Sunday, March 18, 2007

BOOKS | Horizontal Drift

Yoga for People Who Can't Be Bothered To Do It

I've just started reading Geoff Dyer's Yoga for People Who Can't Be Bothered To Do It. It was easy reading, and I hope I will enjoy it as I continue. I'm at a loss as to the unifying theme of this book, as in a post-Seinfeld kind of way, this book seems to be about something, but also about nothing in particular.

The first essay, "Horizontal Drift" - has Geoff Dyer accounting his short stay in New Orleans. In 1999 he had an apartment on the Esplanade, just beyond the French Quarters. A young man, Donelly moved into the apartment next door, and his backstory is interesting: on April Fool's Day 1987, he found out he had skin cancer and the doctor prognosed a 30/70 chance of survival. That was four years before Donelly met Geoff Dyer and he had survived a series of operations, "sufficiently full of life to try, five months before we met, to kill himself."

According to Donelly, "It wasn't like I was depressed or anything. I didn't even want to die particularly. I just didn't want to live any more." And it seems Donelly's case study was perplexing to his doctors at the mental home where he was treated for his attempted suicide.

I guess one could say this story is about a friendship lost?

All this means, I suppose, is that he was my friend. Living as I have, in many different cities, in different countries, I've got used to making new friends at an age when many people are living off the diminishing stockpile amassed at university, when they were nineteen or twenty. It's one of the things about the way I've lived that has made me happiest, and maybe the only reason I'm telling this story ― this non-story ― is to record the simple fact that in New Orleans,a town where we knew hardly anyone, Donelly and I became friends.

Dyer played with the idea of writing a book about Donelly's life. He saw the book as "a kind of parable, one without any lesson or moral, a parable from which it would be impossible to learn anything or draw any conclusions." Instead of a book, he wrote this essay.

Dyer has moved many times since New Orleans, and he lost touch with Donelly. He had no idea if Donelly had tried to contact him. From time to time he thought about trying to track Donelly down, but had no idea how to begin. This is what happens in life. Random strangers come into our lives, make an impression and then we lose them. Perhaps the point of Dyer's essay is about random encounters and how easily we lose them. Perhaps Dyer wrote this in compensation for a lost connection, and also of connection never made:

... the kind of feeling you get when you see a woman in the street, when your eyes meet for a moment but you make no effort to speak to her and then she is gone and you spend the rest of the day thinking that, had you spoken, she would have been pleased, not offended, and you would, perhaps, have fallen in love with each other. You wonder what her name have been. Angela perhaps. Instead of hopping the freight, I went back to my apartment on Esplanade and had the characters in the novel I was working on do so.

When you are lonely, writing can keep you company. It is also a form of self-compensation, a way of making up for things ― that did not quite happen.

This is my interpretation of it, at least. I was o the bus when I read Dyer's "non-story." And my mind wandered, as it often did on a long bus ride.

I was in Melbourne a few years ago with some people. It was December, but it was broad daylight by 5 am. I was usually awake by then. While my travel companions slept, I would make tea, read and meditate. Or at least I tried to meditate, because my mind was constantly disturbed by the thought of an old friend that I had lost touch with during my university days. Last I heard she had moved to Melbourne.

Let us call my friend Crazy S. (It's not flattering, but if you knew her then, you will agree it's suitable). I knew Crazy S. from high school, having struggled with puberty and the Awkward Age together. We lost touch for a while when I uprooted myself to another Junior College when I was 17. But during our university days, she got hold of my email address from a mutual friend. She had been studying in a university in Melbourne, but she emailed me on a regular basis. She bothered.

Crazy S. had always been headstrong. But she was also capable of great empathy and insight. While she was studying in Melbourne, she fell in love with an Engineering student, D. and they moved in together, in an apartment paid for by Crazy S.'s mother.

Crazy S. never told her mother about D. Then one day, during her study break, she flew back home with D. in tow. I was introduced to D. and that's when I learnt why D. was kept a secret. Anticipating the emotional upheaval that would soon follow, I stayed away.

Crazy S. and D. returned to Melbourne later. I learnt from mutual acquaintaince that Crazy S. and her mother quarrelled before she left. As Crazy S. had been emailing my university account, we lost touch when I graduated. I failed to follow-up with my personal email. I guess I just failed to stay in touch.

When I was in Melbourne a few years back, I wished I had made the effort to keep in touch with Crazy S. I would have liked to meet up with her and D. ― if they are still together. I wished to be able to apologise to them for my failure of loyalty and moral courage. And to tell her something else.

That time in Melbourne, when I was trying to meditate, my mind replayed what I wanted to say to Crazy S. if I should run into her. In one of the scenarios I did find her in Melbourne. We had dinner at her place, Crazy S. D. and I. And I told Crazy S. that D. must possess the patience of a saint to put up with my friend for so long. I imagined telling her about my relationships since we last met ― and I imagined her being sympathetic and ironic at the same time.

When you are lonely, writing can keep you company. It is also a form of self-compensation, a way of making up for things ― that did not quite happen.

Maybe that was what my mind had been doing then, writing and re-writing as a form of compensation.I was trying to make up for the things I failed to do, trying to compensate for the things not done.

1 comment:

Rebecca H. said...

I loved Dyer's book. The more I think about it, the more I like it. (I just posted on it over at my blog.)