When God took a month off… and other clichés

words / Wednesday, June 8th, 2011

I haven’t published for a week. This isn’t through lack of ideas, but because everything I’ve written has turned into a twisty, turny splurge. Not the kind that is ranty and fun to read, not a hurrah or a harumph with meaning, but empty black holes of rage and sadness; raggedy and vengeful and littered with gaps left where only clichés seem to fit. And, who wants to be a blogger in the grips of cliché, papering over cracks at the end of the day?

I mean, I don’t believe in Him, but enveloped as I am through language and experience by His metaphorical presence, I feel like God has taken a sabbatical of late. Yet being this woman right now, on the sidelines of the mire, could be worse. Working out how to support is preferable to being in the scrum.
So many people who I love and hold dear have had the worst sort of mind numbing, stupid, bad or stressful news. I met up with an old friend herself at the end of a fortnight on tenterhooks, and told her a selection of what had happened. It felt like a tumbling mire of stories; all shitty and useless, with no punchline and only a few happy endings. I can’t go into detail, because these are the real stories of friends of mine, the lives they are living not fodder for my self-reflection, but safe to say they span the soap operatic cannon of operations, losses, and difficult diagnoses, via lots of waits. Horrible limbo periods as we hope news will not be difficult or life altering.
I’m also reticent to give details as the very act of writing events and circumstances down seems to inevitably pull any scribe or storyteller towards creating a narrative. Some meta-story with answers and morals and reasons. I understand this pull towards story, but I think it can be dangerous. It provides the illusion of close comfort, whilst actually providing a safe distance. We cast the world into helpful thems and us-es, goodies and baddies, conquering heroes and heroic victims, cocooning the teller and listener safely away from those ‘others’ in peril.
At best, in an attempt to make people feel better we compare tales and offer false comparisons. My mum and I, when she had breast cancer, called it ‘cancering on’. All well-meant paving slabs of good intentions, about against the odds survival and good news or treatment trials. For sure they offer the solidarity of knowing others have felt the same, but they can feel like a taunt when you are in the lonely, dizzy days after a rotten diagnosis and are trying to recalibrate your world view. When you’ve become one of those ‘them’ people, removed from the rest, from ‘us’.
At worst it allows us to be accidentally seduced by worries about what is fair and what isn’t, when fairness is irrelevant in the face of genuine troubles as what is deserved doesn’t really matter a fig as you try to work out how the hell to process the unchanging calm of dawn when your head is upside down. The pull to contextualise and rationalise can even leave us tempted by that most insidious of bastard devices for self-delusion; karma.
The trouble is, by not wanting to carve meaning from the futile, I am back at the gaps where only clichés fit. I offer a friendly ear, an audience which is kind but not rubbernecking, accepting detail but not demanding it. I throw out good thoughts, offers of crossed limbs and digits, blow digital kisses, and give freely of my broad shoulders for tears and brief carrying of heavy loads. This teaches me nothing about cancer or other ridiculous life-fucks, of course. But by happy accident, it reminds me at least that there is a poetry in language. Poetry which extends even and perhaps, despite all our English teachers’ admonishments, * especially * into clichés.
Those well-worn words which in their simple, common or garden lack of originality seem to say something quite profound to me. To hold in them a solidarity of the ages. As if these footballer summaries, said so many times we heap on the scorn and accuse them of being meaningless, have picked up something of the simple kindnesses and inarticulable empathy and love from the millions of speakers reduced each day to using them. In every ‘if there’s anything I can do’, ‘take each day at a time’ and ‘you are in our thoughts’, the whispers and echoes of love seem to me to be resonating. And for me that is the magic of language, that maybe real love can exist in the banal phraseology of those who are, otherwise, lost for words.

3 Replies to “When God took a month off… and other clichés”

  1. this is the second time i have noticed how brilliantly you write about the times when the chips are really down.
    i'm sorry that things are tough, but grateful that there are people like you who can articulate life's dark places so beautifully.
    hugs x

  2. Oh how perfectly you expressed it. People say things like "I'm thinking of you' etc etc because they don't know what else to say, and saying something ANYTHING is saying better than nothing. We're never lost for words, we are frequently faced with situations for which there are no words, none that will do at all. So we say, take care, I'm here for you, don't let the bastards get you down and all those hackneyed expressions because we daren't say, 'What you are facing is so appalling that I can't think of anything to say that even gets close'.

    Beautifully writing, just lovely x

  3. Thank you for the hugs Mule, am trying to find some cheer to write about before things get too twisted round here!

    Spudballoo – exactly, and when you are on the other side, hearing familiar phrases, they don't seem so, because you know how heartfelt the speaker is.

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