I ate the sardines and not the sardines me.
I am going to write about this vocational writing dream: of putting animals at the centre, not the writer. But first, let me say: tomorrow it will be one month since we began corresponding — since I began this work with you — and I have written most days, even when it felt as if I had nothing to write. As it feels like this morning. I am stuck in my dream a bit — I can remember the citroen car, that became a keyring, the man at the bar who bullied me into buying him a drink after I bumped into him, and then yet the blonde I met at the bar who I would not have met if he hadn’t, and a feeling of adventure… but not much more. A TV screen or computer that had stopped working due to long use (!). Mike L from old charity days…
My dreams certainly have a different tenor these days, to those of days gone before. I guess I am in new territory — today is also two years to the day when H and I first went on a proper date, I think… not the wild garlic harvesting but we went out for a drink… it has not been an easy two years, as it was never going to be, but I have made it this far. As I wrote to my friend N in a letter yesterday, it is growing and not disintegrating, and as I told my therapist last Saturday, I am having thoughts now about an intimate partner I have not had before… such as the feeling of grief in losing them. Perhaps I am allowing myself to feel the necessary things for a relationship to last. For me to want it to last.
I often think about L and our good communication as the marker or bar against which I judge (harshly) the communication I have with H. (But then I forget about the bad communication: her breaking into my email; that then spiralling into other things, including me checking her phone after she came back from Edinburgh Fringe, finding the flirty text messages)… Ah, Franz, there were so many mistakes made, so much at destructive odds in my life back before 35, that it is no bad thing to use this time, this morning writing to you, to look back and be rather okay — proud? no, no — that I have turned things around (long enough, so far, at least; long enough to sit and write, too, in one place, to focus, to publish a book, to have others on the way…)
Tonight I head to Bolton and tomorrow Manchester to do readings from the Pig book. It is a good thing to do although tiring. The worries of whether or not anyone will turn up, the act (and art) of performing putting me at the centre… and yet it can be seen differently, can it not? The animals are at the heart of this work. This is chance for me to go out and talk to people and help spread influence for people to think more about those invisible animals within the machine… the pigs, the chickens, the cows. There is no humane slaughter. I am telling you! A man whose father came from a family of kosher butchers. And your father, well… “My father had to cover himself with his newspaper during dinner for months until he accepted [my vegetarianism].”
Although did he ever really accept it? They tried to make you eat meat again. At the sanatorium they forced fish upon you. “I was sad in the evening,” you wrote,
because I ate sardines. They were well prepared with mayonnaise and potato puree, but they were sardines. For a few days I was eager for meat and this was a lesson to me. Sad as a hyena I walked through the woods. Sad as a hyena I spent the night. I imagined a hyena that has found a tin-can of sardines lost by some caravan, is breaking the can with her teeth and eating the carcasses. What is the difference between her and people? She doesn’t want to but has to, we needn’t but want to. The doctor was calming me down in the morning — why be so sad? I ate the sardines and not the sardines me.
This was not in 1924, when you died. This was earlier, in 1920, writing to your sister from the Tatra mountains. You later died of starvation, because the tuberculosis had ruined your throat and you could not eat. I imagine, perversely, somehow, that finally you were free of the hunger and want that we needn’t… this desire for flesh.
So I will travel today and read from the book tonight and tomorrow and lead a discussion about this: why we feel sad when we eat the sardines, and yet it stimulates in us this eagerness too.
Living sardines (cc) Casey Bisson
Sardines in a tin (cc) Chiara Cini