Guest Blog – Bo Mandeville
My days are very short now. About eight hours on a good day. Which means I am in bed for sixteen, asleep or resting, but regardless, insentient, semiconscious at best. Unaware of the world around me, existing in a haze. Like mountains in cinematic shots, when the director wants to evoke mystery, the peaks blurred by a constant haze. Life eludes me in those hours.
I usually wake up before 5:00. Often, my rest is interrupted by sudden severe spasms causing extreme pain which can last for an hour or two. I map out these intense agony moments, spikes and dips revealing a new topography, plot them as a cartographer.
When I am up, resident tawny owls often converse; now, in spring foxes bark and screech, howl and scream, gradually their sounds fade as the dawn chorus emerges. After a few hours, slowly leaving that haze, I am about able to dawdle, drag my feet, leaning on my walking frame, shuffle from the kitchen to the front door, put on my barn coat and ride on my mobility scooter to the sea. Before sunrise. The colours of a waking seascape are different each day, the tones, the atmosphere, the light, the intensity and drama. I take pictures, every day. Add these to my maps to illuminate them.
Fortunately I still manage to get to the sea. Fortunately, after a few hours, I slowly gain awareness, move out of the mist into lucidity. With hardly any speech I chat a little with my wife, with my daughter, address the cats, over coffee. Double espresso strength. And if I have a somewhat better day, I write. My window of opportunity is narrow. An hour, maybe two. But I cherish any opportunity to slip through the narrow window.
I recall memories.
When I became ill — a neurodegenerative illness somewhere on the CBD spectrum (Corticobasal degenerative syndrome) — everything changed. My mobility went, my balance did too, and anything movement related is now hugely affected. There are so many symptoms, all gradually worsening, and I know at some point (soon) I will no longer be able to move independently. Even the wheelchair will become redundant. But what’s caused me distress, is the loss of cognitive abilities, of creative thinking and of my memory. So, I put a nearly finished novel aside, and started writing about memories and encounters, meetings with people who have been influential in shaping my thoughts on the arts, mainly in film and poetry.
Last Christmas, my son, home from Belfast, asked me about some of those meetings. About the people, and I embarked on this writing project to reconstruct those key memories before they, too, evaporate.
I am planning nine entries, hoping, quite optimistically, I can complete this. A book, blurring the lines of documentary and essay, possibly conflating fact and fiction. Probably.
from the chapter “Chantal et Gilles”
[Paris — Chantal Akerman & Gilles Deleuze]
At the back of the auditorium three waiters, possibly film academy students, with long white aprons, black uncomfortable trousers and tight-fitting white shirts, make their way between the gesticulating guests. Incredibly agile not to drop the trays and spill dozens of glasses of wine. Androgynous contortionists, they retain a grace, as they glide in wave patterns through the reception area.
I love the way hands move fast, despite the lack of space. The motions are like subtitles. Or a code, not secretive but instructed, learned and mastered. I can read the comments, observe different views being articulated. I pick up on clues. Those brief monologues expressing strong opinions on direction. On writing and editing. On what’s deliberate. On the expression of life.
Nervously I wait to be introduced, and perhaps I would prefer to be invisible, to be reduced to the odd facial expression, subdued in a way. To be at ease with Chantal, a filmmaker I admire so much that I could have never have imagined I might one day call her my mentor, has taken me months. Now she is going to tell Gilles about me. Add a subtitle, a title even. “Un jeune réalisateur,” as she points at me. He looks up, stops as if I should say something.
“Apprenti…” I quickly add, under my breath. This is intimidating.
“Deleuze!” He immediately turns around as he hears his name. Relief. Brief delay.
What can I say, if anything. If anything meaningful. My head spins as I try to figure out what holds meaning in this introduction.
The evening is a haze. Parisian smokiness is a romantic attribution, how I like to minimise my lack of clear memory. Some small talk, possibly, and a quick exit. I have never enjoyed crowds. Never. It is uncomfortable. Now, being reclusive, is a blessing. One I have had to wait for. Decades. Illness is what makes my hermit-like existence acceptable to others. I have longed for it.
That first brief encounter is a pencil mark. A faint stroke. Nothing more. Unimportant. Yet relevant because, though I don’t know if Chantal and Gilles agreed it there and then, the next meetings are of immense consequence, what have freed my thoughts on cinema from theoretical and methodological analysis. From constraints.