Sometimes we all need to fill ourselves up with stories. Sating ourselves with great thirsty, dry-throatedly glorious gulpings of fresh stories and tales. The kind of tales that revive and ignite us; the kind of stories that make their way to our hearts with an unwavering, straight and true line.
I can always tell when I am feeling dull, and in between, lacking in any kind of iridescent lustre. At times like that I don’t really read too much, as though there is nothing new to hear, or say, or think about. And I feel as though I am static like some great lumpen holiday caravan, perched on a cliff, lashed by the prevailing sea and wind to no avail – somehow having lost the ability to be moved, in any way by anything at all.
As awful as those times can be, I have found that there is a weird necessity for that feeling every now and again. A kind of cultural barrenness where all those little things that make us human; our love for art, music, storytelling, cooking, dancing, loving as a way of exploring our own existence and meaning, just aren’t working for us at the present time.
When it does happen, I find that it usually coincides with personal change. Not necessarily the big life-changing moments, but rather just the small yet palpable, though not insignificant, changes in how my life is unfolding. It could be a changing perspective perhaps, even something as simple as a change of season, a change of heart over someone, or something; all of which in their own way have implications for whoever I am at any particular moment.
I have found that the last few months, during the earlier period of lockdown, and quite frankly, throughout this pandemic led year generally, this has been something I have felt as acutely as ever before. As though nothing quite fits as it did before. Not an altogether unsurprising revelation I suppose.
And it appears to be a feeling shared by many others I have spoken to. A feeling that familiar and habitual joys just don’t feel the same. Or, like wearing trainers to church – it didn’t seem quite right, worryingly inappropriate. I felt that reading, just the practice of sitting down to read felt weird. It seemed selfish, or indulgent, to open a book and nuzzle down to read, legs curled up underneath you, when to all intents and purposes a great pandemic was unfolding beyond the kitchen window. As though by sitting down to read I was entirely unaffected by it what was happening all around me.
But slowly that feeling of alienation began to change to change. I felt a rush of hunger for culture again in all its forms, always a good sign for me. It is a way I can tell I am optimistic, engaged, curious, participating. It is a response to feeling alive and looking forward in every way possible.
And perhaps that is needed, in this strange year during a time we are dissociated from so much we are used to, and when we are surrounded by so much fear and loss. Perhaps we need to remember stories and words and ideas as much as ever. Remembering the old stories that comfort us with their eternal truths , listening attentively to the new ones that suggest new pathways ahead. Finding faith and comfort in what they tell us about how to live, and live well in these strange and troubling times.
Recently I had a text message from an old boyfriend who I am planning to meet up with soon ( another story for another time). He asked me how I was, and I told him, quite sincerely, that I was happy because I had a great big pile of books I was looking forward to reading.
And it was true – I was excited about reading all those words stacked up in a lovely long tower of books. And knowing that by opening them I would be lost among other people’s stories, thoughts and ideas. I couldn’t wait to fill up on ideas, and that very specific kind of soul nourishment that reading can give you.
So in lieu of any great little story this week I thought I would just pay homage to the beauty of the concept of a story – and all the forms that a story can come to you – be it from a persons lips, a film, a book, a poem, a photograph, a meal, a painting, the clothes someone wears, anything that speaks of something, no matter what form it takes to do so.
Finally, I just wanted to say that in my twenties I went on a girls holiday to Rhodes. I can remember the two books I took with me to read during that lovely, long uncomplicated week; Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons and a 1970’s bodice ripper that had belonged to my mum called Blake’s Reach. It was all windswept Cornish houses and moody smugglers hiding in caves, while women with flame red hair and emerald green dresses clutched their pearls on cliff tops. It was mesmerising on so many levels!
What I remember from that holiday was how avidly we all read those two novels – passing them along to each other. Blake’s Reach the guilty pleasure of my Mums twenties, had become the guilty pleasure of ours. And proof that a good story is a good story for so many complicated, wonderful unfathomable reasons.