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Thursday, 18 September 2014

Escaping the Reeds

There's a moment in one of my favourite films, The African Queen, where Rose (Katharine Hepburn) and Charlie (Humphrey Bogart) are suffocating. The titular boat has been travelling through reeds and, despite their best efforts, they get stuck. They use the oars to try and launch their way through, they get out and pull, only to be assaulted by leeches. Even after this discovery, they are forced to get back in the water, just to have another shot at getting out of there. All the while, they're finding it close and hard to breathe.

If anything serves as a metaphor for how I've felt this week, that scene does it. Trapped, overwhelmed, lost: as though every breath was an effort. Each time I made an attempt to move, each time I dipped my toe in the water to try and navigate an escape, the leeches got me in the form of a memory. Sitting at my computer on an evening has been a device of torture. Far too many connotations and links. But, here's the rub, it's very difficult for me not to sit at my computer to work. All my thesis stuff and writing drafts are on it; my life's work, if you will. But little point in being at the computer when all I do is burst into tears. That's not focusing, in any sense of the word.

Yesterday became my 'getting back in the water' moment. It was my first Sheffield trip since all this kicked off and it was a doozy. Looking at it now, it's probably best to define it as a three hour panic attack that lasted from mid-morning until I got to my meeting at two. It involved some rather unpleasant scenes at the train station where I paced around and looked thoroughly crazy then one of those embarrassing moments on the train itself where I'm standing in the vestibule weeping, just weeping. With the aid of a friend, I made it up to uni and my meeting but I felt as though the life had been sucked out of me again.

My meeting went well, very well. Some positivity began to creep back into my mind, the possibility that I can get through the next few months. Though, when one of my supervisors asked me to think beyond that, I couldn't. With everything that's happened over the last few weeks, I don't have that ability. I just need to look at the smaller picture. The bigger one terrifies me.

Travelling home, I tried to think of ways I could force myself to work. Because the reeds are still there, threatening me every time I sit down to work. So what could I do to turn things around? Well, how about actually turning things around? By the time my dad got home from work I'd made a start on turning my desk around. For four years I've been staring at the same blank wall. That wall has been the scene of many hopeful projections, none of which came true, so perhaps it was time for a change. This is what my view was before:

Turning the desk around has had a few unintended consequences. I feel hemmed in with my chair but, bizarrely, not as hemmed in as I did when I had half the room to kick back in. And, also, I'm now facing my iPod. It's a funny thing, the music coming towards me instead of creeping over my shoulders. It's almost like hearing it anew. This is the low quality version of my desk now:

Of course, Rose and Charlie escape from the reeds in The African Queen. But the reason is largely beyond their control. The rains come, lifting up the boat and transporting it to safety. Maybe that was my meeting yesterday; the thing out of my control that grabbed me and yanked me through. For the moment, I'll ignore the fact that when Rose and Charlie reach safety, they blow up their boat... That may be a metaphor too far right now.

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