Thursday, January 5, 2012

The Flaubert option

I am in the midst of my third bad cold/respiratory virus in less than 12 months. Is it karma? (I bragged "I never get colds anymore!" a year ago). Whatever the cause, this is my particular immune weakness right now and no matter how many vegetables I eat or how much zinc, vitamin C, or Chinese herbs I take, the colds stick around for several days. And make me tired—after I typed this first paragraph, I wanted to lie down again.

There are only two good things about being sick: it increases empathy for the sick, and offers time to daydream. Of course I can daydream in good health, but not without some degree of guilt. Trapped in bed, the mind can wander.

I thought of Gustave Flaubert this morning when I went back to bed after breakfast. Flaubert's family wanted him to be a lawyer but he wanted to write. After what was described as a bout of nervous fits (perhaps undiagnosed epilepsy?) he declared he was too ill for the law. And he wrote. Of course, this is an oversimplification of his life—he traveled, had liaisons with prostitutes and engaged in love affairs in places beyond his own bedroom. But I have this image of him retreating from the world and giving himself completely to words.

Last night, I went to bed early and, cozy under blankets, read 50 pages of The Night Circus, which I received for Christmas. I did not think about dirty floors, laundry or dishes—I didn't have the energy to do anything else.  The only other time these days that I can "read" books so guiltlessly is when I am driving in the car, listening to books on tape. I always have to be doing something, going somewhere.

In my regular, healthier life, the reading of a book is no longer a goal or worthy activity in and of itself. How have I gotten so far away from one of the things that is most important to me?

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