Chasing Not the Dragon but the Illusion

November 25, 2011 § 52 Comments

Of course, I know I am chasing an illusion but if there’s fuck all else?  And I am not hurting anyone, except for possibly myself?  There again, perhaps no harm done?

I remember when I was twelve, I was in love with Alexander who was kind and took me for a ride across a field in a clapped out Morris Minor spray-painted with graffiti and he was generous-spirited and attentive to me and I was so unused to it that I could only gasp for breath, for months.  Then at fourteen, it was Gavin in a cheesy French nightclub who kissed me and I was a goner for a year or more, pining and swooning like an idiot and an oaf.  At fifteen, it was an exotic undergraduate who took me for walks in the park of his Oxford college and out to drinks at the Zanzibar in Covent Garden, only I couldn’t drink anything because my hand shook so much there was no hope of any of it making it to my mouth.  He never touched me, but the longing (on my part) went on for, oh, at least a couple of years.  No wonder I lost my virginity to a brace of men at the same time because they happened to be there and asked and I thought it mightn’t be polite to say no; and anyway, I supposed, why not make up for time lost to illusions?  One was a novelist, not a distinguished one, and quite funny and cruel; the other later had his cock stung by a wasp and made a fuss.  That is all I can remember about him.  The experience with the pair of them in some ruffled bed in France was mildly diverting, I suppose, but mediocre.  More illusions followed, not about them, but about others.  One was a brilliant man and a beauty with whom men and women alike were in love, and me his best friend, but he was gay.  I lived for him and in hope of him making an exception.  We worked in the West End and saw each other every day.  He kissed me once I think, am nearly sure, though it may have been an illusion.  If I had the courage – we are still close – I would ask him.

Several decades on, you might have thought I would have had the wit to dispense with such youthful nonsense but you would be wrong.  I don’t think it is youthful nonsense.  It may be nonsense but it is very necessary nonsense; instinctive in youth and more crucial than ever now in middle-age.  How so?

Well, now, as then, when there is nothing going on, I think you have to make it up in your head because the alternative, really nothing, is too painful.  It is why women can think and talk about the nothing for so long, spinning candy floss from a few grains of sugar – a look, a word, a text, whatever – whipping it up into something, for the sake of deflection from the precipice of reality.  The illusion is beyond fragile, I know as well as you do, but it exists.  It has to.  The heart beats but, with nothing and no illusions, pointlessly.  For me, illusions are about survival.  My children are what make me get up in the morning and are who, along with other family and friends, make me live for the evenings and free time, but the desert of the day in between is traversed by the thread of illusion and thoughts of course of a romantic nature, of ideal scenarios and hopes.  I do my work and my chores and my admin and my gossiping but all the while they are there in the background or to the fore, playing on in my head with gusto.

Sometimes you tell me or I tell myself I must put them aside, that they may be sweet but they are malign, and that I am many things apart from them.   Indeed.  A daughter, a mother, a friend, a working person and what have you, but I am wizened and withered and a husk without the plump, vivacious dandelion fluff of illusion.

So, perish age-inapproriate day-dreams and thoughts of Long Shot, and what am I left with?  You know what springs to mind?  A nursing home with a name like Shady Oaks.  I am there already with my root-gingered hands, aubergine ankles, and an underside oozing meaningfully from various unattended crevices.  A tartan blanket falls over my lap and my uneasy chair is pointed at CBBCs on a loop along with all the rest.  I am supposed to be eating too-pale peas that are merging on the all-in-one plastic plate into a pus of custard but would rather die.  All the windows are closed and the cracked radiators are pulsating with an air filled with the fug of warm urine and death but I am cold.  I am terrified of the cold.  My lolling chin shivers against the thin heave of my chest.   We are sitting in a circle playing the adult, longer version of musical chairs, except there is no music and we don’t get up, we just head, one by one, directly past Go and into our own special box.  Yesterday, it was Gordon who shot his bolt and is out of the game.   Empty chair, to be filled by a new player, for a while.  Who’s turn to be out tomorrow?

Don’t you see that the illusions act as ballast for a while, otherwise it might as well be directly past Go now, into Shady Oaks and beyond?

Can a plankton not perchance to dream even if the dream has fuck-all chance, by the looks of it, of ever coming true?

§ 52 Responses to Chasing Not the Dragon but the Illusion

  • ladycampbell says:

    I am loving your Blog and this latest serving rings so true! My dreams and foolish crushes make my Planktonhood bearable!

  • Lizzie from Oz says:

    Of course she can dream. For if she should ever give up on a dream, any dream, she will be scrabbling around trying to find a morsel of hope. And it will have disappeared. Now wouldn’t THAT be a dismal place to be.
    PS Over here in Oz all my friends are planning to be in the same nursing home together! I don’t know how we are going to achieve this, but we have these delicious visions of wheelchairs being prodded by walking sticks and nurses being chased down hallways and neverending ‘do you remember whens’. Just another dream ……

  • Sarah says:

    The most intense illusions are those that have just enough in them to be potentially realistic (it doesn’t take much…), and with that delicate thread, one’s head becomes an industrially-sized dream machine.

    I don’t dream of romantic illusions because I have my very real dearly beloved, but just recently I’ve been obsessively dreaming about another sort of illusion. Just possible enough to provide fuel for my imagination, but probably not quite possible enough to be real.

    Shame, I was quite enjoying myself in my head.

  • Ella says:

    You lost your virginity IN A THREESOME? You thought it ‘polite’ to let these sleazeballs do this unspeakably sordid thing to you?

    That is just so very sad, Plankton. It’s the saddest thing you’ve written.

  • Lydia says:

    When it’s on line go and listen to Woman’s hour play today 10.45am it was on today. i was in the car and heard part of it. It is very very funny. Male MP 50s thinks he is God’s gift to women (the only man inappropriately to proposition me in a work context in the last 3 years was an ex MP, physically disgusting one too)…anyway the invented one is talking his therapist in the play and he is so critical of post 50 planktons. Well worth listening to.

    I told one man today that someone 20 years younger (as his last partner was) was a pretty good deal for most of us whatever our gender. Let’s see his response.

  • fi says:

    No No No. This is so wrong. Living on illusions is what keeps you missing out on what is in front of you and leads to the sense of disappointment that other women here have demonstrated when after years of waiting for this illusion to materialise, they finally realise it won’t. I think you should do the opposite and assume this is as good as it gets, then ask yourself what would YOU need to do to bring about changes in the life you live I.e the real one.

    • Jane says:

      Yup Fi, I am with you, dreams are ok, in their place. When said dreams prevent you getting on with a life because there may be a chance of them coming to fruition, so you will just hang on their thread and not do anything about anything else, then that’s a mistake.If we accept that we may end up in Shady Oaks and I bet there isn’t a woman over 40, be she married or Plankton who hasn’t visited someone in a similar institution and wondered if that will ber her fate also. Do we want to look back at our 40’s and 50’s – when we still had a lot of life left in us – and regret that we wasted them mooning and dreaming over someone who couldn’t even be bothered to pick up the bloody phone and say ‘hello, how are you? do you fancy a drink/meal/shag?’
      The one sure thing is that we aren’t getting any younger, so make the most of it!!

  • Caz says:

    I’m with Fi and Jane….stop dreaming and start living! No – one will do it for you and you will only regret what you didn’t do – not what you did as you get older.

    • The Plankton says:

      Dear Fi, Jane and Caz, You miss my point entirely, I am getting on with the rest of my life but, when it comes to men, the feet-on-the-ground reality is more often about ones I don’t have any spark for and mixed messages and hesitations and mis-timings and so on. Dreaming doesn’t preclude all of that, not that there is much to preclude in the first place, dreams or no dreams! Px

  • Chris says:

    An absolutely unashamedly brilliant piece piece. Yer right back on form !!

  • joules says:

    In discussions with my sister (married but not smugly so) I observed that if one knew that down the plankton road one would get together with the man of your dreams (or just Mr Good Enough) it would mean that you could concentrate on other things and enjoy the time you had on your own before you got there.

    I think that this is where I stand on this now; I am going to enjoy the time I have on my own. I feel that internet dating is not for me – frankly Lydia I would rather spend time working on my job, my house and my garden. I didn’t manage to figure out what was going on with the ex living in the same house – what are my chance online?

    And if there is no man of my dreams I have loads of friends, colleagues, students who will probably be in Shady Oaks with me. We plan to have a good time together and drive the staff crazy.

  • EmGee says:

    Best Post Yet. Necessary Nonsense is essential in keeping at bay the nonsense of envisioning oneself shriveling away unloved and alone, but for pale peas and runny custard.

    My sympathies to those people replying who can only see things in black or white, totally happy or utterly miserable. I have no family nearby, and found out my dad is still in the hospital, so my trip home for Xmas may prove to be the worst Xmas ever. However that date is in the future, and whether it proves to be the worst or not, making myself miserable about it today is contra-indicated.

    I still spin fantasies that my ex bf will mature, find success commensurate with his immense talent, and he will overcome past traumas that shaped his personality, etc. However, I do continue to keep trying to get by on my own independent of anyone else, have fun times with my girlfriends and their families, and just this morning agreed to go to a movie screening with an eligible man on Tuesday.

    If the romantic fantasy were not necessary, why do so many women devour romance novels, movies and poetry, and spin our own Cinderella stories out in our own minds?

  • Jane says:

    If you are loving life and living it to the absolute max as well as dreaming about men that may have been, then all power to you and I am so glad. I am just not a fan of living for the what might have beens and missing all the stuff right in front of your nose

      • Lydia says:

        Yes, very few people on their death bed with they had had fewer relationships and less sex. I think it was Betjemen who said in later life the one thing he regretted was the sexual relationships he had not had, the sex he had missed. it’s hard to procure that once you’re over 80 although I hope even then not impossible.

  • Jane says:

    It’s a winters Friday evening and I am too far down a bottle of wine I know, but here’s a thought – why don’t we all get together when the summer is here again. A picnic in a London Park maybe? we are all of a similar mind so the conversation wouldn’t be difficult

    • fi says:

      Seriously? Spend an afternoon with loads of menopausal women talking about how awful life is without a husband? I think I’d rather take a razor to my wrists

      • Jane says:

        Ok – well we won’t be seeing you there then, sure we’ll manage without!

      • Lydia says:

        I tend only to consort with men. My best friend are all men but a lot of women are very different from me and they get huges amounts out of other female company.

        It’s always interested me why some of us don’t and some do.

    • ladycampbell says:

      Sounds great! Count me in.

    • Joules says:

      I am up for it – not planning on slitting wrists until at least next autumn.

    • Twinkletoes says:

      Jane, funny you should suggest that, I think you read my mind? I was wondering yesterday about suggesting a meet-up, and whether it would be logistically possible if people had to travel from all over the country/world. A London picnic certainly appeals to me 🙂

    • fi says:

      I always think we are responsible for almost everything that happens to us in life. Our attitudes, beliefs and actions result in the circumstances we find ourselves in and its our own fault if we don’t like where we are when we get there. This is however a liberating way to think because it means that if we want to (enough) we can change those attitudes, beliefs and actions and bring about changes. Which is why I can’t be doing with that ‘poor me’ attitude where people sit and moan and do nothing constructive to bring about changes. By constructive I mean ‘different’, not more of the same stuff that brought them there in the first place.

      • Jane says:

        Fucking hell Fi!! do you seriously think that all we would do is sit around moaning and bewailing our lot. Planktonhood is what unites the writers on this page, not what defines them. Is it beyond comprehension to imagine a group of people who are all in the same boat in one area of their life…but not necessarily others, could be interesting and amusing?

      • fi says:

        Well I’m a plankton and like to think I’m interesting and amusing, so yes I agree we can be but there isn’t much evidence of it in the comments here. Sorry. I’ll prepare myself for the angry responses that will now come my way.

      • Lydia says:

        I’m the same but accept most people aren’t. If you dont’ like something change it. If you want a man who isn’t in touch get in touch with him. Drive 200 miles to see him. Take flowers. Tell him how you feel. Or text him. if he isn’t interested he’s not worth having and move on to the 3 bn other men on this planet or whatever of them are suitable and single.

        Act don’t whinge.

        Also change your thoughts. See the glass as half full not half empty.

        This is relaly all about psychology and brain chemistry when you get down to it and not whether people are single or not.

  • june says:

    Personally plankton i have totally got past the dreaming stage, there is no bloody anyone to dream about anyway.

    Popped into another online site, very cheap, for a week, so i sent an icebreaker asking to meet men in my city, only, i still get men from miles away, i ask for slim active men, i get people weighing 25 stone! non smokers , i get smokers, Internet dating is a total waste of time plankton, well it is if my age,possible you might still be just young enough. Plenty fish, the free one, i had one this week, about 90 miles away, saying he was average build, to me he looked plain obese! I did get a man telling me i looked nothing like over 60 but he comes from a tatty seaside resort, 20 miles from here and was a smoker, which i loathe. So plankton i am honestly beginning to feel like you this week, it is a total waste of time, the future looks bleak and where the hell do i go from here. I do have friends i know, but they all have partners and families so they not always available, surely somewhere there must be someone for me, b ut i am really beginning to doubt it and no Chris i am not prepared to compromise,it wouldnt just be compromise, it would be someone who ticked not one b loody box that i wanted, i dont want someone, fat, old, a smoker, who doesent live in same city, isnt solvent, or inarticulate, and has one foot in grave, but i might as well ask for the moon, cause i just dont think such a person exists.

  • Caz says:

    that’s a lovely idea Jane – I’m up for that…..just set a time, place and date and then see who turns up!

  • MissBates says:

    Well, Plankton, here’s the thing: MOST women, not just plankton, and even the smuggest of the Insufferably Smug Marrieds, will die alone, given the statistic that men die younger, together with the fact that men are often a few years older than their wives. You could take a page from my book and do what you can to make Shady Oaks as cushy as possible by purchasing long-term care insurance. If I’m going to be old and infirm, it will be an old age scented with Jo Malone candles instead of pee, and in the comfort of my own home. I will pay a great-niece to pluck my chin hair, and I figure I’ll be OK.

    Having said that, I’m not suggesting you should feel tne tiniest bit better abt your situation, nor that you should stop harboring hopes abt Long Shot. Something has got to keep you warm through the holiday season.

  • Steve says:

    Very poignant piece, Ms P.

    It is one of nature’s cruellest practical jokes; that those who are the object of our unrequieted love are either oblivious or indifferent, and yet those that fantasise about us are of no interest whatsoever.

    We share your pain


  • Selly says:

    This post really affected me. I think like you do, but at the same time, I do know that this future in Shady Oaks could, and probably will happen, whether married or not. Husbands die before wives generally, and most of the older women in my family are either widowed, and so single and about to face the future in Shady Oaks at some point, or they are taking care of their (mostly) ungrateful husbands, who are on the verge of going into their own Shady Oaks.
    But I totally understand what you are saying. Completely.

  • AMJ says:

    This blog post, and the one before it, ooze honesty and beauty like no other since the first one where you said women die long before they actually die. Keep writing like this – please.

  • Leftatforty says:

    Shady Oaks is my nightmare.
    The nightmare I am approaching one day at a time. x

    • MissM says:

      My nightmare also.

      I only hope they have legal euthanasia clinics before I get to that stage, one I can go to when I can no longer take care of myself in my own home. The death by a thousand cuts of general degeneration is beyond awful. I don’t know why humans are expected to endure so much when we wouldn’t let our pets suffer that way.

  • Lydia says:

    Don’t worry about Shady Oaks. My parents both died at home in their own house and it can be arranged IF you have enough money. Like everything else if women pursue decent careers and earn a lot (and do not get themselves distracted by men – so so many stupid women give up careers for men, move across the globe for a man, drop out of university for a man and rarely the other way round… ) then they can ensure the older years that suit them.

    Secondly if you have good relationships with your children then you can see them a lot. Someone I might meet next week spends the whole weekend with his 89 year old father every weekend. I think that’s lovely although it must make it hard for him (the son not the father) to date women. I know someone whose mother spends 2 months of each year with each of the 6 children.

    Thirdly if you keep fit your older years can be fun and if you think we might survive death and have 200m more years after that which I tend to think is likely (I’m an optimist) then a few years when bits are falling off you may be a small pice to pay. It is all to play for.

    Also some women start acreers at 70 – a novelist I can think of and others. I hope that will be possible for me too when I get older if I am not too distracted by the man of the moment.

  • Geoffrey says:

    Plankton – one of your best but Lydia is right (on this occasion!). I work in the care home sector (yes, you never know what useful advice you will get by writing this blog) and the stats are that yes, 80% of our residents are women but only one seventh of over 85 year olds land up in one. And your vision of staring into space and eating congealed custard in a home smelling of urine is out of date. so long as you have a house to sell, as you will be able to afford something much nicer. And that is if you are so frail that you need it – as Lydia suggests domicilliary care is going to become far more prevalent. Things have moved on since the ’70s.

    • The Plankton says:

      Dear Geoffrey, That is a completely reasonable point and you are right to defend the institutions of your profession, but grant me it you will an institution of mine ie. a little poetic license? Best wishes, Px

  • Geoffrey says:

    Of course dear P (I was being a little tongue in cheek as is my custom).

    Incidentally – as you know, I deeply admire your spelling and grammar but I believe “license” is the verb and “licence” the noun. Gx

    • The Plankton says:

      Thank you for the spelling clarification. I was wondering! It looked wrong and I knew I mightn’t have got it right but was just too lazy today to look it up, so that serves me right. Best wishes, Plankton

  • june says:

    The last comments have just cheered my saturday night up, so funny. I was just thinking how bored i was, no-one on facebook as if they are not out with their partners, they are all watching bloody X factor. Personally i have only seen it once and that was once too often, and that was round a friends on one of few saturday nights i was invited out. I will not be watching it again,does the crap ever end,it seems to go on for ever. What do people see in it, ive had more fun watching paint dry.

    As someone said you dont have to end up in Shady Oaks, and as the next generation of older people are going to be us “baby boomers” do you seriously believe we are going to put up with being treated the way older people are treated now. Well im not for a start. So dont worry plankton we will have it sorted by the time you get there.

    The meeting up idea sounds good, personally i have a hell of a lot more fun out with my female friends than i ever do when men involved. Lots of them are much more fun without their partners, men seem to inhibit women, Ive one friend who out on her own is great,shes a laugh, enjoys herself, up for anything, not with her partner though. Im sure if i had a load of female friends who were planktons i wouldnt bother so much about finding a partner, but to be honest the only ones i know at the singles group, get on my nerves,and going out with them bores me, but with my coupled up friends,without their partners going out is great, we always have a great time.

  • Joules says:

    Licence and license always trip me up too. Thanks for the clarification Geoffrey. Need to read Troublesome Words again.

  • rosie says:

    I’ve been away on an overseas work trip so haven’t had much chance to look at the blog but this post really affected me too. For the past week I’ve been cocooned in a nice warm bus, with nice people, being taken to see nice places and I’ve been able to forget about being a plankton. Not entirely of course, it’s still been hovering at the back of my mind but that’s entirely preferable to the white noise of planktonhood which crowds out everything else (unless I’m really immersed in something else and even then it rears its ugly head) during the drag of everyday life.

    Now it’s back to nothingness, by which I mean just me, myself and I and it fills me with sick panicky dread.

    The only thing that’s keeping me going is that there’s another trip coming up in just over a week’s time.

    • The Plankton says:

      Dear Rosie, You are doing trips which is great and means that you still have the strength to get out of the house. Cling on to that as something at least. I heard of a plankton last night who is so low, she never goes out. There is one truism: we plankton may have an almost nil chance of finding someone, but it is absolutely nil if we don’t walk out of the front door (like bemoaning not winning the lottery but never actually playing it!). Keep reading this (to assure you you aren’t alone) and keep up the strength! Good luck. Px

  • rosie says:

    Thanks P, I will!

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