In yet another coincidence of light I was walking home straight into the setting sun while a Radiolab podcast told me the story of a man detained by a cup of tea and bathed in a hot white light. The light was followed by a roar that threw him into a field of potatoes and raked the skin off his body. The white light was filled with gamma rays. The gamma rays shot into the cells of his body, knocked electrons off his water molecules, and created free radicals determined to go after his DNA.
The man was in Hiroshima, I was following a chain link fence down by the railway tracks in a back street of Newtown but I was remembering all those hours I spent riding straight into a winter sunset on the back of an elderly horse named Lady. She was small but rangy with a choppy little stride that could shake your bones out of place. Those days I would ride my bike as fast as I could down the long hill of my street and out past the market gardens and the back gate of a navy base to the stables where I worked after school.
I was eleven years old and already worried it might be too late to be learning how to ride. I saw kids barrelling around the neighbourhood on ponies like they were born in the saddle while I diligently worked mucking out stables, mixing up buckets of feed, stacking bales of hay and wheeling endless barrows of muck up on to the top of the largest pile of shit I'd ever seen. Once or twice a week the stable manager would give the order to bring Lady up to the hitching rail and saddle her up for my lesson. More than anything I remember riding up the long side of the school* straight into the setting sun being terrified and humming "Yellow Submarine" under my breath because it was the best song for keeping time at a trot.
It's no secret that I no longer ride, living in inner city squalor like I do, but I don't suppose many people know that I dream of the horse almost every night of the week. It feels like a muscle mantra, every night in the very middle of oblivion every cell remembers not the thought but the sensation. Walking home this afternoon the big low sun and clear winter air tempted me into remembering but despite hundreds of hours spent riding straight into a winter sunset from the back of a horse it didn't quite work.
Two months ago I started taking what I call crazy pills, the doctor calls them something else, but its been a long time coming. I got so used to feeling suicidal that it was practically my normal state of being. I'm not sure exactly how the medicine works but it does, in more ways than one. I used to feel the stab of a memory or the hook of newly forming story like a physical barb. I would pull in towards me and turn it around and around until I knew just which word should come after the other to make it into a picture for somebody else to read and see. Not anymore.
Now I feel a small mental pulse and know there's a story or a sentence or half a line just waiting there for me but its foggy and unappealing and I'd rather just keep walking along watching the setting sun than follow any thought to see where it leads. I've been worrying about this because I have a December deadline for my manuscript and my progress has slowed to roughly a page a week. A page wrought only with great effort and difficulty and almost no joy. This is a new kind of problem.
Like free radicals coming after DNA I think I've been reconfigured by this medicine. I feel less, I feel better, but I miss those barbs and hooks and threads of thought. They used to lead me somewhere I was free to rearrange the alphabet into stories that made sense of everything but recently they just dangle and fade into nothing but a simple walk, like this afternoon's coincidence of light.
*fenced in rectangular arena used for training horses and riders
Suggested reading - James Bradley's "Never real and always true: on depression and creativity"