Life intersects with Art
When T. awoke, he realized that he'd been having a recurring obsessive dream. In this dream he had been walking, even running, frantically about looking for the classroom he was scheduled to teach in. First he couldn't find the building. Then he couldn't find the entrance, or the correct floor or room. And then, once all those things were located, he would find no students waiting for him - or hundreds in an all-but-impossible teaching situation.
The interesting thing about those sorts of dreams was T.'s consciousness in the dream that, with all this walking and running about, he was doing something that for him was amazing and unusual.
Lying there in bed, he noticed (through barely opened eyelids) that there was light coming through the window. So it was morning, but at what hour exactly? To find that out he would have to look at his watch. But that arm (as well as the other useless one) was still under the sheet. And he decided that at this point it was too much trouble to look.
He cocked one eye toward the window. It looked to be another dreary day outside, without sun, and cold, dank, perhaps even rainy - though it was well along into April already. But he wouldn't be going outside today anyway.
It felt good, luxurious even, to lie there. He knew that he could continue lying there, luxuriating, all day if he chose to.
But he knew better than to heed that siren call - that it was something akin to giving in to death to continue lying there. (At the same time, he realized that he was being a bit melodramatic; but he knew that the gist of it was true.) Indeed, he knew that he could not lie there for even another hour before he would begin to seethe with impatience to be up.
The problem was that he was helpless to get himself up. Except for his head and left arm (and a bit of his right one), he could not move any part of his body. So he was utterly dependent on someone else for this.
Over the course of the last two years (nearly) that he has been here, he has trained the staff to get him up early. 'It is necessary for my mental and physical well being!' he would exclaim. Most of the aides understood this; but there was that stubborn minority that didn't.
After awhile of mounting impatience, he decided to look at his watch. To do this he had to push the sheet back with his left arm, and then lift the arm up close to his face. It was painful to bend; and it felt like it had a ten-pound weight attached to it. Seven-forty: it was already getting into what he termed 'the danger zone' since he liked to be up by eight. But almost immediately he heard someone come into the room and turn on the water, and then he knew he was saved again.
The aide washed him all over and dressed him. Then she placed a nylon sling under him, attached it to a lift on the ceiling, and transferred him ('like cargo out of the hold of a ship', he thought) right into his wheelchair.
As soon as he was in the wheelchair, T. had the freedom to move himself anywhere in the Institution. This afforded him a tremendous psychological boost.
This morning, as first thing every morning, he went over into the corner to write on his computer. Writing had become of great importance to him; in fact, it had very nearly become his raison d'etre.
His typing skills were gradually ebbing away. When he had first come to the Institution, he had been typing with the index finger on each hand. But over the course of that first year his right hand began to curl up. First the middle finger started to bend, so that when he tried to type he'd hit double letters with his right hand. An occupational therapist tried various splints on the middle finger, but they only made matters worse. It finally reached the point where his right hand was so curled he couldn't use it at all; and even if he could, he couldn't any longer raise his arm to reach the keyboard. (He was fortunate in that his roommate, a computer specialist, had helped him engage the 'sticky keys' so that he could make use of the shift with one hand.) So that now he was reduced to writing with the forefinger of his left hand (and the thumb for spacing.)
The loss of his right arm was typical for all his other losses, but it seemed to have come more terrifyingly quickly. He could feel the palpable essence of the disease [dis-ease: a loss of comfort?] gradually creeping up his arm and taking it over. Sometimes he could notice a change from one day to the next.
Now it was beginning to seize control of his left arm as well.
At this time of day he was at his strongest. Nonetheless, this morning he began typing double letters immediately. This was not a good sign - it meant that the middle finger of his left hand was bending. Not very much, but just enough to wreak havoc.
He shrugged inwardly and patiently went back to delete each extra letter or numeral. At this rate he would end up with pitifully little text today! And then the miracle happened: suddenly he was typing well with virtually no extra letters appearing. Somehow the offending finger had straightened out; or else his hand had adjusted to its being bent.
So now he typed quite a bit - even as he felt his hand growing numb and heavy. Finally he began typing double letters due to exhaustion, and at that point he knew it was time to quit.
The room was warm, as it usually was. And the corner where his computer resided was the warmest in the room due to the presence of two baseboard vents.
He knew that he was affected adversely by heat. So that if he sat and worked at his computer for any length of time, he would grow far weaker than if he sat out in the cooler hall. Unfortunately, the temperature in the room was not really negotiable; for his roommate needed it warm (he wore a sweater everywhere - even in the summer) and he (the roommate) had been in the room first. So T. would sit out in the cooler hall at regular intervals in order to regain his strength.
(There was a notable exception to this heat-as-debilitator notion: his twice-weekly early morning showers. Those soakings with warm, even hot water made him stronger - at least for awhile. At those times he found that he could practically type his daily 'allotment' of 300 words in one sitting.)
And yet, there were other times - infrequent to be sure - when the air conditioning kicked on and thus lying out in the hall would give him a stiff, even painful neck. At those times the room became a refuge of warmth. (This made him acutely aware of how narrow the 'acceptable' range of temperatures really were for him.)
An interesting thing had happened with him and cold. Back when he was healthy, he got cold very easily. So from October to April he would dress ultra-warmly: he'd wear several layers, including a wool 'dicky' to prevent the chill from getting down inside his clothes, and a fleece vest which zipped up to his neck. (His many layers became the object of gentle ridicule from family and friends.)
But something changed fundamentally when he got sick. His whole body seemed to grow numb, desensitized. So gone were the multiple layers. Now the only difference between summer and winter in his habillement was a short sleeve or a long sleeve shirt.
At length the aide brought in his breakfast. So he left the computer to eat at the table. The breakfast usually consisted of eggs, a muffin, cereal, and juice. But as it got harder to eat various of these (they would slip off his fork or spoon and wind up in his lap), he finally switched to yogurt alone. Not only was this a refreshing way to start the day, but it stayed on the spoon even when the utensil inadvertently turned sideways or even upside down in his palsied hand on occasion.
After breakfast he would rinse his mouth. To do this he had to grasp the plastic cup and hold it under the faucet. Anticipation of the process filled him with dread, for it had become physically trying.
The first task was taking hold of the cup. But due to the numbness of his hand, he could not tell for sure when he had grasped it. And then, once it was grasped, when he reached out he could scarcely get the cup under the water. Was his wheelchair as close to the sink as usual? Yes. So then was his arm shorter? In a sense; for, like the middle finger, his whole left arm was now bent a bit. Could he straighten it out all the way? Not really. And when he tried, it felt like his arm was being constrained by a powerful spring. ('My grasp exceeds my reach' he said to himself sadly.) Finally, it was hard to lift his arm and tip the cup into his mouth (the cup seemed very heavy); and, once lifted and tipped, could he hold onto the cup long enough to rinse?
The irony was that, once he had finished rinsing, his fingers had grown so curled that it was difficult to release his grasp on the cup.
He left his room to go down to the physical therapy room and exercise his arms on the bike. He had been doing this since he had come to the Institution. But it had not been very good for his morale; for, despite his most valiant efforts, his arms had kept getting weaker and weaker. (At this point he suspected that using the bike may have even contributed to his weakness by putting stress on his system. So he made a resolution not to use it the following week to see what happened.)
Lunch was at noon. T. fed himself with great difficulty, as he could hardly raise the fork of food to his mouth. As a result, he only ate a fraction of what he was given. (Residents often complained about the food. One, however, told T. that he ate for enjoyment. T. replied that he himself ate to survive.) He would drink two cups of juice; but the cups were almost too heavy to hold up for any length of time. (Of course, as he drank, the cup of liquid grew lighter. But did it grow lighter fast enough to compensate for his increasing weakness? He couldn't tell.) The sandwiches came covered on the plate with a veil of plastic wrap. (T. had a morbid joke which stated that the latter was there so that, in case any residents were sufficiently repelled by the food, they always had the option to smother themselves.)
The most ludicrous time at lunch came when he sought to eat a Dixie cup of ice cream by himself. Of course it is virtually impossible to eat one of these with one hand (especially if it is frozen hard, as this was) - unless one does it as T. did. First, he managed to get his teeth on the little tab to pry off the top. Then, also with his teeth, he tore off chunks of the Styrofoam container - half of the sides as well as the bottom. At that point he was able to hold it by what remained of the container and eat the ice cream as some sort of strange cone.
The dubious entertainment value of such actions aside, T. realized that he was balanced on the knife edge of dependency. He decided to speak that day with the charge nurse about getting help to feed himself.
At 1:15 he went down to Reading with Paul. This was a man whose sister had been there in the Institution (she had died during the past year.) He still came each week to read. By some coincidence, Paul taught in the same school at which T. had last taught. So each week Paul brought him anecdotes about his former colleagues.
Today Paul announced that he was going to read Jack London's 'To Build A Fire.' T. knew this story pretty well: he had read it in high school, of course; and then many years later when he was in his socialist 'phase'. But he hadn't read it recently - certainly not during the dozen or so years he had been sick.
Paul began to read:
"Day had broken cold and grey, exceedingly cold and grey, when the man turned aside from the main Yukon trail and climbed the high earth-bank, where a dim and little-travelled trail led eastward through the fat spruce timberland. It was nine o'clock. There was no sun nor hint of sun, though there was not a cloud in the sky. It was a clear day, and yet there seemed an intangible pall over the face of things, a subtle gloom that made the day dark, and that was due to the absence of sun." [...]
"But all this--the mysterious, far-reaching hairline trail, the absence of sun from the sky, the tremendous cold, and the strangeness and weirdness of it all--made no impression on the man. It was not because he was long used to it. He was a new-comer in the land, a chechaquo, and this was his first winter. The trouble with him was that he was without imagination. He was quick and alert in the things of life, but only in the things, and not in the significances. Fifty degrees below zero meant eighty odd degrees of frost. Such fact impressed him as being cold and uncomfortable, and that was all. It did not lead him to meditate upon his frailty as a creature of temperature, and upon man's frailty in general, able only to live within certain narrow limits of heat and cold; and from there on it did not lead him to the conjectural field of immortality and man's place in the universe." [...]
"As he turned to go on, he spat speculatively. There was a sharp, explosive crackle that startled him. He spat again. And again, in the air, before it could fall to the snow, the spittle crackled. He knew that at fifty below spittle crackled on the snow, but this spittle had crackled in the air. Undoubtedly it was colder than fifty below--how much colder he did not know. But the temperature did not matter. He was bound for the old claim on the left fork of Henderson Creek, where the boys were already." [...]
"At the man's heels trotted a dog, a big native husky, the proper wolf-dog, grey-coated and without any visible or temperamental difference from its brother, the wild wolf. The animal was depressed by the tremendous cold. It knew that it was no time for travelling. Its instinct told it a truer tale than was told to the man by the man's judgment. In reality, it was not merely colder than fifty below zero; it was colder than sixty below, than seventy below. It was seventy-five below zero."
Here for emphasis Paul slowly stressed those last six words and punched at the air with the index finger of his free hand. (Interestingly, T. had remembered that number.)
"Since the freezing-point is thirty-two above zero, it meant that one hundred and seven degrees of frost obtained. The dog did not know anything about thermometers. Possibly in its brain there was no sharp consciousness of a condition of very cold such as was in the man's brain. But the brute had its instinct."[...]
"[The man] unbuttoned his jacket and shirt and drew forth his lunch. He smiled agreeably to himself as he thought of those biscuits, each cut open and sopped in bacon grease, and each enclosing a generous slice of fried bacon. [Paul: 'Not something recommended by the American Heart Association, I imagine!'] The action consumed no more than a quarter of a minute, yet in that brief moment the numbness laid hold of the exposed fingers. He did not put the mitten on, but, instead, struck the fingers a dozen sharp smashes against his leg. Then he sat down on a snow-covered log to eat. The sting that followed upon the striking of his fingers against his leg ceased so quickly that he was startled, he had had no chance to take a bite of biscuit. He struck the fingers repeatedly and returned them to the mitten, baring the other hand for the purpose of eating. He tried to take a mouthful, but the ice-muzzle prevented. He had forgotten to build a fire and thaw out." [...]
Paul would sometimes pause and emphasize something he had just read by repeating a few select words. T. liked this way of reading. Here Paul said, 'So you see he wants to eat his lunch, but he realizes he needs to warm himself up first.'
"There was no mistake about it, it was cold. He strode up and down, stamping his feet and threshing his arms, until reassured by the returning warmth. Then he got out matches and proceeded to make a fire. From the undergrowth, where high water of the previous spring had lodged a supply of seasoned twigs, he got his firewood. Working carefully from a small beginning, he soon had a roaring fire, over which he thawed the ice from his face and in the protection of which he ate his biscuits." [...]
Paul was good at summing things up in the story: 'So everything seems to be fine for this man. It's very cold, but he is able to warm himself up with a fire and eat his lunch.'
"The creek he knew was frozen clear to the bottom--no creek could contain water in that arctic winter--but he knew also that there were springs that bubbled out from the hillsides and ran along under the snow and on top the ice of the creek. He knew that the coldest snaps never froze these springs, and he knew likewise their danger. They were traps." [...]
Paul also liked to presage the future: 'And we'll see how he gets into trouble with one of those springs.'
"There did not seem to be so many springs on the left fork of the Henderson, and for half an hour the man saw no signs of any. And then it happened. At a place where there were no signs, where the soft, unbroken snow seemed to advertise solidity beneath, the man broke through. It was not deep. He wetted himself half-way to the knees before he floundered out to the firm crust.
"He was angry, and cursed his luck aloud. He had hoped to get into camp with the boys at six o'clock, and this would delay him an hour, for he would have to build a fire and dry out his foot-gear. This was imperative at that low temperature--he knew that much; and he turned aside to the bank, which he climbed." [...]
"But it was surprising, the rapidity with which his cheeks and nose were freezing. And he had not thought his fingers could go lifeless in so short a time. Lifeless they were, for he could scarcely make them move together to grip a twig, and they seemed remote from his body and from him. When he touched a twig, he had to look and see whether or not he had hold of it. The wires were pretty well down between him and his finger-ends." [...]
Suddenly T. found himself struck by a resonance with those last few sentences - something he had never felt when he had read the story before. Then, those images attached literally to the tale and had no extra connotation. Now, however, they formed an exact description of something with which he was very familiar. It was uncanny.
Meanwhile, Paul read on (the man is trying to build another fire.) T. forced his attention to the new text, all of which seemed to confirm and intensify the initial resonance.
"He made a new foundation for a fire, this time in the open; where no treacherous tree could blot it out. Next, he gathered dry grasses and tiny twigs from the high-water flotsam. He could not bring his fingers together to pull them out, but he was able to gather them by the handful. In this way he got many rotten twigs and bits of green moss that were undesirable, but it was the best he could do. He worked methodically, even collecting an armful of the larger branches to be used later when the fire gathered strength." [...]
"When all was ready, the man reached in his pocket for a second piece of birch-bark [which he needs to start the fire with.] He knew the bark was there, and, though he could not feel it with his fingers, he could hear its crisp rustling as he fumbled for it. Try as he would, he could not clutch hold of it. And all the time, in his consciousness, was the knowledge that each instant his feet were freezing."
There was no doubt about it for T. - it was an amazing coincidence (the attempt to grasp the birch-bark was particularly telling.) He looked about to see whether any other resident had made the connection - none seemed to have.
"Next he brought out his bunch of sulphur matches. But the tremendous cold had already driven the life out of his fingers. In his effort to separate one match from the others, the whole bunch fell in the snow. He tried to pick it out of the snow, but failed. The dead fingers could neither touch nor clutch. He was very careful. He drove the thought of his freezing feet, and nose, and cheeks, out of his mind, devoting his whole soul to the matches. He watched, using the sense of vision in place of that of touch, and when he saw his fingers on each side the bunch, he closed them--that is, he willed to close them, for the wires were drawn, and the fingers did not obey. He pulled the mitten on the right hand, and beat it fiercely against his knee. Then, with both mittened hands, he scooped the bunch of matches, along with much snow, into his lap. Yet he was no better off.
"After some manipulation he managed to get the bunch between the heels of his mittened hands. In this fashion he carried it to his mouth. The ice crackled and snapped when by a violent effort he opened his mouth. He drew the lower jaw in, curled the upper lip out of the way, and scraped the bunch with his upper teeth in order to separate a match. He succeeded in getting one, which he dropped on his lap. He was no better off. He could not pick it up. Then he devised a way. He picked it up in his teeth and scratched it on his leg. Twenty times he scratched before he succeeded in lighting it. As it flamed he held it with his teeth to the birch-bark. But the burning brimstone went up his nostrils and into his lungs, causing him to cough spasmodically. The match fell into the snow and went out." [...]
Now T. remembered what would happen with the man: he did not have the manual dexterity to make another fire.
"A large piece of green moss fell squarely on the little fire. He tried to poke it out with his fingers, but his shivering frame made him poke too far, and he disrupted the nucleus of the little fire, the burning grasses and tiny twigs separating and scattering. He tried to poke them together again, but in spite of the tenseness of the effort, his shivering got away with him, and the twigs were hopelessly scattered. Each twig gushed a puff of smoke and went out. The fire-provider had failed." [...]
The story continued on for awhile longer, until it reached its grim inevitable conclusion. When Paul had finished reading the story, T. asked him whether he was aware of the connection which he (T.) had made. At first it seemed as though Paul thought T. was accusing him of something - perhaps an insensitivity. But T. hastened to assure him that he was not offended; that, as a matter of fact, he was grateful to Paul for the story he chose, which allowed him (T.) to see an old familiar tale in a new light.
After he left Paul, T. went directly to the charge nurse about getting help at meals. As he made his case for being fed, he felt that there might be an unnatural tone to his voice (he was not totally free of guilt) which she would be able to detect. But she assured him that he would receive the help he needed. (Just like that, he thought, I have given in...)
"As he looked apathetically about him, [the man's] eyes chanced on the dog, sitting across the ruins of the fire from him, in the snow, making restless, hunching movements, slightly lifting one forefoot and then the other, shifting its weight back and forth on them with wistful eagerness. The sight of the dog put a wild idea into his head. He remembered the tale of the man, caught in a blizzard, who killed a steer and crawled inside the carcass, and so was saved. He would kill the dog and bury his hands in the warm body until the numbness went out of them. Then he could build another fire. He spoke to the dog, calling it to him; but in his voice was a strange note of fear that frightened the animal, who had never known the man to speak in such way before."
In the later afternoon, as was his wont every day, T. read some leftist political weblogs on his computer. But he could only do that for an hour or so, because his lower back began to hurt from sitting up so long. (At that point he would go out into the hall and recline his chair and rest his back.) Then there was supper (of Texas-style French toast and bacon) - and someone was there to aid him. (Funny, he thought, how quickly the feeling of guilt goes away when it is supplanted by a genuine feeling of relief at finally having help!) At six o'clock he went down for jokes with the boys (and girls.) After that, he called his wife.
And so the rest of his day passed and on came the evening.
The aide came in around eight-forty to get T. ready for bed. When he had first come here to the Institution, such a time had seemed ridiculously early. But now, nearly two years later, he was apt to look forward to bed by this time with eager anticipation.
The process that had been used to get him up this morning was now reversed.
When he was ready, the sheet was pulled all the way up to his chin and over his shoulders, this to 'protect' him from the blowing fan - which in turn relieved the feeling of stagnant warmth in the room. And in this precariously balanced ecosystem he was perfectly and utterly comfortable.
This feeling of desire for bed was the opposite of the one in the morning. Then he had been impatient to get up, fearing being left abed too long. But now he relished the chance to lie there, utterly immobile, for at least ten hours in guilt-free comfort.
"A certain fear of death, dull and oppressive, came to [the man.] This fear quickly became poignant as he realized that it was no longer a mere matter of freezing his fingers and toes, or of losing his hands and feet, but that it was a matter of life and death with the chances against him. This threw him into a panic, and he turned and ran up the creek-bed along the old, dim trail. The dog joined in behind and kept up with him. He ran blindly, without intention, in fear such as he had never known in his life. [...]
"The warmth and security of the animal angered him, and he cursed it till it flattened down its ears appeasingly. This time the shivering came more quickly upon the man. He was losing in his battle with the frost. It was creeping into his body from all sides. The thought of it drove him on, but he ran no more than a hundred feet, when he staggered and pitched headlong. It was his last panic."
As always at this time of night, there was a soft comforting light behind his roommate's curtain. T. would often use this time before he fell asleep to exercise his mind: he would plan out his next day's writing, or solve a mental math problem. Tonight, however, he began to focus on his possible future with this disorder.
Early in the course of the disease, T. had gotten a book about MS and looked up the Chronic Progressive type (his diagnosis.) The prognosis read in part: "In ten years, the loss of all meaningful motor function." In the face of such dire predictions, he tried to maintain his sense of humor: (What did that word 'meaningful' mean? Would he at least still keep the meaningless functions? That didn't follow logically, he decided.) True, it did not say the disease was fatal; nor did it say it would take his mind (such as it was.) But did that matter with such a prognosis? When he asked his MS specialist about this, she said not a word; in fact, she gave only the barest hint of a reaction: the almost imperceptible shrug of a shoulder. At the time he had taken this to mean that he should take the prognosis with a grain of salt. Or rather, this was how he had wanted, even needed to understand it. Now, after more than ten years, he understood why she didn't say anything: she didn't dare, because the sentence was so terrifyingly true.
He would lose the use of his left arm - and sooner rather than later. And that meant the loss of his independence in three crucial ways: his mobility, his ability to feed himself (already essentially gone), and his ability to type. True, there were solutions for the first and last here at the Institution: an addition to his wheelchair which would allow him to direct it with his head alone; and voice recognition software for writing. But then, assumedly (see 'all meaningful motor function') won't he eventually ('ten years': was he not already functioning on borrowed time?) lose his head movements as well? And what about his speech (which was already more labored) - was that a motor function? He imagined it might be, at least in part...
(His fears began to tumble out, though he couldn't help adding humorous interjections [Did humor, he wondered, retard or advance the disease? Did it depend on the humor?]: What about (gulp) swallowing? Or (gasp!) breathing?)
And then what? Then, speechless and helpless, he would be totally dependent on other people (as he was utterly dependent now for being put into and out of bed.) He would not be able to go anywhere without someone taking him. He would not be able to communicate with others in speech or in writing. He would not even be able to ask others to so much as scratch his nose, nevertheless be able to do it for himself. He would be totally subject to the whims of his caregivers.
A friend had recently confessed that the mere thought of being in such a state struck him with 'terror'. T. had a brother-in-law who all but stated that he would commit suicide in such a situation. (How? wondered T.) His own father would probably tell him to 'face things like a man' - that is, stoically; bite the bullet and all that.
"When [the man] had recovered his breath and control, he sat up and entertained in his mind the conception of meeting death with dignity. However, the conception did not come to him in such terms. His idea of it was that he had been making a fool of himself, running around like a chicken with its head cut off—such was the simile that occurred to him. Well, he was bound to freeze anyway, and he might as well take it decently. With this new-found peace of mind came the first glimmerings of drowsiness. A good idea, he thought, to sleep off to death. It was like taking an anaesthetic. Freezing was not so bad as people thought. There were lots worse ways to die." [...]
Of course, no one had told T, in voice or in print, what it was like to live in a state of helpless silence - for reasons that are obvious.
T, however, decided to deal with such a thing in the same way he had faced all his other losses such as walking, playing the piano, and so on - by immediately cutting those losses and cultivating the skills he had left. (Once when he told a psychologist that he was a 'glass-is-half-full kinda guy', she had replied, 'Maybe the glass is too large.') He would do it calmly, dispassionately.
In truth, he found the contemplation of this possible state of affairs to be rather intriguing.
Would he become a purely sensate being? Well, hopefully he would still have his mental faculties at that point. (If he didn't, then nothing much would matter, would it.) He would be able to understand things happening around him. He hoped that people would come and speak and read to him and play music for him, even if he couldn't answer back, nevertheless have a discussion.
Other than those one-way interactions, though, he would become an utter solipsist. (Poetic justice, he thought wryly, for one who was always an egoist anyway! [Ambrose Bierce: 'One who cares more for himself than he does for me.']) And thus, in order to continue to have a life at once meaningful and enjoyable, he would have to cultivate, in some extreme form, a purely inner life of the mind.
If he retained his long-term memory (a significant 'if' but still), he could retrieve wonderful things from his past: exquisite times with his wife and daughters; sublime pieces of music he had learned to play; music and prose he had composed; and so forth. Each of these he could turn over and over in his mind, until gradually he would recreate every nuance. Here he would be conjuring up things from the well of his past.
The only problem with that is precisely that it would all be of the past, hence mere recreations of things and events which already existed. So:
If he retained his short-term memory (another big 'if'), he could gradually compose things literary and musical in his mind. To be sure, nothing very lengthy or arduous like an opera. But things he could recall from one day to the next and then elaborate upon: short literary vignettes, or musical bagatelles. Here he would be plucking things out of the future, albeit the future of his own mind.
He would be not merely recreative, but creative as well.
Then he suddenly realized what might constitute a sort of potential private hell for him in this sort of situation: the better his mental compositions, the more he would want to share them with someone else. But he wouldn't be able to do that.
Of course (he thought), such a problem would be effectively solved if he were simply to embrace Sartre's dictum - that Hell is Other People. (He called this 'the Gordian knot solution.') He could even alienate everyone before he lost his speech, so that there would be no one left to remind him of the loss of his communication skills. Could he do all that?
He smiled. That wasn't very likely, he decided - he liked other people too much.
In fact, he had another 'solution': that, in the same mind which imagined his creative flights of fancy, he would imagine as well the intelligent responses of those whom he knew well and loved. He could concoct meta-dialogues, themselves comic creative fantasies, about his compositions, using the personality traits of friends and family as his 'themes'.
In short, he would become the literal embodiment of that old cliché-parody, 'A legend in his own mind.'
And with that amusingly lingering thought, T. fell asleep.
"Then the man drowsed off into what seemed to him the most comfortable and satisfying sleep he had ever known. The dog sat facing him and waiting. The brief day drew to a close in a long, slow twilight. There were no signs of a fire to be made, and, besides, never in the dog's experience had it known a man to sit like that in the snow and make no fire. [...] Later, the dog whined loudly. And still later it crept close to the man and caught the scent of death. This made the animal bristle and back away. A little longer it delayed, howling under the stars that leaped and danced and shone brightly in the cold sky. Then it turned and trotted up the trail in the direction of the camp it knew, where were the other food-providers and fire-providers."
9 May 2007
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