You talk to me knowing I’ll understand what you say. There are others who won’t listen to you because they know, even before you begin speaking, that they will not agree with you. This is the Great Divide. A people is split in half, there are those who once, maybe, decided to leave their place of birth, and strike out. Whether they were forced out by famine or flood, plague or predators, whether they left to seek for new land, the green valley by the water, the stone cottage on the mountain top, or for adventure, or for gold, they were not satisfied, or they were too frightened to stay. And then there are those who, despite all things, remain where they were born. For them, the unknown presents the greater risk. These folk are content to remain at the fireside, gaining their adventures from the storyteller, or the image maker. They learn to appreciate their immediate surroundings, accept its flaws. They know by staying put it is in their interests to look after each other. But those that have left, they have no time for the weak. To stay with one of their own who cannot or will not continue on, who is injured, or sick, is to threaten the entire enterprise. And thus the Great Divide. These two tribes, those that seek, and those that remain, will struggle to understand each other. I remained behind, as you probably did, for if not, I doubt you would understand these words.
The streets are bathed in spring sunshine, sunshine in rectangles and diamonds and acres of light, on rooftops and brickwork and masonry and on pavements. There is an aliveness to the day that is almost unbearable, and too huge to hold, but there it is, and every photon sears into the visual cortex and electrifies the circuitry of the brain and makes me want to yield and at the same time scream and hug every spangle of reflected light, it fizzes in my cells and this is what it must be like to be a green plant and conscious of photosynthesis, leaves like upturned palms in some sort of invocation.
But for all those years when I wanted coffee, and searched it out like a panacea, the perfect espresso, or a macchiato, something that transformed the everyday into more than just ordinary, so that for a moment, for a distilled moment, like an alchemist, for all transmutation to be in balance, between the concept and the creation, the fulcrum, whilst knowing that all is process, yet fetishising the product, hoping, wanting that things can be true, and reveal bliss, but knowing, all the time, that this is a fatuous, idiotic search for the sublime, and holding any moment was an infantile quest for stillness, shielding the child from reality, all this I was thinking as I entered the Tea Shoppe. The coffee era had come to an end, with the quintessential these days no more than warm milk, so the Tea Shoppe, with its promise of subtlety, and nuances, and perfumes and an exotic hint of Japan, and China, the cast iron teapots, a design that has barely evolved for a thousand years, the bamboo whisk, the ornamental bowl, a conversation piece, the tea house, the quietude. Consider the time it takes to boil the water, then allow it to cool, green tea, particularly, will taste bitter if the water is poured at or near boiling point so allow the water to cool, then allow the tea to steep, these minutes preceding the imbibing of this most delicate and fragrant of beverages, these minutes when you are allowed to wait, and in waiting time is held, perhaps in the sand timer or whatever archaic contraption the man in the Tea Shoppe has sold to you so that like one who seeks to focus on his breathing you focus on the seconds and the minutes. Espresso seeks to trap time, tea acknowledges its passing.
My therapist said I should try and live in the world of things. I should avoid ideas.
‘Ideas, concepts, theories,’ she said, ‘they never resolve themselves. You need stability.’
I disagreed. Ideas, concepts, theories have to resolve themselves in order to be what they are. Without some sort of resolution, they would not be ideas or concepts or theories, they would be a fog of thought, a whim, a fleeting glimpse of something.
‘Nevertheless,’ she said, ‘you need to concentrate on the world of things, not ideas. Engineers, mathematicians, surgeons, gardeners, cooks, they are often the most mentally healthy of us all because they work with their hands, have to deal with the world of the tangible, the universe of things.’
Maybe, I thought later, driving home, the road rumbling steadily under the heaviness of the car tyres, maybe there is an error in her thinking, and in the thinking of all those engineers, mathematicians, surgeons, gardeners, cooks. Things are only what they are for the time that they are those things. Some things last only a moment, others a million years. But nothing lasts, and therefore, things are only what they are because we make them so. Humans see them that way. If humans lived trillion years, trees would be like flashes of lightning, mountains like waves on the ocean.
The steering wheel slipped through my hands. I turned into my street, reversed into a parking space, pulled up the handbrake. My thumb found the button of the seat belt release. I tugged the key from the ignition, opened the car door and swung my legs out on to the pavement.
High up, on a telephone wire, a blackbird sang. A van passed, and for a moment I heard its radio, glimpsed the driver, his head back, his chin jutting. For a moment I felt the world revolve beneath me, beneath everything. She was wrong. I was certain of it. I was wasting my money.