There is something awfully depressing about summer nights, though it’s hard to say exactly what.
And it’s only summer nights, never winter, wherein one often welcomes the opportunity to snuggle beneath the warm covers, nor autumn or spring, which are generally very cool also.
I think it’s the heat. That sticky warmth that envelopes you as you lie down on the bed, the strangely hot and sweet smell of summer that wafts through the window, the feeling of sweat oozing from your pores.
It’s worse if you sleep alone, as I do: the bed, in the darkness, seems altogether too wide and large, a barren landscape upon which you lie, a tiny spider on a wide tundra, horribly alone and tossing and turning and sweating, your mind tortured with thoughts and despairs and dreams and desires and fears and terrible, shifting flashes from your past.
Summers, for some reason, also remind me, with a gut-wrenching stab of nostalgia, of many good memories spent as a child during the school holidays, when my father was still in my life.
We’d go to the park together, as a family, and I’d slide down the slippery dip, laughing, dancing across grass and feeling the sun burn on my cheeks.
The ice-cream truck would occasionally come tinkling down the streets and at the sound of it I’d come rushing out the front door down the steps and across the yard to the truck, money in fist, gazing at the board on its rear-end displaying the cold delectables on selection.
I never liked ice-cream, which others in my family thought strange, finding them to be too thick and creamy and gluggy, and preferring instead sweet popsicles. In particular I had a fondness for the mango-flavoured ones, and after buying them from the ice-cream trunk I would bring the cold box, cradled in my arms, back inside the house and we would rip the cardboard open and eat them, together, in the kitchen, as a family, licking and biting off crisp, cold chunks, happy. So happy.
I do loathe summer nights like the one I am writing this on. When the world grows warm, it seems to grow larger, somehow, the way objects expand in the heat, larger and darker and more frightening, and I feel a dull urge to scream, forever and ever, just below my heart.
It’s like an ache to shout myself hoarse, empty myself of something, rip something out of myself that does not exist but does a lot of unseen and invisible damage; I want to turn myself inside and out, and then back again, just to cleanse myself or change something or shake the universe. Or something.
Summer nights make me melancholy, which is different from sad.
Sad is when you are miserable and you want to cry, and so you cry and then you feel a little, or a lot, better. Melancholy is different. Melancholy is like a sadness that has stayed around for so long it has grown into something else, something old and tired, withered.
It sinks into your bones, as if your skeleton is a creature separate from yourself, calcium-controls directing the flesh covering, and it is so unhappy it’s misery has seeped into the rest of you, only the rest of you is not aware of where the misery is coming from, so it is just feeling this sadness and confusion rolled into one.
The awful thing about melancholy is that unlike other unpleasant mental states, such as dissatisfaction or depression or boredom, you cannot use anything to escape from it. Not books, not films, not daydreams of finding the partner of your dreams who will shower so much affection upon you you’ll almost drown in it, not hopes of a better future just around the bend, not self-talk, self-encouragement, not sleep, not food, not writing, nothing.
It is like rainy weather; you are simply stuck with it, the rain falling on top of your head no matter where you stand, and that is that. Or at least a special sort of rain, the kind that can penetrate roofs and ceilings and umbrellas, you know, if we want a metaphor that makes logical sense.
Here is something that I have learned recently, which I am sure you are very interested to know: you cannot build a house properly without drawing up a plan before you even put down the first brick. Ridiculously obvious, I know, but you would be surprised how long it took me to apply the same principle to writing.
For the longest time, I believed the creative process involved my sitting down at the computer and typing away, the Muse’s magic spurting out from my fingertips as I wrote. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Writing a book, or sometimes even a short story, needs planning, otherwise it’s like hastily constructing one wall then looking around and scratching your head and wondering what to do next, because you don’t know what the house looks like and what is where and where is what. That’s what I’ve been doing. Booklets and computer files of mine are scattered with half-built walls, standing upright on a desert terrain, baked hard and lonely in the hot sun. It’s time I drew up a plan, and built a nice little house to live in.
I really want a nice, little house. In real life, I mean, not metaphorically. Like a cottage, by the seaside, or near the woods, or something like that, very secluded, with little gardens crawling with roses and buzzing with bees, and a chimney and a fireplace and cozy bedrooms with beds heaped with quilts and old-fashioned bedside tables with carved handles for drawers and a gilt-clock on the mantelpiece. Lots of bookshelves, lining the walls, and several cats. A partner, and two little children, one girl, one boy, and my own little study, with an old-fashioned writing desk, where I go to dream and write of other worlds and other people. You can’t imagine how much I would like that. Or perhaps you can – we all have our own, secret “someday” yearnings. I can already see it, ever so clearly: sitting at that varnished wooden desk, in that close room, with the window, the white paint on its frame peeling, thrown open, the summer breeze flooding in warm and delicious, grass shining in the sun for miles outside, and a little vase balanced on the sill, with a sprig of pretty red buds tufting out from it and flittering in the breeze.
At night, O, how glorious it would be, to cluster around the crackling, warm fireplace, staring into the mesmerizing flames that dance as though they understood our hearts, with my children by my side, and my husband, to read to them, or for each of us to have our own books and be silently reading, together but lost in other worlds, the cats threading their way amongst us across the carpet, tails flicking.
It’s an old-fashioned, idyllic sort of scene, I admit, nothing I would ever admit to desiring in front of anyone in person. Especially not in this age of feminism when wanting a husband and children is seen almost as a moral weakness, something that hearkens back to an older and more conservative age. Especially when my own family was so far from idyllic, and still is, that I am afraid of repeating the own patterns again in my own family later in life, and therefore shun the idea of marriage and push away any man who dares come within a five-mile radius.
The problem is, my insides don’t match up with my outsides. Outwardly, I am the most bitter, cynical, solitary and introspective young woman you can possibly imagine, barely crested the divide between childhood and adulthood yet jaded as a woman old as the hills. Inside, I am disgustingly soft, all warm melted butter and golden puddles of honey – and it’s horrible, because life then becomes a matter of using that hard outer covering to keep the warm core hidden, only the warm core, like magma roiling beneath the earth’s crust, has a habit of spurting out, here and there; it can’t help it, it’s simply its nature.
So every time a little of that warm sweetness seeps out, as it inevitably does no matter how hard I try to prevent it, I have to frantically patch the hole back up and make sure none of it escapes again. It’s so difficult. It’s so difficult. Somehow, something terrible will happen if someone sees the softness, the liquid warmth beneath; I will break, or collapse, or something. I feel as though I would die of shame if someone find out about it, how lonely and desperate for love I am, how scared and unsure, how broken and sad. Quickly, patch it up. Staunch the holes.
Ah, here is another thing that I have found out recently, which is that nothing which does not come directly from the heart is any good. Stuff that comes from the mind, when it comes to writing, is no good at all. It is rubbish. At the core of all good art is emotion. My last piece of writing, for instance, on this website, came entirely from the mind, squeezed out, word by word, like cement through a sieve.
And it was absolutely rubbish; I did not feel a word of it. Whereas what I am writing right now comes directly from the very core of me, and therefore it is good and true. You know it is good and true if writing it nearly makes you cry – whether from happiness or misery or both, it really doesn’t matter, as long as you have the emotion, the feeling. Art without heart is dead, just words on paper, paint on canvas. I have been, unknowingly, as a writer, making corpses instead of living things.
You know, it is the big things that you remember, but it’s the small things that prick at your heart.
Like walking home at night from a restaurant, staring up at the stars strewn across the night sky, the cold wind on my face.
Sucking on a Chuppa-Chup lollipop, staring at the way the sugary sphere, translucent, glowed in the sunlight.
A tiny red plastic ball, with a bubble of air inside it, which I found behind the garage as a child, my first bit of found treasure. Little things.
Just silly, little things, more inconsequential than the big things in the grand scheme of things, yet somehow monumentally important, if only to yourself. We all live our lives, separate, alone, our memories a colourful mass of echoes lurking in the back of our minds, but we all have these little things, these tiny details, tiny moments and captured bubbles of time, which matter only very much to ourselves and yet are so beautiful to recall they make our hearts break. Is that what life is, then? I think so. Somehow, I think so.
You know what’s funny? It isn’t summer, not for a month or two yet. But the air is already growing warm, and with it the memories are already rushing back, in a tepid, liquid froth. I am choking on them, which is both horrible and delightful at the same time. They say we only ever have the present moment, which is true, but that does not take into account the past’s nasty habit of elbowing it aside now and then. I wonder, in ten year’s time, whether I will look back, a published writer, and smile at how lost and vulnerable I felt.
You know, the only reason I did not kill myself on multiple occasions when life is was very bad was because I knew that time passes, and people change, including myself, and perhaps my future self would look back on my present self and shake its head at my stupidity. When I look back on myself when I was fifteen, or ten, or five, I can only sigh at my own narrow-mindedness. As you grow older, the mind keeps on expanding, like ripples radiating from where a pebble was thrown in a pond – until you die, that is, upon which the ripples fade away entirely, leaving nothing behind.
I would like to go to sleep, now, curl up against a loved one, preferably someone who was asleep because the people you love always seem more lovable while they are sleeping, and feel the warmth of their body against mine. Animals do it, too. Sleep together, I mean, side-by-side, to keep away the darkness and the fear. In the end, all we have to hold onto is each other, hands clutching other hands in the never-ending darkness, fending off fears of hopeless and the emptiness with company, even though we know, deep down, nothing and no-one can protect us forever, that one day we will all be bones, buried in the ground. All we have to assure ourselves is that others have died before us, millions, in fact, and that millions will spring up after we have gone, according to the cycles of life, and they, as expressions of the universe, will be us, too.
Typing these words, sitting at my desk, alone in my room, I am constructing new memories, new little details, this very moment, to recall at a future time, when I am a different person in a different world. That is what they mean, I think, or should mean, when they say life is beautiful. It is. To be conscious and aware, no matter how briefly, is an excruciatingly lovely gift, even when times are bad.
I like being alive, and all the pain and joy and despair and boredom, and, yes, melancholy that comes with it. I do. I even, deep down, like being me, conflicted and difficult a business though it sometimes is – and I really do like people, too, including men, no matter how much I may turn my nose up at humanity and proclaim myself a misanthrope, destined for a life of isolation and spinsterhood.
But that’s just the soft part talking, pouring out in great, golden gushes now that the hardened covering has relaxed in this warm, lonely darkness. Tomorrow, when I wake up, it will solidify and harden again, perhaps even tougher than before, and I will go about my day filled with an aching love that has no outlet.