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Personal Ailments
A Colston Willmott Story

This story first appeared in the September issue of The First Edition, the Hornby Island monthly magazine

“If it is art, it is not for all, and if it is for all, it is not art.” – Arnold Schoenberg

Every so often a book comes my way that seems to include myself in an abstract way, as part of its story. As with “Drive Your Plow Over The Bones of the Dead” written by the Polish writer Olga Tokarczuk: Described by the Guardian as “An astonishing amalgam of murder mystery, dark feminist comedy and paean to William Blake”.

he story
takes place in the winter of a remote Polish village. My relationship to Jannina, the central character, is fanciful, living as I do in a vague cultural isolation which is bolstered by my love of books, music and art. She is thought by her few neighbours to be a crank, her preference for the company of animals over humans. A feeling I’ve had on numerous occasions. The story expands with a series of peculiar and suspicious circumstances, questioning, in this tantalising investigation, what is reality.

For a long period I was involved in this well-written murder mystery and had not at as yet inserted myself into the narrative, when I came up the following paragraph, in a slightly obscure way describing my own personal afflictions. They are not the focus of the plot, more a detail of Jannina, the aches and pains suffered living in such conditions. A Polish winter, snow bound in a small community that only comes alive in the summer when tourists who rent the “quaint” houses and invade the lonely beauty of the area.

Rather than review this marvellous novel, the following paragraph taken from the story, describing Jannina’s physical condition, illustrate my imagined involvement. Circumstance similar, if not exact, to my own medical condition of peripheral neuropathy. A condition that the expert in Victoria, one Doctor Quack-Quack whose patients all appear to be wearing designer running and cycling gear, has informed me to be incurable. So I’ve turned to local advice and purchased a Dr. Ho’s Circulation Promoter. Ah at last some relief!

Unfortunately, my ailments were once again making their presence known. In fact they always intensified as a result of stress and other unusual occurrences. Sometimes all it took was a disturbed night’s sleep for everything to start tormenting me. My hands would shake, and I’d feel as if a current were coursing through my limbs, as if an invisible electric net were wrapped around my body and someone were inflicting minor punishments on me, at random. And then a sudden, painful cramp would seize my shoulder or my legs. Now I could feel my foot going entirely numb, stiffening and tingling. As I walked, I dragged it behind me, limping. And there was more: for months my eyes had never ceased to water; my tears would flow for no reason out of the blue. This fantasy is the only thing capable of bringing me relief. Oh yes, then I am free”.

This is only a description of a condition, the story itself a complex series of events involving isolation, the difficulty in being reached by the outside world. Not ferries in this case, the problem being rough country roads making her community inaccessible and in reverse fetching anything from the nearest village, the sharing of a neighbours birds from his freezer in exchange for…

End Notes:

Olga Tokarczuk is one of Poland’s most celebrated and beloved authors, a winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature and the Man Booker International Prize, as well as her country’s highest literary honor, the Nike. She is the author of eight novels and two short story collections, and has been translated into more than thirty languages. [Photographer unknown]

Drive Your Plow Over The Bones of the Dead is likely available at your library; reading it the only way to discover if this is suitable literature for you.

Illustration by Sophy Hollington [New York Times]

Bill Smith [aka Colston Willmott] can be contacted at classicimprov@yahoo.ca

My weekly radio show, presented between noon and 2:00 every Wednesday on Hornby Island Radio [CHFR – 96.5 FM] can be found at: https://hornbyradio.com/dj/jazz-gems-with-bill-smith/

The First Edition is the Hornby Island monthly magazine, where residents are kept up-to-date with local news and events, plus a number of columns on various subjects. If your interest is piqued, a subscription is available for $36.00 per year North America, $40.00 per year Elsewhere. Cheques or money order to: The First Edition, Hornby Island, British Columbia, Canada V0R1Z0.