I sit on my sofa-bed trying to read. I’m bathed in radiation, nestled between the soft light of the bulb hanging above me and the warm breath of the fan heater in front, but the comfort doesn’t console me. I’m trying to read the book which is in my hands, trying to catch hold of the words on the pages and find their connected meaning, but it’s difficult. It’s as if I can’t get in. My brain slips on the surfaces, lapsing instead of latching, and I find myself stumbling repeatedly over mysterious unseen obstacles.
“I begin with haard’dloq, extremely thin new ice that cannot be stepped on without danger, and then hikuliaq, new ice which is still slippery and yet can be travelled across.” *
Perhaps the subject matter isn’t helping and I wonder if it’s strange that I’m choosing to read about ice just now. It’s the season for it, I suppose, but it’s been a mild winter here so far. The temperature has rarely dropped towards zero and nothing has frozen yet. There hasn’t even been frost this week, the air being too wet and wild to permit any kind of stasis. I don’t think there’s much in our freezer either: the congealed mass of peas which I held to my head after bouncing it off a rock has long since been cooked and eaten. Nonetheless, I find it hard to get a grip. Words slide from the pages as I read, their crystallisations of meaning melting out of memory almost as soon as they’ve assembled, or sometimes before. It’s not that there are gaps – I’m not aware of any specific absences or elisions – but the greater order of things eludes me. On the rare occasions when I do manage to gather some sentences together, the reason for their proximity remains opaque.
Maybe I’m trying too hard. My consciousness is so clumsy at the moment, skiting across the veneer of the world ungracefully – and ungraciously. Yet, because or in spite of this, other things are drawing my attention. Maybe they’re always there and it’s only now I notice but lately I’ve been encountering all these little consonances; things echoing and repeating in different places. Photographs of snowflakes I see online recrystallise unexpectedly on the pages of a book, floods seep out of pages and into the fields around me, a phrase uttered by a character in an old Northern Exposure DVD is repeated by my boyfriend in the kitchen half an hour later. It’s as if different fields of existence are resonating, as if life itself is rhyming a bit.
I’m not sure what’s going on – if I am picking up on some subtle patterning or am simply confused. I’m certainly disorientated. Indeed, in some ways it seems that the world is inverted; as if I’m trapped on underside of ice and observing life from there. The most familiar things appear strange and at times I barely recognise myself.
It’s not just the brain injury, though that’s a big part of it. It’s also the lockdowns, the endless reiterating train of them: closing down, shutting up, holding in, keeping apart. Their effects are not just superficial. Like everything living, we’re not so much entities as processes – doings, motions, living veins running through the world. And when our activities are frozen and our moving stopped, we ice over, we ossify, we lose hold, not only of our livelihoods and of the human animals that we love but of our very companionship with ourselves.
It’s a discouraging time, all in all, but the consonances give me heart. Each time I meet one it’s like a warm touch, reassuring me that I’m still in favour with the world, still alive among its undercurrents even as I struggle at the surface. Indeed, during these moments I begin to feel a sense of belonging again; a sense that I’m inhabiting a deeper part of my brain and a deeper part of my body – a place beneath the stalled outer layers where my movement is more fluid, my contact more true. It’s a confirmation, a reminder, and a relief: that there’s life beneath; there’s always life beneath.
*Nancy Campbell, The Library of Ice (London: Scribner, 2018, pp. 112-3)
Pontycymer, Glamorgan, South Wales
12th January 2021