Floating Words

Floating Words

In “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” Jean-Dominique Bauby explains the alphabet he used to communicate with visitors after waking from a coma caused by a stroke, leaving him paralyzed with only the ability to blink his left eye. Visitors would recite the alphabet, in order from most popular letter to least, and Bauby would blink when they reached the letter he wished to use. According to the kind of personality each visitor possessed, he or she would interpret the language differently – some given to fits of frustrated emotion when they couldn’t decode his words, others committed to painstaking, meticulous transcription.

The recollection reminded me of 2010, when my Mother, after waking from a coma, was unable to communicate for a time. She couldn’t speak, but she could hear. I wasn’t with her, but I would call every morning so she could hear my voice. My Dad would hold the phone to her ear and I would talk for a few minutes – fill the empty space with frivolous words: first of love, then mundane details of my days, then more love. Sometimes Papa would pull the phone away and describe Momma’s reaction if she smiled or nodded and my voice, not knowing its direction, would fill empty space, never landing. Words like “love”, “hope”, “miss”, today” never reached a destination; are still floating in the atmosphere in a North Carolina hospital room.

As Momma’s voice returned, conversation resumed, but because it was a strain, she chose her words carefully, was her own editor, spoke only what was necessary. Now her words come rapid-fire, but still laboured, still interspersed by attempts at great gulps of air that never fill her lungs. That never deters her; she keeps going, keeps talking. She no longer edits, when we speak, she puts on me every detail of the events that transpired to make her day miserable; every word spoken by those who have wronged her. I try to slow her down when she coughs or gasps, but she speaks as if in a race, forces all the words trapped inside her and making her ache, out of her and onto me.

I rarely speak; I don’t attempt to fit my own words into the space between hers. I listen, mostly silent, a sympathetic tsk here, a confirmation that I’m still on the line there, but no words of my own reach her. Even if they did, she would let them float with nowhere to land, there’s no space for me, no time for my words. She speaks as if her breaths are numbered, and I understand how she must feel, surviving what she did, feeling as though death will fully grasp her around the throat one day soon and squeeze, finish the job it started when she felt its fingers brushing along her skin. I’ll absorb what she spills onto me, do what I can to keep her breath coming, but sometimes, at my most selfish, all I want is for her to smile as I describe my day.

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The Sopranos, episode 602: When It’s Cold I’d Like To Die

This whole episode is a triumph: the way James Gandolfini is able to inhabit a different Tony is mesmerizing & you see in his performance how deep he’s able to go inside the character, how he & Chase have worked together to create this glorious, complex man. Every dream sequence in the series is eerie & spectacular, but this, Tony in his deepest sleep, is its best.

The song that ends the episode, Moby’s When It’s Cold I’d Like to Die with vocals by Mimi Goese (who sounds like Annie Lennox’s ghost) is the perfect melancholic accompaniment to the episode’s theme. The song begins with the line “Where were you when I was lonesome?” My heart breaks.

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Young Hearts Crying by Richard Yates

Young Hearts Crying by Richard Yates

Young Hearts Crying feels like one of those stories about children growing up. The stories usually begin with a cast of characters in elementary school and we watch them grow and change through high school, college and into adulthood. This story portrays our cast beginning in college, in their early 20s, and as they grow into middle-age, we see how each character chooses to change and evolve. The times change around them; some adjust, some resist. Success and failures in relationships, career, and personal health plague each character, each react by either accepting their limitations, challenging themselves to grow, or stagnating.

Stagnation is one of the most crippling fears that grip us as we age. Every character in the novel possesses a varying level of creativity: some are geniuses blessed with talent and success; some are clever minds who spark soon and fizzle, never able to grab hold of what they imagined would be a life-long career of creative success. My favourite character is a creative hobbyist. She throws herself into various creative endeavours: acting; writing; painting. She’s very talented at some art forms, only minimally talented at others, but she throws herself fully into each project, and falls out of each just as easily, her attempts to find herself felt organic and open more to experience than success.

Every character in the novels stays in contact with the others in one form or another throughout the course of the decades-long story. As they age, every meeting feels more forced and uncomfortable. It’s an excellent message I’ve been advocating for years: as we age, we change; we cannot always hold onto the passionate friendships from our 20s into our 40s because circumstance and experience will change us, fundamentally. We don’t stop changing once we reach adulthood; we do it our whole life. There might be people who you find when you’re young that stay with you for life, but chances are better that they won’t, and that’s ok. Live fully inside the time you’re in, and it won’t matter that this relationship that means so much when you’re 25 means nothing when you’re 52. It’s not a detriment of either person, whether in a marriage, friendship, or professional relationship, it all changes. Hold onto the people who are running along the same course as you, let the others go; attempt to do this without bitterness, and if you do come together again, years or decades later, your nostalgia will feel like a pleasant ache, and not as if admiring or loving this person from your past was a bitter mistake.

Find me now on my new site Les Beehive!