Parkus Interruptus

reading

I’ve been feeling out of sorts recently. Nothing too awful but just a bit overwhelmed and exhausted. And one of the most bothersome symptoms has been ferocious belching. I looked this up on the internet and found a list of 198 potential causes. The one that immediately caught my eye was Asiatic porpoise poisoning.

That wasn’t much help, but fortunately I had other resources to draw on. I decided to do a detox. This has worked several times in the past when I’ve felt low and as well as cutting out caffeine, wheat, dairy and sugar I thought I’d try a few supplements. An internet article suggested a cocktail of vitamins and minerals, and also spirulina. I’d never come across this substance before but discovered that it’s dried blue-green algae and is rich in protein. It’s said to be terribly good for you. My fatigue was so bad that I didn’t have the energy to question it – I just went out and bought everything that was recommended.

vitamins

I started the diet on Friday morning and within a few hours I had a caffeine withdrawal headache which just goes to show how much coffee I usually drink. By Sunday I was starting to feel better and my daughter, Emma, came to visit. After lunch, I disappeared into the kitchen to make some peppermint tea and decided to tackle the algae. I stared at the contents of the packet, which were intensely indigo and as fine as talcum powder. Since I’d mislaid my glasses there was no hope of deciphering the instructions so I plunged in with a teaspoon and took a mouthful. That was a very big mistake. The superfine powder clagged all over the roof of my mouth and trickled down my throat in sticky lumps. I gagged and tried to get my breath whilst producing squeaky choking noises. Then Emma called  “are you alright Mum?”  Even though I was about to expire, the primitive desire to protect my offspring remained strong. She would be traumatised if she found me gasping with blue teeth, and green foam dribbling from my nostrils.  I concentrated on grunting reassuringly and then rushed to the bathroom where I spent the next five minutes spitting. I cleaned my teeth and returned to finish making the tea.

The next day I was making a hot drink when I remembered it was time to take some more of the dreadful stuff. It was so expensive that I didn’t want to waste it, so I stirred two teaspoons into my liquorice tea. It was bearable but very much like drinking a swamp. On Tuesday I tried stirring it into some soya yogurt. It was like eating indigo-coloured poster paint. On Wednesday I tried to cheer it up by adding some banana, but it was still vile. Like indigo-coloured poster paint with lumps in it.

spirulina

When I stop and think about it, then it’s probably not surprising that I’ve felt drained recently. We each have our own hand of cards that the game of life deals in middle age. Only a lucky few avoid bumps in the road. In the past decade my bumps have included a husband with a life-threatening condition who nearly died three times, redundancy, financial ruin, five house moves, training for a new career, divorce, and the inevitable ups and downs that four children bring. Thankfully my divorce is now a scar rather than the gaping wound it was, and I’m fortunate to be happy with my new partner. But there’s one frustrating problem that remains. I can’t read.

road humps

Until my separation I was an avid reader and wouldn’t leave the house without a novel in my bag. I devoured book reviews and adored browsing in bookshops. Now I’ve fallen out of love. I read but I don’t engage. And this is a particular problem as one of my sixty treats is to read all six of Jane Austen’s novels. I liked Emma, Sense and Sensibility, and Pride and Prejudice. But Mansfield Park came after my marital bombshell and unlike the others it left me unamused, unmoved and uninterested. I made three attempts but each time made little headway. It may not be her best but I know the problem lies with me, not the writer, and that previously I’d have enjoyed it. I’ve decided for now to put it on one side and to think instead about how to heal my literary indisposition. These are supposed to be treats after all.

Recently I appreciated The Rosie Project and Kate Atkinson’s Time After Time. But I didn’t truly care whether I finished them or not. This disengagement is a loss. I know what it’s like to love books but for over three years, I’ve felt numb about reading. When friends ask about this, all I can do is shrug my shoulders. A bit of me is broken and I’ve no idea how to fix it. I can’t find any helpful advice though I have discovered that reading for pleasure is called ludic reading. Derived from ludo, the Latin for ‘I play’, this discovery is pleasing if only because I will now feel etymologically smug whenever the game of ludo is mentioned.

ludo

I’ve wondered about going to see a bibliotherapist such as the ones at the School of Life. These specialists guide readers towards literature that ‘enchants, enriches and inspires’. I think my situation might present them with a challenge but it could be interesting to explore. In the short-term, though, I’m about to go on holiday and I hope this will give me time to read. Before I leave, I’m going to spend an hour browsing at my local bookshop. Maybe a different genre, author or subject will provide the key to my literary emptiness. One thing’s for sure, though. I’m leaving Mansfield Park at home.

summer book

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18 thoughts on “Parkus Interruptus

  1. Have you thought of giving Georgette Heyer a go? Light but pitch-perfect on Regency mores and language and romantic plot lines which have stood the test of time. I re-read them in times of brain burnout and/or illness. Or, a big duvet of a read, ‘In this House of Brede’ by Rumer Godden. The day-to-day upheavals of a houseful of contemplative nuns is a surprisingly well-plotted story, and the soothing cadences of the liturgical year make it a peaceful read. Good luck, friend. We will get the joy of books back for you! Am on a mission now…

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  2. Ho-ho. Well, ho-ho about the funny bits, but sorry to hear you’re reduced to eating blue-green algae.

    Are you sure it’s safe? There’s a sign on Wandsworth Common pond that tells dog-walkers not to let their dogs in the water, because of the danger from a B-G-A flare-up after the recent hot weather. Maybe it’s OK for humans, but not for dogs? (Don’t people say hamsters will die if they’re given celery? Can that be that right? ).

    Oh, and my cure for finding fiction uninspiring is, er, to read non-fiction. And not because it’s more “real” and “factual”. But because it’s so often so much more imaginative, fantastical, weird…a bit like eating blue-green algae, but at least it never tastes like poster paint.

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    • Like the non-fiction comment. And maybe I could have saved myself some money and gone for a swim in the pond on Wandsworth Common instead.

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  3. This struck such a parallel with me! Is it our really our failure though – or do we have enough of our own real lives now to fill our thoughts without needing the input of strangers?

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  4. It is 8.26 am in New York and I am lying on a bed next to my daughter who has been editing yesterday’s sight-seeing pictures. The boys are in another room, to their horror – but they are nice, they have not complained – they are also sharing a bed! In the pictures, I look tired and old really, older than I see myself when I look in the mirror. I don’t feel old thankfully and feel like my life is ahead of me. However, this is not the point of this comment. By my bed there is a book. By the sofa, on which I sleep these days, there are three piles of books, high piles. I buy them, I look at them, I want to get into them, to find out about the protagonists, their stories, their lives and the places and times they are living in. But, like you Lynn, I find it hard to read these days! I open a book, start reading and then, unlike in the past when I fell in love with characters, I quickly lose interest. I joined a book club in the hope of reconnecting with that world that used to gvive me so much pleasure. I read Elizabeth and the Rosie project. Nice but bland really, I thought. I am reading A Hero’s welcome now. I should love it, it ticks all the boxes, but I don’t. I did engage with the detective story by JK Rowlings that she published under a pseudonym but that is the only novel I ave read in two years that I remember clearly and rally liked. Odd… Still, all is not lost, I have discovered poetry. I enjoy the language, the way it is played with. Also, they are short, give me food for thought and flota above reality, stroke it rather than enter into it and at the moment, maybe that’s what I need… Thank you Lynn, for giving me food for thought. And making me write, put thoughts into words. And I hope that soon both you and I will be able to reconnect with our first love, reading!

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    • Good to share experiences, Anne. Thank you. Yes, I look forward to being able to discuss books with you when we can both enthuse and talk fast!

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  5. Hi Lynn Your posts are so compelling and vivid that I felt I was there with you! In the Facebook pics you certainly look well so hope the vile stuff eventually worked and the trip ever more rewarding. I can relate to your post-loss challenges, as you know. Safe travels and look forward to your August visit. Judith xx

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

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  6. My cupboard used to be full of vitamins, minerals. . . and even spirulina at some point….but I have now given up on all that stuff (which costs a fortune, remains blocking up the back of the cupboard and some possibly a little toxic?). I am now a believer in real food supplements – i.e. a juicer or smoothie maker. A good recipe for a green smoothie is Almond milk (must be unsweetened), cucumber, kiwi, spinach (pref organic), avo (opt) – and you can add some spirulina if you really have to?!

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  7. I think William is right, we have enough to think about, enough events and tumultuous emotions to deal with, and taking on anyone else’s, especially fictional characters’, would be too much. And I was thinking about what I had written today and wanted to say that in fact poetry doesn’t float above reality. Instead it cuts and bites into it but it does so in small sporadic ways that don’t intrude upon our lives and minds in the same way as a novel.

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  8. Hi Lynn. I was about to recommend non-fiction, but see someone else has already done so. very persuasively. I can recommend Annie: A Life of Anne Thackeray Ritchie [daughter of the novelist] by Henrietta Garnett, and Annie’s Box [about one of Charles Darwin’s daughters] by Randal Keynes. Maybe this could lead on to another project: reading books with ‘Annie’ in the title …

    About Mansfield Park, I know a lot of people don’t like it, but hope you might come to one day. For me, a key thing is to feel sympathy for Fanny, who’s so overwhelmed when we first meet her as a little girl: transplanted into a huge, strange house and surrounded by unknown posh relations. She has to be pretty strong to survive.

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    • Thanks Janice. Definitely hope to retry Mansfield Park at some stage and will bear those comments in mind. Like the idea of an Annie Project!

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