LA DOLCE BOREDOM
19 JAN 2023
Yesterday, before lunch, I was elevated from my bed and slid into my wheelchair. My two new best friends, Miss S, the woman with the shiny blue-green hair, and
the Maestro, the film producer and director, gathered at door of my room for a trip out.
Dear Readers, my dispatches will always be free and open to everyone. I am unable to use my hands I’m writing, via dictation, with the help of my family. If you could become a paid subscriber and support me, It’d mean so much.
They had arranged for someone equipped with the necessary two legs to push me to the bar of the clinic where the three of us would have a view of the hospital garden and some sheep on the hill in the distance.
At the cafe we had cappuccino and cake. As patients tend to, we discussed the various drugs we ingest every day; whether they are useful or not and how to get more of them according to our needs.
The Maestro has taken peyote in Mexico, according to the ceremony. He has tripped out in Nepal. I am very keen that Isabella knows that I am capable of making new friends.
When I think about It, I wonder how long it has been since I made a new friend that I liked and who liked me. Over the last five years I have really only seen old friends and my family. I guess it didn’t occur to me that I could be interested in someone new.
I woke up this morning thinking about my old life and how dull it was. I wonder whether I enjoyed the repetition of it or whether I had just become lazy. Boredom has a lot going for it. Many writers, from Kafka to Beckett, have taken it as their subject. I was wondering about Dickens as a writer of boring people.
But his boring characters are not boring at all; they are idiots, cretins or intriguing grotesques. For me, the writer who specialises in boredom, and in boring people, is Chekhov, who even had the balls to write a story with the title, “A Boring Story”.
There are bores in all his plays, and he doesn’t spare us the details. This person, he says to us, has almost crushed me to death, with the weight of their interminable words, and now on stage, even as you pay to watch it, I am going to do the same to you.
What writing teacher, in giving their finest advice, would ever recommend to a young writer that they deliberately create some of the most tedious people on earth?
I discussed this question with my two new best friends who both agree that boring people can be extremely popular, particularly as bosses.
My mother was the most boring person I have ever met. Because I was a child I had no choice but to spend many seconds, minutes, hours, and years with her. She had not the slightest interest in charming or entertaining anyone, least of all me.
She was not mean, cruel or uncompassionate. In fact, she could be kind. What she wanted was to reduce the atmosphere around her to an extreme inertia where nothing was alive or could flourish. She spoke in cliches. In fact she spoke in nothing but cliches, it was as if she were reading from ticket-tape of cliches.
Harold Pinter used many common cliches of the time to powerful and dramatic effect, but for my poor mother this was communication itself. She must have felt dead. She wanted to be dead, and she conveyed to us quite clearly that that is how she felt.
I guess this is commonly known as depression. In her more lively moments she would describe herself as placid.
My father was a well read, witty and cultured man. He earned a living and did most of the housework. Despite being a Muslim father he was a whizz with the hoover. He did the dusting. Despite my mother’s character he loved her.
He says this several times in his diaries, which I was rereading recently, that he found her frustrating and rigid, which she was, but he never thought either of leaving her or finding someone of better character, which wouldn’t have been difficult.
I wonder whether other parents and their marriages are equally baffling to their children. As a young man growing up, my father was my hero, and still is. The other day, before my accident, I wondered whether I was turning into my mother.
She had one life-long friend and she succeeded in turning that friendship into a tedious dispute. Liking other people was one thing she couldn’t bear.
If you started liking people, if there was excitement, anything could happen. And where might you go next? She was frightened. She was terrified her whole life.
I think in my fiction I have attempted to characterise her several times, but I always made her too interesting or tried to inject her with some vigour. Getting her right would have required more care from me as a writer. More Chekhovian exactness.
I have received a massive blow across the head and entered a new reality. My friend Miss S said this morning that hospital is often painful and boring, but it is usually interesting.
Thirty years ago, one of the first things my analyst told to me was to say almost everything that came into my mind. He would say that you could never know how the other would respond, that they could surprise you too. My mother never wanted to be surprised. Now I want nothing but surprises.
Tomorrow: more Amsterdam, more Freud, less boredom.
Your loving Hanif
Your convalescence; the way that your horizons have narrowed in some regards and expanded in others, has me thinking of my late grandmother. She grew up in poverty - a tin bath by the fire that served the entire family on Sunday evenings. Thanks to the efforts of my grandfather, who worked his way up from the lower echelons of the Shell oil company, she travelled all over the globe. In her later years she developed severe arthritis and could barely walk. Her hands resembled a pair of screwed-up paper bags.
Eventually her world shrank to an armchair, in the midst of a shaggy brown carpet, next to a set of sliding patio doors. Outside, a rotting wooden bird table stood beneath a sickly cherry tree. The tree had been colonised by peculiar worms that dangled from the branches at the end of silken threads..
One day my grandmother told me about a female blackbird that watched Coronation Street through the window.
"Dotty old woman," I thought.
The following evening I sat down to watch television with her. During the opening theme to Coronation Street, a brown bird hopped across the grimy crazy paving and took up a position by the patio doors, where it stared intently at the TV. It made me rethink my previously sceptical outlook regarding the possibility of reincarnation.
Animals were always drawn to my grandmother. They loved her unconditionally. She was like the Disney version of Snow White who got too old to twirl around the kitchen, but who retained that kernel of inner goodness - that light that you can sense within a person, even though it cannot be seen with the naked eye.
I have just started reading your newsletter, beginning in the midst of your hospitalization. My younger son had a spinal cord injury at age 16 and I remember the trauma of those early days and first year vividly. He had a T6-T7 injury and is a paraplegic. You are in the early days of healing and more recovery is possible. May you be surprised by joy in the days and weeks ahead.