“'Tis the set of the sail that decides the goal, and not the storm of life” Ella Wheeler Wilcox
I did not fully understand the dread term 'terminal illness' until I noticed how difficult all the things I had always taken for granted became gradually more and more Herculean to achieve. Like running and dancing and sailing and riding…the puff factor took over far earlier than it had done in the past. Painting, writing and even reading became less easy because the cocktail of highly toxic drugs I was being given turned my mind to mush on occasion. Listening to some - most - of my music made me cry and entertaining friends for supper or lunch became just wretchedly exhausting rather than the exhilarating, inspiring, memory-making fun it had always been.
I felt I needed order – in everything. My clothes; my lotions and potions; the way in which things were laid out in drawers, in cupboards, on shelves, in the FRIDGE for gods’ sake. Symmetry became vitally important – every picture had to be straight, each cushion had to be plumped and laid just so. Duvets and pillows had to be immaculate, not a wrinkle or a crinkle anywhere. Yeah, a kind of madness descended. However, it seems to me that an eerie type of chaos can lurk just behind a facade of order - and yet, deep inside the chaos lurks an even eerier type of order. You decide to leave your wrecked body to medical science, you contact your solicitor, you write letters to your children to read when you’re gone. There is a list of last wishes to make, a Living Will to have witnessed. All which I have done in a curiously businesslike fashion. By the book, by the numbers, carefully, cut-and-dried, deliberately, efficiently, exactly. All fixed, framed, in a groove. No tears or gasps of self pity. Spooky stuff. Orderly and oh so disciplined. The antithesis of Tessa, frankly.
And yet I have this driving, almost manic urge to try different styles of painting. I want to weave cotton into dazzling pattern. I want to sculpt and throw pots and learn calligraphy. I want to write poetry, novels, memoirs. I want to cook and clean and create. I want to set up a Salon du Muse, but I don’t want to talk – I just want to listen…and learn. I want to save the freakin' world, man.
It’s really difficult to describe my state of mind at the moment. The only analogy I can proffer is that my head feels full of roiling, boiling storm clouds. Like an African storm – all dark, furious, growling and growing. That deep drum roll of far off thunder which gathers momentum until the explosive blast of it makes you jump despite the fact you knew it was coming. An incandescent flash of lightening – which in itself brings a certain mental clarity. Then the clouds erupt and the explosive deluge strikes the ground like a million whetted spears. Blinding, soaking, streaking, sodden.
Then across the skies the clouds clear to make way for that magical light that is liquid sunshine. There, right then, is the moment when chaos subsides. When the soaked earth releases its redolent, pungent smell of life. Those are moments when I can paint again, and write and talk to my friends. When I can look reality straight in the eye – and deny it.
I would also like to say that I love you all, new friends and old. You are the wings that lift my spirit and help me fly. Oh yes you are. In fact, you are that Salon du Muse I wanted - and it's not just a stuffy old room in Bloomsbury or an elegant boudoir in Paris, it is one that has a view of the world. It has the words that dance between people. It's like walking into the light, remembering being alive together. Now what could possibly be better than that?