Yesterday I woke and tried to put aside something over which I spent most of the last week agonising. I had lost so much time trying to no avail to squeeze it into a satisfying shape. Sometimes it is difficult to distinguish what you can, what you should, and what you want to write or say or make. The day before while speaking to Lizzie I mentioned this and she—gently—reminded me that the conditions for most anything currently are suboptimal. Not to force it where it didn’t want to go.
Instead of writing, I decided I would paint something or other with my inks but when it came to it I was intimidated by the page. Next, I decided to make a list of films to watch. The list of films was the second of two lists I made this week. The first was a list of things I like and approve of and was prompted by a similar list by my friend mttw which was itself prompted by a text exchange between us. mttw sent me his, which was 64 things long and included butchers twine, sneaking into another screening after the film has finished, and tug boats (amongst other things). For my part, I sent a list of 65 (included as an addendum below) which included (amongst other things): leather, t4t couples, and secateurs. The second list was, as I say, a list of films to watch. This list is long and if we watched a film a night for a year we’d be two or three films shy of having watched them all.
Earlier in the weekend my father called and left five voicemails over 4 minutes each, which even for him is a lot. This time it transpired that someone, I couldn't really ascertain who, had delivered him some food. I think it was his friend and ex-girlfriend, but even before his diagnosis, he was always backwards in coming forwards so it’s difficult to be certain. Sometimes, a lot of the time, I find myself frustrated with the way my father interacts with me but more recently I’ve become more and more frustrated by how people interact with him, especially since his diagnosis.
Discourse about illness as a combatant that one must rally all one’s resources to defeat has rarely felt more present than it does now—just this morning the prime minister referred to Covid-19 as a mugger—or more stupid. As soon as my father received his mixed dementia diagnosis the same approach gathered around him like a coarse, itchy blanket he has since worn with obvious discomfort. He was to fight the disease by incorporating into his arsenal a strict regime of walking, learning piano, ceasing to drink, and beginning to eat fresh vegetables with every meal. I was to be conscripted into the effort without questioning its efficacy. But what use are such demands, always but especially when placed on someone whose diagnosis is inoperable, terminal? More useful for the demander than the demandee, I suspect.
The bag contained (amongst other things) lentils, rice, potatoes, and tinned and fresh vegetables. My father doesn’t know how to cook, has always outsourced that work to one woman or another and much though this has always ired me he is not, aged 73 and living with dementia, going to learn now. It’s a battle not worth attempting to fight.
Whenever I think about metaphors of enmity in illness or the imperative to shed the pre-diagnosis self like snakeskin, I’m reminded (alongside Sontag, Wolf, and Lorde) of this excellent passage lamenting the dearth of novel responses to terminal diagnoses from Jenny Diski’s equally excellent diary:
Do I have to start a campaign? Wear a badge, run, climb walls, swim inordinate lengths, dance the tango for a very long time, in return for money for cancer research? Whatever that is. Does the money go to the drug companies? To university labs? To Jeremy Hunt? What is this crowd-funded research, where is it happening? Am I going to appear calm in the face of destiny? Actually cheerful, with people saying I was wonderful? Should I affirm my atheism or collapse into religious comfort? Or should I turn my face to the wall? And when the symptoms kick in, will I suffer in silence, quote Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius, or will I refuse to go gentle and make an almighty fuss (‘Excuse me, I’m the cancer patient here!’). Dear God, not a bucket list? Really, there is nothing that I want to do before I die, except perhaps just lie back and enjoy the morphine, daydreaming my way to oblivion.
I am much less interested in attempting to remodel Rupert or to fit him into a shape that he resists than I am in asking him what he wants and collaborating with him so that he can have it, whether or not I like or think it’s particularly sensible. I anticipate, like Diski, his own approach is liable to resemble that last sentence much more than it is any of its predecessors.
A list of 65 things I like and approve of
the crispy base of rice left slightly too long in a shallow pan
sun-warmed strawberries picked straight from the plant
the word ‘chatoyant’
the smell of sweat on someone’s skin as they pass you in the street
leather (stiff or supple)
ready salted crisps
dull life documentaries
when someone responds to a very good tweet by saying ‘very good tweet’
chanting on a march
cooking videos in a language I don’t speak
the pure adrenaline & focus at the beginning of a new project
rolling onto your back in the sea & watching gulls plummet around you
t4t couples and trans people generally
tom of finland
the smell of other people’s laundry detergent
couples who have been together for a very long time without the diminishment of affection
the fantasy of going into a dark room (gay)
the reality of going into a dark room (photography)
reading about cruising
queers who model different ways of living
walking along a cliff in the sun
things that are built to last
building’s whose engraved stone signage evokes confidence in permanence
sweet Spanish vermouth
listening to school groups in museums and galleries
seeing people on old school hen night piss ups
the hermits cave
second hand books
pouring water on coir and watching it rise up and expand like a mutant
cold sheets after a hot shower or bath
the conspiratorial vibe of the game sardines
group solidarity in a given feeling
synaptic high from the sound of a synth
first and lasts swifts
watching babies learn to eat solid food
the smell of teddy’s paws, like rich tea biscuits and damp earth
municipal swimming pools
the sound of a full pub garden in the first days of warmth
walking home from a night out
a lover squashing fruit against the roof of your mouth, the juice spilling out
top surgery scars
growing something edible from seed
Image: Giant kelp shapes by Klaus