Friday, April 01, 2005

Who's Afraid of Geoffrey Chaucer?

Who's Afraid of Geoffrey Chaucer?

Today is the last day of Middle English revision in this current cycle, so it really was a case of picking up the missing bits, seeing how wet everything is and finding the inevitable odd sock. In actual terms this has meant reading Pearl with the aid of a photocopy and Mr Tolkien, finishing of note taking for Troilus and Criseyde from the book I have been told will get me a first if I just learn all 700 pages of it* and sorting out lots of tutorial notes. Predictably coloured pens were involved.

Somehow the past five days haven't been quite as bad as I imagined. I'd deliberately stuckrevising Middle English at this point in the timetable so that I'd not already be grumpy with revision by the time I got to it. Grumpy and gomen do not a good combination make. I've always accepted the fact that, as one tutor pointed out to me in my first year, you can't be expected to like everything in English literature. There are authors, and sometime entire periods, which you simply cannot stand. And from this I've always bunched Middle English in there. I don't tend to like religious literature and for a period which is obsessed with religion this does put a bit of a dampner on it. But, if I'm honest, this doesn't really explain my feelings on this particular examination paper, after all whatever the period, there's always at least one great shining example of something utterly brilliant which came out of it and even the Dark Ages is no different. No, the problem with this paper is the fact that it's so explicitly connected to a particular part of my life that it makes me squirm.

I've come to accept that I am someone who is obsessed with memories. SSoB is - possibly above everything else - a play about memories, my favourite novel's The Great Gatsby, my favourite author's Virginia Woolf, my favourite poem's The Waste Land and my favourite poetry collection is Ted Hughes's Birthday Letters. It's like a catalogue of memory. And this is without even taking into account my hoarding instincts. So I'm fascinated and slightly in thrall of memory. And Paper Three of the Oxford degree is a memory.

This afternoon I had to do something which I haven't ever done before. I had to get out and read the notes that I made in the class that I attended 45 minutes before I sat in the doctor's office and he told me that he thought that I had cancer. For some reason I've never been able to do that, even after everything that's subsequently happened. As I looked at them they made my stomach squirm. But what, in reality, were they? Simply some increasingly messy notes on Troilus and Criseyde that are cut off in mid-sentence because I had to leave the class early in order to get to an appointment. Nothing more, nothing less. But even as I told myself this my stomach continued to flip. Chaucer had done it again.

For a long time I don't think that I allowed myself to process the events of those months. I remember sitting in the entrance to the hospital, eating chocolate and being told that it was alright to cry. I didn't. I cried a little that evening before watching Notting Hill. The next day I cried a little bit more in the twenty minute gap between a drama society meeting and the interviews for who was going to direct the OUDS garden show. In the weeks that followed there simply wasn't the time, or indeed the energy. Even after the threat of cancer had passed there wasn't the space. I felt too ill and, anyway, at this stage it seemed churlish to grieve about something that never really was.

As is standard practice I was offered counselling, but it didn't really appeal. My experience with my occupational therapist had shown me enough that I process events in a very different way to that which counselling operates. My reaction, as so often in my life, was to write. I wrote Kate and Harry in SSoB and what, even to this day, stands as the thing that I am proudest of writing. But at that stage I wrote and then put away. I was ready to write but I wasn't ready to deal with every thing that went with it.

A month or so after finishing the first draft of SSoB, I ended up at the Middlesbrough Christmas Light switch on and subsequently ended up as far from my memories as it was possible for me to get. At the time it wasn't the best activity with all its waiting for Griffin in the freezing cold that someone who had a recovering immune system could chose. I had something of a permenant cold that winter and my body made its own protestations known in a nightclub in Birmingham. But in other respects it was everything that I needed. I didn't come with that great wacking illness tag that I had when it came to everyone who'd known me early in the year. And this isn't to denigrate the people who got me through the March and April of that year, I really don't know what I've had done without them, but my new group of friends offered something which I desperately needed. Something which I think pieced me back together equally as much as those marshmallows in coffee and sparkly homemade get well cards. Not in a bigger or smaller way, but in a way that distinctly got me to where I am now. When I stood in the midst of the Clapham Grand in June last year, listening to Griffin inadvertently singing the song that had been playing in the taxi on the way back from the hospital on that March afternoon, it uneqiuvocally hit me that I was alright. Everything was alright. It didn't need shoving in that shoe box under the bed anymore.

For my first term back in Oxford there wasn't really the need to process any more than there had been the year before. I found it easier to talk about the generalities, if not the specifics. The last term was different. The anniversary was coming and SSoB was looming. The first time that I heard Kate speak her monologue I rather wanted to curl into myself. It physically hurt. And I felt horribly naked. But, after that initial sharp-shooting pain, somehow it all settled down. Somehow those weeks and feelings had given way to something entirely different. And seeing SSoB on stage processed my feelings in a way in which nothing else could. When the anniversary came less than a week after SSoB finished I docked my hat to it but didn't need to do anything else. It didn't hurt any more.

As I copied out the relevant points from that Troilus class on to my revision cards today I knew that whilst Chaucer is bound up with memory and my stomach might still flip, it's not a memory i'm afraid of. It's a memory that I'll always carry with me but nothing more than that. And if I look at it, lots of positives occurred. My life took a sharp change in direction, I realised amongst over things that I simply have to write and I made a group of friends I hope to have for the rest of my life.

And, maybe, I can at last say that I'm no longer afraid of Geoffrey Chaucer.

*I'd tell you the name of this book but then I'd have to kill you.

3 comments:

Val said...

Corinne - you made me cry, Kate made me cry - love and hugs honey! x

Nik said...

I don't really know what to say* but I'm sure there's a group hug in there somewhere...

*Congratulations, you are the second person to move me to speachlessness, second only to Griffin.

Love you lots xxxx

Bex said...

crikey even Nik being speachless is moving me into the land of the emotional wreck again,so as you can imagine, the words I only ever knew existed in your head having come out not only for our consumption but for that of well anyone really,have really hit home. god I hope Val has wine in.