Sorry... a bit of a long one...
I often like to sit quietly and muse about my life (as many do, perhaps, when they're not constantly distracted by TV, music, social media, etc!) I've always been like it, to be honest - but perhaps with a different slant on it since my diagnosis. I often wonder how my life might have been changed by an earlier diagnosis. Would I have gotten more support, which would have given me a better and more confident start? Would I then have made different decisions? Would I have taken advantage of more opportunities as they arose, instead of - as I've so often done - turning them down in favour of remaining in my comfort zone? It's all speculation and fancy, really - whether you're ND or NT. The past is the past. I once drafted a short novel in which a man, after his death, was given the opportunity in an after-existence to see - much as the ghosts of Past, Present and Future showed Scrooge - what would have happened had he made different decisions at crucial stages in his life. Would he have still ended up dying when he did? Would he have led a more fulfilling life? Would he have died earlier? It's a subject that continually fascinates me. Clearly, such speculation can often lead to regrets. The What if? niggles. But the past isn't a variable. It's a constant. It's the past, and although it can be reinterpreted, it cannot be changed.
Having said that, the past is what has informed the present: made us the people we are and delivered us to the place we're in. The Buddhist view on 'cause and effect' has always interested me. The problem I have with it, if I understand it properly (and please correct me if I'm wrong) is that it seems to imply a predetermined destiny, whereas I've always been more inclined to the idea of free will and chance. An uncle of mine always used to say to me "If you're meant to have these things, you will." By which he usually meant money, fame, success, material wealth, and so forth. I disagree. I think that if you want something enough, you order your life in such a way as to maximise your opportunities of attaining that goal. And if that doesn't work, then you seek consolation, or a relative level of life-acceptance, in whatever way you can. You're not pre-destined to be denied your objects of desire. You're simply not able, for any number of reasons, to attain them.
But having said that... there is a part of me that still sees patterns, and perhaps the notions of some kind of a 'plan', in things that have happened to me throughout life. I don't mean a Divine plan. I'm an avowed humanist. But I can't deny that some things have happened to me at crucial times in my life... and usually just when I needed them to happen. Occurrences that I might normally have dismissed as coincidences have somehow directed me, or otherwise reassured me. Just as I've been under the threat of homelessness, for instance... the right place has appeared, at the right price, in the right environment. I've been in situations, too, in which I could - rather, should - have died or been killed. But I've survived them. And this has often led me to think - counter-intuitively, maybe - that I've been spared for a reason.
This has all led me today - just lying in bed first thing, looking at Daisy (my cat) sitting on the duvet looking at me as if to remind me that she wanted her breakfast - to think about the series of events that led to her being here with me. And the real, fundamental significance of her presence in my life - and, of course, of mine in hers - at this particular point in time.
Seven years ago, I was in a pretty desperate state. I'd just come through a suicidal breakdown and was still in therapy. Things were a bit touch and go. I took a short holiday, touring around Suffolk and Norfolk, and when I returned I suddenly began - after a long period of blockage - to write again. It was as if the change of environment and the relaxation had opened something up in my head, and allowed the free flow of creative ideas again. I joined an online writers' forum and posted some pieces, and got some positive and encouraging feedback. I continued with this for a while. But then I grew tired, and decided to take a rest from it, and just write for myself. Then, one day, I wrote a short fictional piece about a man with a mental health problem, and decided on a whim to post it on the site. That very same day, a young Frenchwoman joined the site because she wanted to improve her English through reading English writers. Mine was the first piece she read - and it bowled her over! The mental health problem I was describing was one that she herself suffered from. As soon as she read it, she said in her comment, she knew it was written by a kindred spirit.
Long story short, we struck up a correspondence which, after 3 months, led to her coming over to England for a holiday and to meet me. Within another month, she'd given up her job in France and moved over here to live with me in my small rented flat. She'd had a cat whilst she was in France, which she'd given to her parents to look after because I'd told her that, being in rented accommodation, I couldn't have pets. That had always been my understanding, anyway, and I'd never had cause to question it with any of my landlords over the years. It wasn't long, though, before she was missing the cat - so I told her I'd check with my landlord to see what he said. To my surprise, he said "Do what you like, mate. It's your home." So, we made a trip to France and got her cat. And a little later, we got another one to keep it company when we were out during the day.
Another long story short - it was a stormy relationship, and it fell apart after 18 months, when she moved out, taking the cats with her. It may sound mean... but I found that I missed the cats more than I missed her! I'd gotten used to having pets around again, after many years of none. And I'd always been very fond of cats, too. So, a month after she'd left, I was checking out the website of a local cat rescue centre... and suddenly I got up this photo of a forlorn-looking young tabby called Daisy, cowering in the back of a tiny pet carrier. I rang up straight away, and the next day I went over to see her. I was told she'd had a very rough life and had been treated badly at the hands of humans, so she might be very wary of me. She was being kept in a large cage in the fosterer's garden, and was asleep on a high shelf when I got there. As soon as the cage door was opened, though, she jumped down and came over to me, rubbing around my legs and purring loudly. I picked her up and gave her a kiss, and she purred even more. It was love at first sight! The following week, after all her checks were done, she came into my life. Which is where she remains, and always will - until that time comes for one of us to take our leave. Or maybe both of us. I sometimes think that my own remaining days on earth are very much bound together with hers. That's not a morbid thought, by the way. If she lives a full life, as I hope she will, she'll take me well into my 70s. Long enough, I think. Long enough.
She hadn't been with me many months before mum became ill - which was at the point that I moved in with her to nurse her through her final months. Daisy came with me, of course, and she gave mum a huge amount of joy. She'd always loved cats, too, and it was so special for her to have a cat around again in these last days of her life.
In the aftermath of mum's death - the death of the closest person in my life - so many things could have happened to me. Sometimes, I honestly think that without Daisy to be responsible for, I'd have gone under. There were times when I seriously thought that life had nothing more to offer me, and that I might as well end it. And, on past experience, I genuinely think that if it hadn't been for Daisy, I would have ended it. Her presence has carried me through. And she keeps me going. She's now the centre of my life.
So... effect back to cause. If I hadn't written and posted that piece that day, and if that Frenchwoman hadn't visited the site on the very same day, I might never have had Daisy. And nor would mum.
And I might not even be alive now to write this.
But who really knows?
PS Since I've had Daisy, the one thing I've discovered that she most definitely doesn't like is being picked up! Far from eliciting purrs, it usually leads to howls of distress... and sometimes scratches. Now... if she'd behaved that way on the day I first met her...
Well, maybe, Tom, you were meant to carry on and use your literary gifts to bring pleasure to others. I don't pretend to be any judge, but I found your piece very engaging and even funny in places, as good as any short piece I have read in the past. I think you should try to devote more time to writing as I think, with a bit of luck, you could go places. I certainly think you should be able to write pieces for magazines and so on (maybe you do) and It would be a shame not to accomplish what you are really capable of accomplishing.
As for fate, well, I seem to recall some modern philosopher (Arthur Koestler?) suggesting that it is similar patterns in nature that somehow have the ability to 'find' and combine with one another so that when a need arises somewhere a solution or at least a partial solution appears in order to satisfy that need. How, I do not know, but I think our modern logical scientific approach to reality is not the whole story. It may be that the whole universe is really a 'whole', not separate parts and is in some deep way 'aware'. I know some physicists think of the universe in these terms and who is to say they are wrong? A universal mind? Perhaps.
Thanks, LMW. I devote as much time as I can to it. But, you know, I've been trying to break ground for 40 years. I won a few competitions - nothing major - and had some pieces published in journals whose method of payment is a free copy! It's interesting how trajectories can differ. I was at uni with another student who was 'going to be a writer.' I actually beat him in a uni writing competition. He's the superstar now, though, with several novels and a Hollywood film to his credit, and Tom Hanks on his Christmas card list! I don't like what he writes, though, and it isn't the kind of thing I'd want to write myself. I'm not going to change what I write simply to try to be more commercial, either. I'll tread my own path, as I always have.
I like that Koestler (?) idea. I've been meaning to get around to Koestler sometime. I agree that there is probably more to the story. I don't pretend to understand it. But it's like after mum passed away, and I started getting those 'signs'. I wasn't looking for them. They just appeared. Finding that Swiss coin at the foot of the person I bumped into in the supermarket - the one who gave me the number of a medium who told me so much. I couldn't figure the 'significance' of that coin for a bit. Then I saw the year of minting. I found several other coins after that - all with significant years of minting in regard to important events in mine and mum's lives. I even found one after being diverted from my usual route to mum's place by the path being shut off for emergency maintenance. I had to double back and take a longer route... and there was the coin. And there was the date on it. Coincidences? And then I would get urges to go somewhere - just out of the blue - and end up seeing people I needed to see. One evening, just after mum's funeral, I was popping to the corner shop for a beer when I decided to take a longer path to the supermarket instead. It was raining, so it wasn't a great idea. It meant walking a quarter of a mile instead of 100 yards. But I knew I had to go there. A voice in my head told me I was going to see someone significant. I couldn't think who because it was late at night. It wouldn't be one of her neighbours. One of her old carers, perhaps? When I got there, the place was almost empty. But the first person I saw was the minister who had officiated over mum's funeral! Of all people, in of all places. Then, when I went to register her death, I found in the waiting room - amongst all the usual leaflets and magazines - a copy of a novel. Not just a novel. But one of my favourites, by a favourite writer. And not a well-known writer, either, beyond the usual mainstream. All of these things - they could all be merely strange coincidences. But they happened. And I take comfort from them.
So, yes... I think there's much more to it.
You know, Tom, what you have just written could have been straight out of a Stephen King novel!
I think you'd make a great horror writer Tom because you have a great imagination and the way you put over visual imagery is quite compelling. Anyway, that's my opinion.
Haha! I think King lost the plot some time ago - probably around the time that he started to become such a huge name. His first few novels, though - and his short fiction - were truly great. The Shining is a masterpiece. And I owe him a lot. It was his early work that really drew me in to reading fiction properly. I'd always loved horror and ghost stories as a kid, but he got me reading long novels. He's the consummate writer, really. Totally devoted to his craft - if, as I say, he's become bloated over the years (in my opinion). His book On Writing, too, is a worthwhile read for any writer.
Most of my stuff has been short fiction, and I've been refining my style over the years. I haven't actually written a short story for a long time now, but I think it's my natural home. I have a couple of stories I'm especially proud of.
Thanks for the encouragement
Yeah, I do think Stephen King has been past his best for a long time ago. I don't think he's ever reached the heights of his early novels, stories that made me want to complete a novel and for me, a truly good horror story can give me the 'tingles.' King was somehow able to touch a nerve in me, and no doubt many others, that made his stories so compelling. Somehow he's lost that nowadays. As you say, he's become too rich and bloated and he's just writing out of habit now. What a pity.
Anyway, I think you should use your gift as much as you can Tom. It would be a shame to waste such talent.