I’m looking for an objective correlative. Not for the same noble, literary reasons as Eliot but for a more prosaic, selfish reason. I need a set of words to match some anger I’ve acquired and which is stuck like a faulty heart valve, causing the vitriol to back up and toxify my normally easy-going emotional system.*
I’m angry because my neighbour has felled an old walnut tree that was on the border of our gardens. A trivial enough thing when set alongside the wider world and its agonies but, without going into detail, the tree meant a lot to me and the manner in which it was done was not very neighbourly. In the two weeks since it was felled I’ve been hatching plots which range from lighting smoky bonfires whenever he’s in his garden to creating some obscene topiary in the remaining hedge, even to occupying the tree but, because I’m a grown up, these are not available to me and don’t offer the satisfaction I’m craving.
And that’s where the blockage really is, in that need to be mature and rational. If I had responded to the initial flow of adrenaline and smashed him and his tree surgeon in the face there would, admittedly, have been consequences but, for a few moments, I would have felt good. The fact that he is also a pillar of the local church, past president of the rotary club and is regularly seen in the local press handing cheques to charities makes retribution even more difficult (and, actually, even more necessary). Instead, I’ve had to resort to using measured words in letters to various agents of my local authority and town councillors, not to mention polite, balanced appeals to said neighbour in the hope of reaching a compromise. None of which worked. Worse, the act of reining back my instincts has led to my current, unhealthy impasse.
So I’m seeking solace, or release, in literature, which is where you guys come in. If DH Lawrence had been handy, he would have given me a storm the night before the felling was due and thwarted the efforts of the tree surgeon. The trouble is, being DH Lawrence he’d have made the tree fall on my side of the garden, destroying my wife’s studio and punishing my anger as well as my errant neighbour’s vandalism. Speaking of errant, if I’d learned the following – from Don Quixote, railing at Sancho Panza- instead of just copying them into a notebook, I feel my enemy might have quivered and reconsidered:
“Scoundrel! Designing, unmannerly, ignorant, ill-spoken, foul-mouthed, impudent, murmuring and back-biting villain! Darest thou utter such words in my presence…and hast thou dared to entertain such rude and insolent thoughts in thy confused imagination? Avoid my presence, monster of nature, treasury of lies, magazine of deceits, storehouse of rogueries, inventor of mischiefs, publisher of absurdities, and enemy of the respect due to royal personages! Begone! Appear not before me on pain of my indignation.”
Even tapping that out on my keyboard helps a little, though part of that relief comes from me imagining the effect of Cervantes’ words: a speechless, cowering tree-surgeon meekly handing over his chainsaw and turning his own newly-enlightened wrath on my astonished neighbour, who runs off and locks himself in his shed. But this is my inner child at work again, much as it is when I imagine my neighbour shaking a collection tin at me during this season of goodwill and me doing something very unseemly and fundamental with the tin. (Incidentally, the tree surgeon is also the town Tree Warden, whose job description includes the words ‘….to maintain and protect trees in the area.’)
For the moment, and despite it being very unworthy of me, I’m hoping Santa helps. With the tree gone, there is now a direct line of sight from my spare bedroom to my neighbour’s master bedroom. I imagine a morning when I draw the curtains and show him my Christmas tee shirt which features Mark Antony’s oft quoted words:
The evil that men do lives after them, the good is oft interred with their bones.
(*Apologies to Bill and anyone else in search of good writing).