I was saddened to learn today of the death of the Irish writer Christopher Nolan. As a result of cerebral palsy, Nolan was a nonverbal quadiplegic, but someone figured out that he understood what was going on around him and equipped him with a writing device enabling him to express himself. He wrote a novel, at the age of twenty one, tapping at a typewriter with a stick attached to his head. Someone had to hold his head while he did the tapping. That novel, Under the Eye of the Clock, won the Whitbread Prize. It’s filled with the kind of inadvertent poetry that brain injury can bring about, and it also provides a rare glimpse into the mind of one who is severely disabled.
The main character, Joseph Meehan, represents Nolan. After learning that his book will be published, Meehan writes:
“Fossilized for so long now, he was going to speak to anyone interested enough to listen. As was customary, far into the future he bent his mind, what will erstwhile readers think, he wondered, of my boyhood ephiphany.
“Feeling happy beyond words, he listened to his teachers all afternoon. They veiled their private worlds by choice, but his private world was so private that demon despair dallied always at his door. Now he cackled to himself, for now he shared the same world as everyone else; he could choose how much to tell and draftily decide how much to hold back. His voice would be his written word.”
Amen to that.
I was going to use this space to rant about the doctor who is treating my son, but then I got some really good news and changed my mind. I found out today that my young adult story, “Pilgrimage,” which appeared in Cicada a couple issues back, was award the SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) Magazine Merit Award for Fiction! Woo hoo! I’d been hoping for an Honorable Mention at best, so this is great!! Now I’m slightly more motivated to try to turn it into a novel.
Yesterday I had this conversation with my son:
“I was thinking about entering a contest. If I win, I get to go to Kenya for a couple of weeks. You could stay with your aunt while I’m gone. Would that be okay with you?”
He shrugged. “Yeah, sure.”
So I submitted a story.
My son’s school uniform consists of a blazer, shorts, white shirt, neck-tie, hat and shoes. When he gets to school, he changes into a T-shirt with the school logo, shorts, and a sweatshirt. A couple of his shirts are stained with ink because every time he does calligraphy, his clothes get splattered. The kids don’t wear smocks, and the ink doesn’t come out, but we can’t afford to buy him a new T-shirt every time he gets an ink stain.
This morning we were in a mad rush to get him off to school because he had a performance. He was starring as the donkey in the third grade production of “The Bremen Town Musicians. ” I figured he had some kind of costume. Also, he was wearing a brown, faux-pony skin vest that we dug out of the closet. While he was watching the other classes’ performances, I assumed he’d be wearing the T-shirt, shorts and sweat shirt ensemble.
I couldn’t find a T-shirt in his drawer or in the laundry basket. I fished one out of the washing machine (I wash clothes at night when it’s cheaper and hang them in the morning), but it had ink stains all over the front. Oh, well, I thought. No one will see it. He’ll be wearing his sweatshirt since it’s the middle of the winter and very cold.
So at the start of the performance, my son came onstage. He was wearing the vest, but it was open, and underneath, to my horror, he was wearing the ink-stained T-shirt for all to see. Argh!!!
I’m doing laundry right now!!
Every so often my mother-in-law rings the doorbell and hands me a list of things that she thinks I’ve lifted from her house – dishes, sweaters, an ironing board, etc. This started about a year ago. A couple of days ago, when I was at my most exasperated and had basically decided to stop talking to her, she rang the bell. I found her on my doorstep with tears in her eyes. She gripped my hands in hers ( a rarity, as she is not a touchy-feely kind of person) and said, “thank you” and “I’m sorry.” At last, I thought. She finally realizes how badly she’s treated me and in this moment of lucidity she is apologizing. But then she thanked me for putting something that was obviously important to her in a drawer, where she’d found it. No doubt it’s been there all along. “I didn’t put it there,” I said. “I haven’t been in your house.” “If you didn’t then, who did?” she asked. I could see where this conversation was headed, so I just said, “Well, it’s good that you found it,” and let her go on thanking me. She’s been very friendly ever since.
A propros, I’ve started reading Mother in the Middle by Sybil Lockhart, who is a trained neurobiologist. She writes about starting a family at around the same time that her mother began showing signs of dementia. It’s a very accessible book. Since Sybil is a scientist, she has a pretty good idea of what’s going on in the brain, and she explains what’s happening as events unfold. I’m hoping it’ll give me some insight into what’s going on with my mother-in-law.