I have been thinking about other things apart from the rich. I have been considering the shared characteristics of expats. I have done this before and have written about it before, but now I shall do so again.
As a group of people, expats are on the run. They are escaping things in their own land and trying to find it in someone else’s. I know this because this is what I am doing; to an extent.
Let’s take the little fat lad who was always bullied at school, as a child and as a teacher. He has arrived in his chosen destination to escape his past. He is intent upon rebuilding himself, neuron by neuron. Tabla rasa, a fresh start, a new me. The problem with rebuilding is that it needs foundations and foundations need to be dug deeply. Unfortunately, once you have lived for a number of years, those foundations have to be built on the previous foundations and any builder worth his salt will tell you that that will weaken the structure. In the end, the newly constructed edifice will develop the same cracks as the other one had. You can’t truly rebuild oneself, but only modify.
Now, I am as guilty of holding aspirations to rebuild as any other person. Mine, however, were fuelled through the need to have some solid structure. My own house had fallen down around me. The roof was off and the undaunted elements were whipping themselves into a frenzy of invasion as I sat helplessly in the back room. The difference between me and a younger ex-pat seeking to do a personal make-over is that I am older. I may not be wiser but I am wilier. I know my limitations and understand many of the limitations of others. I have started to read between the lines of other people’s dialogue and actions. There is another young teacher who talks about the students “loving him” and he never stops talking. He continually talks throughout lessons. He certainly engages students with his plethora of anecdotes, but his talking tends to sap the air form the room.
Why? Why? Why? Do people feel the need to talk so much? (I used to do it). Now, I like quiet. And quiet is a gift that old age brings with it.
At night and at weekends, I am at the mercy of quiet. At those times, quiet is to be endured. I read or walk or cycle or drink. At other times I yearn for company, but the sound of the voice of Miss Jean Bloody Brodie coming through the walls, or being fired at me over lunch with opinions and knowledge on everything, is driving me crazy. Hello darkness, my best friend. Just stop talking. Stop being the instant expert on Mallorca’s culture and history. Stop having an opinion on everything. Stop having to add your tuppence worth to every single utterance by others. Stop, me too. Stop anecdotes. Stop talking for a moment and breathe. And listen…
It is the sound of silence.
Weekends bring me the sound of silence and sometimes it can be deafening. Books help. A good book drives off the demons of loneliness. Books do tend to become (CLICHE) my friends and companions.
One of my greatest friends is The Stand by Stephen King.
The Stand was first published in 1978 and I first read it in 1980. Since then, King has edited it about twice and rewritten aspects to reflect the change in the cultural environment of the United States.
When I was student, I can remember mentioning to my English Literature lecturer that I thought that King was an excellent writer. The lecturer, smiled at me with something that weighed a little over a tonne of condescension. She laughed as she stated that King was not a real writer. I didn’t laugh or smile. I never talked to her much after that and would bluff my way through her seminars in a manner that was apparent to all and a large section of sundry. Fortunately for me, this lecturer was only there for a year before returning to the States. She did teach me one thing, FECUNDITY which she used lavishly in her description of Gabriella Garcia Marques’ One Hundred Years of Solitude – a true writer. I still have to read that book.
The Stand is an old friend. I read it every five or six years. I go back to it in the same way one might go back to the place in which you grew up. My affair with everything apocalyptical probably came from King; well some of it anyway. The landscape of my youth was clouded by the coming apocalypse. But it never came. There was the threat of nuclear war, Aids, over-population, and ISIS (so called), but it has never ended. Neither has my love of The Stand.
I picked up a copy of this book just before the weekend and started to read it once again. Some people never go back to books once they have read them. Some people never review a film once it has been watched. I do both. The mind-readers out there will tell you that it will be connected with my psychological hoarding, a need to never let go of the past. I believe this to be true, as this book testifies. For somebody who can launch into new experiences, whilst leaving behind old ones, I am a strange contradiction. But there are artefacts that I treasure; books, books, books.
The latest edition of The Stand has new chapters and some new characters. All of these are peripheral to the main events yet they work in a way to freshen up the novel for a new audience. Where King falls down a little is where there are obvious anachronisms that have been born out of temporal revision. My favourite character, Larry Underwood, a musician about to make it big before Captain Trips seizes his stage. At that time Larry was mixing his tracks with Neil Diamond. Now, I am not one to put Neil Diamond down, but a new audience wouldn’t really know him. If they had heard of him, it would be in the same way that would have heard of somebody once called Noah. I have a student who goes by that name, but he hasn’t got an arc or a zoo. That to one side, the book gripped me once again and I spent huge swathes of the weekend lost in its many pages.
Once again, I was back to the time when I was eighteen, still wet behind the ears, hoping beyond reasonable hope that I would amount to something in life. I was afflicted with that good old Jesus-Syndrome. Reading, The Stand is like reading me and about all that has happened during the time that I became what I am today.
My favourite characters in the book are Larry Underwood and Nick Andros. The latter is a youngish man who can’t speak nor hear. He is very special in the grand scheme of things. Larry, because he is a tragic figure who is haunted by his own doubtful character. He wants to be good but often does bad things. “You ain’t no good guy!” He hears from women, who would have been complete strangers if he hadn’t have slept with them. I like Larry because he is a little bit like I was when I was young, self-centred, hedonistic, and a dreamer. He wanted to do the right thing in a world which was not right so, he just went along with it and carved out his own little stretch of land where he could hide from his troubles and the eyes of his critics.
Larry is an artist who has struggled to be heard properly. He hasn’t had the breaks and when one sashays his way it is blown away by a combination of genetic engineering and the end of days conducted by Randall Flag. Old Randy is the Devil in-definite-carnate. And poor old Larry, and the rest of the world, are swept away by this janitor from Hell. Larry is a guy who has always been good, at heart, but indifferent in actions. The last stand of good against evil is one in which he will play a major role, surprising himself and others with his bravery and selflessness. At the end of it all, Larry is a “good guy” but dies in the process. So, is this Jesus thing in my DNA or has it been placed there by the writers I worship?
If I was a lawyer, I would possibly say that this particular case ought to go to litigation. Through their poetry and prose, these writers have led me all the way along a narrative that quite possibly would not have been written in the same the way that it has turned out. Or is it that I was always predisposed to this type of existence, and that I chose the literature that best reflected me?
Thanks goodness that I never liked Jane Austin – although with zombies it is a lovely treat.