Sunday, 10 March 2013

The old heart stamping in its stall

I’m working in the university library at the moment. Libraries are no longer cathedrals of silence and so the soundtrack to my work is students talking to each other on their phones. I don't mind any more and have got used to the noise, mostly filtering it out along with the PA announcements and that buzzing-bee sound emanating from headphones. But ohmigod: if Richard Dawkins could hear how much young people say ‘ohmigod’, I think he would give up trying to convert us all into rational humanists. The conversations are sometimes fraught: fallings out, insecurities, anxieties, broken hearts and other mind-forg’d manacles. He said, she said. I guess it could all be filed under what the poet C.K. Williams called ‘the old heart stamping in its stall’. A seat of learning, with all the outward signs of institutional respectability – computer screens, bookcases, photocopiers, quiet study spaces – is also a repository of invisible, unfulfilled desires. Where do all these desires go? Maybe they are like radio waves, and when they are spent on this earth they travel at the speed of light to other galaxies to perplex extraterrestrials on temperate planets. More likely they are useless and go nowhere, like a horse stamping in its stall.

‘My daughter lives in a girls’ web of thrills and tensions invisible to me,’ writes Kathleen Jamie in her book Sightlines. ‘She frets about who said what to whom, and who sent what text; sometimes whole days are spent in fallings out and makings up and social anxiety. I wan’t to say it doesn’t matter. “It does matter!” says my daughter, and she’s right.’

Yes she is. I wish I could say to them it gets easier, but we just carry on like this till we drop, caught in this web of thrills and tensions, caring too much about what other people said or didn’t say. Although most of us would rather not talk about this on a phone in the library.

Mundane quote for the day: ‘Every living creature exists by a routine of some kind; the small rituals of that routine are the landmarks, the boundaries of security, the reassuring walls that exclude a horror vacui; thus, in our own species, after some tempest of the spirit in which the landmarks seem to have been swept away, a man will reach out tentatively in mental darkness to feel the walls, to assure himself that they will stand where they stood - a necessary gesture, for the walls are of his own building, without universal reality, and what man makes he may destroy.’ - Gavin Maxwell, Ring of Bright Water

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