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.