I’ve had a panic-feeling brewing in my chest of late. I forget that I’m still susceptible to this kind of worry, that knowing better doesn’t actually make it better.
I received two emails yesteray, rejecting a few proposals I’d sent off. I almost felt crushed, except that I was so happy that the editors had even taken the time to respond to my queries I couldn’t shake the sense that I’d made some sort of perverse progress. In celebration, and indeed mourning, I decided to take the long way home. I cycled through Port Meadow, surprised as always by the city dissapearing before my eyes. There were kids on bridges, leaping into the brown Thames. A trio of boys with an old bicycle attached to a rope, pedalling at high speed towards the river, over a hump, flying a few glorious feet through the air, splashing and sinking.
I cycled along the river pathway until I reached a nature reserve, somewhere between the Osney lock and Folly Bridge. To my left, the canal, the narrowboats with their potted plants, their sun-worn owners puffing smoke from deckchairs on the shore; to my right, the train tracks, the industrial detritus on the outskirts of a city: but in the nature reserve, nothing but green. I walked my bike in a circle through the heat. I passed only a man with a walking stick, and a sunbathing couple. Nothing to suggest my location (maybe I’d dreamt all this up); except the rush of a train, sometimes. Except the bells ringing out four o’clock from a church tower.
Maybe I’d been out in the sun too long; but as I cycled down my street at long last, almost an hour later, I started to feel truly strange; for though the day was only an ordinary one, though I’d been to work in the moring, eaten in the cafeteria as usual, had my two cups of coffee, I was returning home from the wrong direction. Do you know what this is like? Every day you cycle down Hurst Street from the James Street end, and now you’re cycling down Hurst Street from the Magdalen Road end. All the things you usually see and do on your commute (passing the Radcliffe Camera, gazing through the gates at All Souls thinking how cold, how unfriendly, yet how much you’d like someday to be allowed past the gates; crossing Magdalen Bridge, hearing bells if you’re lucky; struggling up the Iffley Road, the relief of turning finally into residential turf) erased. I did it deliberately, to shake myself out of a rhythm I think I had ceased to enjoy, to make myself see my world anew, but as soon as I’d arrived home I wondered if I’d been too ambitious, if I’d done something too drastic, if my spirit would recover its balance, if the vertigo would fade.
Later I tried to nap upstairs with the window open, but the dry air made my lungs feel scratchy and the heat went to my head, gave it strange thoughts. By evening I worried I was getting ill, and then I realized I was making myself ill by worrying, and then I worried that I wouldn’t be able to control anything, and felt even iller. Then I tried to be reasonable and count the worries, but this is harder to do than it sounds and I wound up just making dinner and sitting half-asleep on the couch with the Man, which was the most comforting thing of all.
But having said all that, having laid it in melodramatic stone, I must also say this: it’s a more productive breed of worry than I’ve often experienced in the past. I see progress in rejection and comfort in simple things (food, company); I can stay my mind from straying too far into the future. I can even, though the thought is still in its fragile infancy, consider that I may need to make some major thematic and contextual revisions to the book which will require hard work and strength of heart but which will ultimately make it a far better (more readable, more marketable, and indeed, more authentic) piece of writing. More on this, I’m sure, to come.