Everything I do, I do with the most overwhelming sense of desperation. I read a book gazing at it through this veil of desperation, wishing and wishing that this time the writing be interesting or insightful or just informative, or whatever it is that I had wanted from that particular volume. Every paragraph I write – such as this paragraph – I do so, desperately wishing that it be done well, or that at least it may make some little sense, or perhaps use a few interesting words, or in its entirety say something interesting, interesting for a reader to read, as well as interesting for me when in a few days, having completely forgotten what I have written, I chance upon it and read it again.
I draw the curtains back every morning, desperate for the scene outside not to alarm me, or by its dismal aspect depress my mood even before I have opened my first book or opened my notebook to write. That scene is dismal today, for a gelatinous fog sticks tenaciously to the leafless trees, to the walls and roofs of the houses, resembling nothing so much as a contagion. If it had a smell, it would be putrid and repulsive. Even indoors, because the heating is off, the air itself is wet. It feels like disembodied malevolent sticky hands sticking to my face. For it is winter, the most hated of seasons, when every day (except those blessed with bright sunlight that streams through clean, clear air) is simply nasty, like the sort of day you would expect to find rotting, caught with all the other rubbish, in the Devil’s own trouser turn-ups. This is the sort of day I feel desperate to avoid. Yet what can one do to avoid the days themselves?
Some, I suppose, elect to stay in bed all day, and I do remember times, especially when I was a child suffering some minor illness that probably didn’t even need the doctor, when I would remain under my warm covers for several days on end. I used to hurt my left shoulder propping myself up, because not so many hours would pass (though perhaps not on the first day, or even the second day) before I felt desperate to get back to the book I was reading, or start a new book even if I had not finished the previous one, to be once again charting the unknown coasts of New Zealand and Queensland with Captain Cook, or sitting with Thor Heyerdahl on the deck of the Kon-Tiki or, later in Aku-Aku, musing over the enigmatic statues on Easter Island where he would fail to decipher an example of an ancient script, written by a scribe from the previous generation, that no one could read any more. My bedroom became the Doctor’s Tardis, and I could go anywhere and think about anything. Anything to take me away from the despair of that very day. It wasn’t the sickness that made me want to escape, but this ever-present sense of desperation. And as I grow older, it also grows, so that now I am desperate to relieve that sense of desperation. But I do not know how. I have no idea what brings it here, what gives it life, what makes it so corrosive. But it is a hateful thing, and I have no armour against it other than my books, and that is why, over the years, I have accumulated so many of them, for I cannot resist the ridiculous idea that one day I will chance upon a book whose content or style, or advice, or insights will obliterate my desperation forever, and I can at last, even as an old man, begin to live my life.