“Life feels better when you have a plan” ~ on plans and oracles
I’ve got a difficult couple of weeks coming up. On Saturday, I am in for surgery to remove a tumour in my throat, caused by hyperparathyroidism. It’s a benign tumour in so much as it isn’t cancerous, but it’s been causing serious physical and mental health problems for heaven knows how long. The surgery is predicted to last about an hour, longer than I’ve ever been under anaesthesia before, and will leave a scar a couple of inches long in the hollow of my throat.
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t scared, because I am. Terrified, in fact. But it needs doing and that’s that. I’ve put a lot of things on hold that I’d intended to crack on with: final edits for Square Peg, working on several novels, garden stuff. You get the picture. What scares me almost as much as the surgery itself is the possibility that this won’t bring me significant relief. I’ve not been able to make any plans for some time. Even things like going away on holiday have been put to one side; many of the things we enjoy doing when off on holiday I’ve been too poorly to contemplate.
There’s an ad on British TV at present from insurance company Scottish Widows and it’s haunted me. The images and the music and the voice over have got under my skin.
“Life feels better when you have a plan.” Note it says, ‘feels’, and doesn’t say ‘is’. People get hung up on plans, especially things like business plans, five year plans and life plans. Plans don’t work out the way you think they will but they give a sense of purpose and structure to what might otherwise be a meandering, spiral or even circular wandering through life. Plans are the coalescing of hopes, dreams, ambitions, giving you something to aim at.
I’m a sucker for oracles, as regular readers might know. Oracles like tarot don’t foretell the future, or even predict it; used skilfully, they can show you potential futures based on past experiences and choices. There’s nothing like understanding where you’ve already been for helping you understand where you’re going. On my birthday last week I bought Colette Baron-Reid’s The Map, a book and card set to help map out your life so far and see where it’s leading; I’m enjoying exploring the book (though it’s quite superficial and a little too whimsical for me) and finding the cards helpful too but one of the reasons I bought them was to do with something I started writing three years ago.
If you’ve been with me that long, you might recall I did a weekly serial called Lost. I posted ten episodes as I wrote them, and at a certain point, I stopped. I began the project after events in real life left me feeling worse than Lost; every time I got into a state about it, I worked through things and came to write a new instalment, in a state of trance. I didn’t plan or think or even care much; I let the words of the story draw me to a point where I could stop. I came back to it a year ago and began working the same way, though the excruciating emotional pain was gone. I realised it was a deep project, exploring my inner landscape and have been working on it slowly since then. I have no idea where it will go or when it will be finished, or even if once finished will I publish it.
Here’s a segment of it to illustrate my point:
“I walk round, my feet leaving a silvery trail in the dew laden grass and select a tree I think I may be able to climb and find a massive oak, its bark green with lichen and moss and scramble up into the lower branches without much problem. Up and up I climb, awkward and inept and trembling at times when I look down.
It’s one of the tallest trees and when I reach the canopy, and have to stop to catch my breath, I make the mistake of looking down. A tangle of branches weave in and out like a mandala below me and my mind becomes confused by the pattern. I shut my eyes and try to focus.
I open them and steady myself, gripping the wood tightly and shift a little so I can turn left and right without risking slipping. Over the sea of greens, the sun is rising, a great red ball that becomes golden as I watch the mists spiralling up out of the forest. For as far as my eyes can see, there is only trees, mile upon mile of forest. I can see no roads or significant clearings beyond some that seem to be where the more ancient of trees have fallen to their deaths. I see no buildings or signs of people. In the extreme distance, I can see the faintest glimmer of a mountain range, a thin blue line of hummocks at the furthest horizon.
The forest is waking as I stand gazing over the canopy and I can hear birds and other creatures greeting the new day and I can also hear my stomach rumbling.
Slowly I realise that having got up this high, I have now to get down again and after fixing the direction of those mountains in my mind, I begin my shaky descent.
As I climb nervously down, all I can think about is that sea of green and the miles of endless forest ahead of me.
There are no paths. All around me, endless shades of green, with some brown and red and orange as counterpoint, and no opening, no indication that anyone has ever come this way before. I sag against the trunk of the tree I have just climbed, the memory of those distant mountains burned into my retina like the after-burn of lightning flashes, and for a few long minutes, I want to curl into a ball, and bury myself in the moist leaf-litter and return to the earth.
But somehow I square my shoulders and take a long deep breath. I gaze around carefully and I spot it: not a path as such, just a thread through the greenery. It’s probably a deer path but it seems to be going in the right direction at least, so I begin.
The way is not easy; I cannot walk, but rather have to weave myself in and out of fallen branches, over rocks and heavy rotting trunks. Sometimes, in the soft earth I see the footprints of the deer who use this trail and sometimes droppings, but they are old, and I feel sure the deer do not come this way often.
I merge with the forest, my mind slipping into its rhythms as the sun climbs higher and higher. I sip water from a tiny rivulet that crosses the path, scooping water into my mouth; it tastes earthy, a tang of smoky peat teases my taste buds, making me remember something I cannot quite put my finger on. It’s not unpleasant, just odd. I eat leaves, to stave off the hunger, and the occasional berry. In the back of my mind, I wonder how I know whether something is safe to eat or not, and worry that perhaps I do not.
By late afternoon, as the sun has begun its decline to evening, I have covered perhaps a mile in a straight line and am exhausted and filthy. I’ve crossed and recrossed the same ground, and it was only seeing my own footprints in the moist ground my a stream that told me I had doubled back. I never once thought they might belong to someone else. Throughout this great wide forest that seemed from the treetops to go on to the edges of the earth, I cannot sense another human soul. Only birdsong and insects disturb the peace here.
I can sense the sunset even though I cannot see it and I know I must find shelter for the night. I’ve nothing to keep me warm and I am dimly aware that the food I have eaten would be sufficient for a family of field-mice to live on. Every limb aches with exertion and my heart sinks because I know that those mountains are still as far away as ever.
As I climb into a tree and try to snuggle as close to the trunk as I can, feeling the living force of the sap slowing inside, I ask myself, why am I heading for the mountains?
But I sleep before I can even start to answer that question.”
“Why am I heading for the mountains?”
An excellent question. But all I can say for this story and for my life is this:
“Life feels better when you have a plan.”
(you can watch the ad here. It’s rather moving)