region, in 10th Century Rome. No other castle in Italy, let alone Europe has it. So there is no English equivalent for that word. It’s untranslatable. Should you keep it in the Italian original and add a footnote, or paraphrase it? You can’t think straight. You resent the author for using such technical vocabulary. It’s a novel, for crying out loud – how does the use of this complicated word advance the story? You resent the nameless 10th Century Roman architect who built that castle in the first place. You get angry with over a millennium of wind, rain and earthquakes for not destroying that damned castle, and erase all evidence of that particular architectural detail. You start feeling faint and realise it’s after one o’clock and you haven’t had breakfast yet. In fact, you’re still in your pyjamas. You go to the bathroom to wash your face. In the mirror, someone with a sallow face looks back at you. Dark rings under the eyes. Eyes with no light. A tired face. An old face. You look away and comb your hair without looking into the mirror. Who cares how you look, anyway?
After lunch – or was it breakfast? – you decide two more chapters, then you’ll go for a walk. You need some air. You need exercise. Your back feels compacted and rigid, your neck and shoulders as though there’s a metal coat hanger inside. The ‘phone starts ringing. Somebody needs you. Someone close to you. You have to help. You’ve had to help almost every day for weeks now. Not only that but you have to do so joyfully. Isn’t it what we’ve all been taught? That you have to be kind? That there are certain people you automatically, naturally love, and who automatically, naturally love you? And what if it doesn’t come naturally for you to love them, or for them to love you? Still, you have to help. There’s no one else but you who can do it. So you try and help, again. Except that inside, you’re screaming. Screaming until you realise that the screaming has somehow escaped from your secret inside, and is pouring out of your mouth, like poison. Your temples are throbbing and there’s a sharp pain in your head. You’re screaming and crying – and suddenly you vomit. You feel like you’ve smashed things, people, yourself. That’s when the guilt sinks its teeth into you. You hate yourself.
You just want some rest.
By the time you’ve helped whoever needed helping, you realise it’s grown dark outside. You haven’t been out and you haven’t done enough work.
As the days turn into weeks, then months, you start feeling as though you’re not totally, firmly inside your body. You’re there and yet you’re not quite there. The tension that makes your muscles ache confirms that you’re alive and yet you’re somehow not entirely in your body. Your life is not really your life. Your e-mail inbox has many unread e-mails or, worse, e-mails that you’ve opened but don’t actually remember reading. You haven’t seen people, listened to the news, read a newspaper, a book, or your friends’ blogs, watched television for ages. Come to think of it, when was the last time you did anything for yourself? You’re in a bubble of thick, sticky fog. You’re in a cold, damp, smelly dungeon.
You decide to go to evensong at the Cathedral. You know it will soothe you. Forty-five minutes where your mobile can’t ring. Where you can relax. They’re singing Byrd’s Mass for Three Voices. You’re about to leave the house when the phone rings. Your help is needed again. It’s too late for evensong now. Evensong. Missing it suddenly acquires a huge importance and you feel unfairly deprived. Frustrated. So frustrated, you lunge at the wall, and slap it hard. You catch the soft part of your wrist against the door frame. That’s how you get a painful bump on your wrist for two weeks after that.
You just want some rest.
An acquaintance calls you and starts telling you his or her problems. You nearly hang up on them. You nearly tell them to go and get lost. You wind up the conversation quickly, abruptly and – you know only too well – rudely. You just can’t bear it. You don’t want to understand anyone anymore.
You just want some rest!
Finally, you press the “send” button and dispatch your completed work. You decide that you can’t want to help anyone for the time being. No. Why lie? The truth is, you don’t want to help anyone. You’re at the end of your tether. It’s your first day of relative freedom but you’ve been indoors for so long, you’re slightly apprehensive about going out. Somehow, you propel yourself to the coffee shop near the market place, and order a cappuccino. You start reading a book. An actual book. One that you want to read. There’s a blind young woman sitting next to you, with a cream-coloured labrador guide dog. You ask the young woman if you can stroke the dog. “Of course,” she says. You pat the dog and he walks up to you and sniffs the air around you. You think he must smell how bad, how weak, how angry and how toxic you are. A dog must be able to detect the black poison, like tar, inside you. That there is no hope for you or in you.
The dog’s dark brown eyes bore into you. They are soft, deep and totally un-judging. He stares so deep into your soul, that for a moment, you lose yourself in his eyes. You feel wrapped in a warm, soft blanket of totally unconditional love. You’re at one with the dog, with the Universe, and with yourself.
You wish you could ask the dog’s forgiveness for all you have done and all you are.
The dog comes close to you, and begins to lick your hand.
I don’t know how you had the energy, spirit, time, sensitivity, desire to write such a moving post. That means all those things are hiding beneath the weight of work and obligations just waiting to come alive. To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven. And so, now, that thing is work and helping someone in need. Hang in there, Katia. Spring is coming. And I always think about your post about the Green Sprouts. Was it last spring? Or the spring before it? I can’t remember. But how lucky I am to have been reading your work these past years! Looking forward to many more! xo Peace and love, Eva
Thank you, Eva. Your comment is clearly deeply felt and means a lot to me xx
Hi, Katia. Thanks for giving us a post, which represents some of your valuable time, and thank you for letting us know and see your vulnerability; I guess the universe sometimes craps on us all, but I think you’ve shown by now that by and large you are one of those who always tries to solve her problems herself. And it’s important for you to let us know that you are feeling stressed out, because I’ve been wondering myself how you are doing, how your work is going, etc. I hope you get to keep that appointment with evensong before long. For me, it’s Gregorian chants that I find especially soothing, though I don’t own a single record of them. The shop manager used to play them to us when we were working under deadline on staging details when I was taking theatre shop as an undergraduate, and though I haven’t had a chance to listen to them much since, I still remember how much better and calmer I always felt. Stay as cool as you are, and I hope all things go well for you soon.
Thank you so much. Your comment is very touching.
I hope you are getting some rest, Katia. I felt every bit of your longing for it. xo B
Thank you, Barbara. I can’t have a proper rest yet – but hopefully soon :–)
I wondered why I hadn’t heard from you for quite a long time. Now it turns out you have been working on a book. I know what it is like being overwhelmingly absorbed in work. But a good rest is necessary. Otherwise one can find himself in a state of nervous exhaustion which was the case with me. Take care and keep well, Katia. I hope your work will be rewarded with readers’ interest and due attention.
Thank you, Anna. My books are all translations. Sadly, I haven’t had any time to write anything of my own, recently. Thank you for reading and commenting – lovely to hear from you.
For the first time I wish you didn’t write so well…….. But at the risk of sounding too American, thank you for sharing your feelings. I’m hoping you are seeing a bit of light at the end of a rather lengthy tunnel. X
Thank you, Liz.
I think of you always. Steady on.
Thanks, Jane. Hope life is being good to you. xx
The hardest thing is to carve out that much needed space for yourself, Katia—an hour or two to start with and eventually a whole afternoon or day. I’m so glad you managed to grab those precious moments for yourself to “recharge.” Now I know why we haven’t heard from you in so long. . .Please take care and keep well. No matter what, remember that work must never consume all your energy ’til there is nothing left–otherwise it becomes just another dislikeable chore. . .. .
The trouble is, works starts piling up when there are family demands on your time. So lovely of you to read and comment. Thank you :–)
What a gripping narration of your marathon. You must feel liberated. Wings slowly stretching and unfolding. Good to hear from you again. I missed your stories.
Thank you, it means a lot to me.