There’s that wonderful illness that incapacitates you from all responsibilities and just leaves you to lay in bed thinking about the most interesting things with just enough strength to pick up the books at your bedside which are conveniently piled there for you. (At an extreme, Robert Wyatt described recovering from the fall that left him paraplegic as an experience like this. I’m not so stoic, but it did produce Rock Bottom, so I can’t argue with the man.) Then there is the sickness that removes from you all your capacities one by one: movement, balance, sensation, thought, comfort, digestion, respiration. I had the latter. I don’t know if swine flu is always so bad but for me it was, and for nearly a week I was reduced to the simplest thoughts and simplest sentences breathed shallowly through my throat. Hans Castorp was a distant fantasy; if only I could be relaxing in a mountain resort having conversations with blowhards. If only I were restricted to a Parisian apartment with pages and pages of novel drafts of which my mind were acutely aware. Even the sharp recollections of the nearly-quadriplegic character of Adam Mars-Jones’s Pilcrow seemed enviable as my skin burned with every contact with furniture, fabric, sheets, water, and air. I thought more of Lawrence Sterne and his miserable years during which he amused himself with Tristram Shandy, and all those years Martin Luther spent on the toilet while working out his theses. And above all I suppose I thought of this, since I first saw it when I was 13 years old and it made such a primal impression on me:
I don’t know what the sequence is supposed to be, but after the desperation and the fear that arises from briefly losing faith that one will ever get better and that full mental facilities will ever again be at one’s reach (and this is just from a week), there was then the anger that I had put up with anything out of disposition or laziness and frustration with myself that I hadn’t taken things more seriously when this sort of sickness was just around the corner. This is the stereotypical response, I understand, after which most people don’t change their lives one bit at all. It’s some kind of survival response.