notes from a wrong planet by Caroline Wright

it is bewildering to realise that when i talk about stuff i loved doing before i stopped being capable, i am talking about half my life ago. (at least, half of my life in linear measured time; given that my experience of perceived time is that it speeds up and up at a pace which has become comically alarming, not half in felt time).

one of the most baffling peculiarities of the human condition is the whole mind-body conundrum, the confusion of existing in both material and metaphysical aspects. being alienated from, or at war with, one’s body adds another layer of discombobulation and identity crisis. many of us who are middle aged or beyond are familiar with the daft indignation of never looking how we think we should in the mirror. i don’t just feel like there is a slimmer version hidden inside and screaming to escape from my unable to exercise, overweight self; much of the time i simply don’t relate to or recognise my physical being at all.

i recall that i used to have an overview of sorts, a sense of the trajectory of my illnesses and how they have behaved over time. the better and worse episodes, the downs and ups. but in recent years my perspective has clouded over, and i can no longer trace any clear chronological narrative of my ill existence up to this point.

too much time spent in the shadowy place of nightmares and fever, chasing after meaning in the dark. too many hours and days out of touch with the living breathing world. having over and over to recalibrate and relearn a crazy sort of balancing act. i don’t get to go elsewhere to search for peace of mind. i have to try to locate it here, somewhere on this tiny patch of land i call the wrong planet.

there is a peter sellers long playing record my parents probably still own. me and my siblings thought we’d entered a parallel universe when we first discovered it as youngsters, we were so thrilled by its irreverent, anarchic humour. on it there is a sketch involving a character called auntie rotter who broadcasts a children’s hour type radio show. at one point she encourages her young audience to hide behind a door with an axe and chop their father in half when he gets home from work, so they’ll gain the advantage of having two daddies!

i’d like to be able to chop myself in half. to cleave the fully operational parts of me from the diseased malfunctioning elements. i’d like to slice bone from ligament and tendon from muscle with a fine scalpel. most of all i’d like to cut out the bits of my brain which cause so much confusion: which jumble and disperse the letters when i try to read for more than a couple of pages; which make it impossible for me to write for hours on a regular basis; which create such profound exhaustion that i have to stay in bed for far more of my time than i am up and about. i’d like to excise the bad. deep clean on a cellular level.

my planet is not of the common or garden variety. for a start, it is not spherical in form, but more like a pyramid tipped on its side. we have only a handful of permanent inhabitants, while many other folk pass through.

some of the planet’s crucial energy supplies are severely depleted, which means that every day is a practical struggle; it is necessary to continually balance expenditure against recharging of resources. most of the work on the planet is taken up with this task. helpers come in from other parts of the universe with supplies such as food and drink, and to offer much needed moral support.

so far scientists have been unable to explain, let alone resolve, this ongoing ecological crisis.

on good days, with faltering steps, and thanks to the assistance of my flowery fold-up walking stick, i am able to move around this tiny patch of land in my small home town.

on bad days my king size bed is my universe, my prison and my sanctuary. on bad days i get lost in a state of fever, and am engulfed by nightmares. on those days i reach around behind my back to try to find myself; i am here, but not here. i am drowning.

i am sitting next to a pool surrounded by grasses and wild flowers in a moonlit woodland. the moon is full, there are no artificial lights for miles and miles, shards of light are shining through between trees, and these shards illuminate the colours of some of the flowers. little purple ones with yellow centres and pale furry leaves, and larger orange flowers whose petals are weighed down by droplets of dew. i have been alone by the edge of that pool for so long that i’ve forgotten what time of night it is, or even what season i’m in.

i throw small pebbles into the centre of the water and watch circles eddy out from where they hit the surface with a soft plop and go under. i’m searching for something in those miniature concentric waves, seeking messages. i’d like the world to stop turning. if the world would just stop turning for a while, and the moon’s reflection in the water remain still and steady for long enough, i might be able to understand.

pondering edges. lying awake as a child trying to envisage the universe going on forever. you keep flying on through its star filled blackness, yet its end points persist in appearing. you push forward, straining to drive those edges further and further away. but no matter how hard you work at this, even when you succeed in keeping frontiers at bay, you know they are still there, just out of sight. those frontiers insist on existing.