A lot of last year happened in my head. It started with an MRI of my sinuses, which they said needed surgery. So I got on a list and waited and saw a specialist and eventually I went to sleep and when I woke up I could breathe better than ever. Funny thing, as I recovered from the drilling and scraping they’d done, my sense of smell heightened. One afternoon I was standing there making lentil soup, and when I added the seasonings, I could smell them — I mean just standing there — not even hunched over the pot whisking the air up to my nose with an open hand. Never had I experienced such a thing.
About the same time as all this, I noticed I had to hold books at arm’s length, which meant the twenty fifteen vision I enjoyed all my life was gone, just like that. Not that it bothered me like I used to think it would. It’s been a good run and it’s a defect easy to fix. In fact, just before Christmas I was browsing a gift shop with a friend and they had some fancy reading glasses on offer, so I figured why not try some on. Sure enough, the whole world got closer.
End of the year I managed to contract a yeast infection in my left ear, and that took a good month or two to really settle. Down at the beach I couldn’t hear the tide coming in quite right. My own voice shut to a muffle on one side. The only relief was when I’d put on headphones and practice electric guitar so loud as to override the blockage.
I’ll be honest, there’s been more in my head than sensory compromise. I don’t like to talk about it because I don’t like to bring anyone down — and you should notice that about people when you ask them how they’ve been and even though nothing’s new or upbeat, they say they’re good. You should notice that when they say they’re sailing smooth, they might just be trying to not say something else. Anyway the fact is, as I see it, my annual failings haven’t been limited to my eyes, ears and nose.
I tried a few things last year. I tried to start a community service project, but that never really took off. Seemed everybody was interested but not interested all at the same time. Everybody loves the idea; nobody wants to get behind it. But that’s alright, I tell myself; it’s not the right time and place or some such thing.
I tried for a stack of regular jobs. Trouble is I’m over-qualified for so much, but under-experienced for everything else. I’ve been trying on and off for eight years now and, though I believe I can light up a room, I don’t think I’m so much as an after-image in the eyes of this business. But that’s alright, I tell myself; my time will come.
I tried to publish a few pieces, but nobody was ready to take a risk, as I tell myself; softens the blow. You wait and wait to hear back — ask any writer and they’ll tell you the same — and when you hear back you hear this polite expression of great interest but poor fit. It’s false and you know it and they know it but nobody says it. I’ve learned to take it as indication that they don’t represent who wants to read me. But that’s alright, I tell myself; through it all I’ve been writing a big story — what I think is my best yet.
And I’m getting better. I can feel it. My friend Andy, who grew up around Frank Sargeson and New Zealand’s mid-century literary elite, he likes the big story. He’s my audience, and I can’t overstate the joy I’ve found in finding that audience. I’ll tell you, Andy’s eighty-two years old and as far as I can tell, still getting stronger. That’s something to strive for.
Anyway, what I really want to say is that Charlie’s almost ten now, and he’s had a good run this past year. We’ve been sitting here at the beach together on a bench, each with a book. With my sinuses fixed, I can smell the salt in the air and my coffee tastes the best I’ve ever had. I can see the paddle boarders and swimmers bobbing in the tide, and even without correction I can see enough to write a few thoughts at arm’s length. The ear infection cleared, I can hear the gulf whooshing toward its high mark, and when it recedes in six hours maybe we’ll come back and look for sand dollars or skim in the shallows.
Right now Charlie is telling me this and that about some big story he’s concocting in his head. Something or another I don’t know the first thing about. But that’s alright, I tell myself. I’m his audience; this is his time to shine, and I can’t overstate the joy this brings us both.