Extract from The Ballad of the Sad Cafe, by Carson McCullers
“First of all, love is a joint experience between two persons — but the fact that it is a joint experience does not mean that it is a similar experience to the two people involved. There are the lover and the beloved, but these two come from different countries. Often the beloved is only a stimulus for all the stored-up love which had lain quiet within the lover for a long time hitherto. And somehow every lover knows this. He feels in his soul that his love is a solitary thing. He comes to know a new, strange loneliness and it is this knowledge which makes him suffer. So there is only one thing for the lover to do. He must house his love within himself as best he can; he must create for himself a whole new inward world — a world intense and strange, complete in himself. Let it be added here that this lover about whom we speak need not necessarily be a young man saving for a wedding ring — this lover can be man, woman, child, or indeed any human creature on this earth.
Now, the beloved can also be of any description. The most outlandish people can be the stimulus for love. A man may be a doddering great-grandfather and still love only a strange girl he saw in the streets of Cheehaw one afternoon two decades past. The preacher may love a fallen woman. The beloved may be treacherous, greasy-headed, and given to evil habits. Yes, and the lover may see this as clearly as anyone else — but that does not affect the evolution of his love one whit. A most mediocre person can be the object of a love which is wild, extravagant, and beautiful as the poison lilies of the swamp. A good man may be the stimulus for a love both violent and debased, or a jabbering madman may bring about in the soul of someone a tender and simple idyll. Therefore, the value and quality of any love is determined solely by the lover himself.
It is for this reason that most of us would rather love than be loved. Almost everyone wants to be the lover. And the curt truth is that, in a deep secret way, the state of being beloved is intolerable to many. The beloved fears and hates the lover, and with the best of reasons. For the lover is forever trying to strip bare his beloved. The lover craves any possible relation with the beloved, even if this experience can cause him only pain.”
If you fly too close to the sun, your wings will melt.
I will not pride myself in thinking that my emotional ambiguity towards this time of year is in any way a symbol of a profound and insightful psyche. I offer it only as an explanation as to my dismay at the events of today, the mundane of which I will not bore you with and the sad – or even tragic – of which I will not indulge myself by describing.
However, the cynicism in me has to some extent been corroded in the past two hours. This is not a tale of Christmas miracles or emotional triumph, but more a reflection on the absurd nature of the world we inhabit, and the joy of small pleasures which seem so far removed from conscious human interference that they may perhaps remain in my mind as a fluke of universal factors coinciding on this occasion to my favour.
My perception of time has taken a toll for the illogical of late, so it becomes hard for me to say whether what I am about to explain took place days, weeks or months ago. I hope you will endure my inaccuracies and continue to read regardless.
An indefinite period of time ago, I found myself in the post office section of a WH Smith. I had been sent there to post some documents by my boss, so had on me only a chocolate bar and five pounds to pay for the stamps. In the queue I absent-mindedly picked up a novel which was lying on the counter, as if a fickle shopper had at the last minute decided not to purchase it – perhaps deciding it was an inappropriate gift, or realising after more thorough consideration that it was not to his or her taste. Anyway, I digress.
I read a few pages and found myself submerged into the world which had been created by the author. The dialogue was gripping and in just minutes I found the satirical yet reflective prose to be compelling. So compelling, in fact, that I failed to notice that it was my turn to post the packages until the person behind be cleared his throat rather vigorously. At this point I swiftly closed the book and proceeded with my task, without thinking to check the title or the author’s name.
The following day I returned to the bookshop, hoping perhaps that the novel might still be on desk or that I would recognise the cover if I browsed through some of the shelves. But faced with a sea of books categorised by genre and alphabetised, I had not a clue where to begin. After an aimless twenty minutes I left deflated, assuming sadly that would be the end of the story.
Today, on Christmas day, I received an email from Amazon, alerting me as to the late delivery of an order and partly due to extreme boredom I clicked on the link and found myself staring at the bottom of the website where somewhere, somehow, a machine had logged my recent purchases and decided I might enjoy a novel entitled The Sense Of An Ending, by Julian Barnes.
Against all the odds, I had stumbled upon my mystery book, and not content with waiting a week for it to arrive on my doorstep I am now the proud owner of my first electronic book, which I have spent the last two hours reading, despite the glaring light of my computer screen threatening to burn out my pupils.
Granted, this is no tale of joyous Christmas wishes coming true or unexplained phenomenons which may be considered ‘miracles’, but it has brought me tremendous pleasure, and perhaps against my better judgement led me to a train of thought which often alludes me. Isolated acts of individuals are often given little importance, yet maybe each one of these plays a crucial part in a a sequence of coincidence which occasionally leads to the momentary happiness of a single human being.
My life has not been altered and fundamentally neither have any of my beliefs, but had I not been sent to the Post Office, had there not been such a long queue, had I not ordered a book a few days ago and therefore received that email, had a number of people not bought the same books as I have and created a link between my account and this particular book…
Well, had none of this happened I suppose not a lot would have changed. Then again, who knows what may come of what seems like such a minute detail when framed in the context of my life to date. Perhaps this is my participation in a chain of events leading up to something which will make someone else’s Christmas just a little more special.
Ailurophile A cat-lover.
Assemblage A gathering.
Beleaguer To exhaust with attacks.
Brood To think alone.
Bucolic In a lovely rural setting.
Bungalow A small, cozy cottage.
Chatoyant Like a cat’s eye.
Conflate To blend together.
Cynosure A focal point of admiration.
Dalliance A brief love affair.
Demesne Dominion, territory.
Demure Shy and reserved.
Denouement The resolution of a mystery.
Desultory Slow, sluggish.
Dulcet Sweet, sugary.
Ebullience Bubbling enthusiasm.
Efflorescence Flowering, blooming.
Elision Dropping a sound or syllable in a word.
Elixir A good potion.
Eloquence Beauty and persuasion in speech.
Embrocation Rubbing on a lotion.
Emollient A softener.
Epiphany A sudden revelation.
Erstwhile At one time, for a time.
Ethereal Gaseous, invisible but detectable.
Evanescent Vanishing quickly, lasting a very short time.
Forbearance Withholding response to provocation.
Furtive Shifty, sneaky.
Gambol To skip or leap about joyfully.
Gossamer The finest piece of thread, a spider’s silk.
Halcyon Happy, sunny, care-free.
Harbinger Messenger with news of the future.
Imbrication Overlapping and forming a regular pattern.
Imbroglio An altercation or complicated situation.
Imbue To infuse, instill.
Incipient Beginning, in an early stage.
Ineffable Unutterable, inexpressible.
Ingénue A naïve young woman.
Inglenook A cozy nook by the hearth.
Insouciance Blithe nonchalance.
Inure To become jaded.
Labyrinthine Twisting and turning.
Lagniappe A special kind of gift.
Lagoon A small gulf or inlet.
Languor Listlessness, inactivity.
Lassitude Weariness, listlessness.
Leisure Free time.
Lilt To move musically or lively.
Lissome Slender and graceful.
Lithe Slender and flexible.
Love Deep affection.
Mellifluous Sweet sounding.
Moiety One of two equal parts.
Mondegreen A slip of the ear.
Nemesis An unconquerable archenemy.
Offing The sea between the horizon and the offshore.
Onomatopoeia A word that sounds like its meaning.
Opulent Lush, luxuriant.
Palimpsest A manuscript written over earlier ones.
Panacea A solution for all problems
Panoply A complete set.
Pastiche An art work combining materials from various sources.
Penumbra A half-shadow.
Petrichor The smell of earth after rain.
Plethora A large quantity.
Propinquity An inclination.
Pyrrhic Successful with heavy losses.
Quintessential Most essential.
Ratatouille A spicy French stew.
Ravel To knit or unknit.
Riparian By the bank of a stream.
Ripple A very small wave.
Scintilla A spark or very small thing.
Seraglio Rich, luxurious oriental palace or harem.
Serendipity Finding something nice while looking for something else.
Summery Light, delicate or warm and sunny.
Sumptuous Lush, luxurious.
Surreptitious Secretive, sneaky.
Susquehanna A river in Pennsylvania.
Susurrous Whispering, hissing.
Talisman A good luck charm.
Umbrella Protection from sun or rain.
Untoward Unseemly, inappropriate.
Vestigial In trace amounts.
Wherewithal The means.
Woebegone Sorrowful, downcast.
Everyone needs someone to listen. Sometimes the best ears are a blank page.
Poems needn’t be about love or death or poverty or tears. Sometimes the
best most interesting words I write are the ones I bash out in fifteen seconds. I was reading through some old writing tonight, and came across this, which I wrote in satirical honour of my good friend Georgette some time ago. Enjoy!
Lipstick marks to smudge to death,
Well-behaved - except in bed.
Spray-painted skirts and lollipop silouette,
The hottest girl you ever met.
Or so I say, perhaps I’m deluded?
The calories I eat are immensely well-suited
To a nick-name from a worried friend,
Who thinks my waist-line needs a mend.
Mills and Boon will keep me sane,
Articles on sex and dates in the rain
Though better flat hair than pretentious art
I never did get what that crap was about.
And maybe my pronunciation is not what it could be
Engagement rings with giant rubies
Show me off as a classy girl,
I just don’t get those prudish pearls.
Chain-smoking in circles thinking about tomorrow
A dissertation with vodka will follow.
And then what? I ask again and again
In my high-pitched voice which scares off the men
Suddenly the answer appears as a light
Just outside room 47 at night:
Away on the neurotic boat I’ll sail,
Knowing that only true friends would call me a whale.