Waiting and waiting.
On Monday, I met four friends for lunch, my first outing since Op Hunt Saboteur. It was fantastic to be out with people, eating, talking, laughing and being generally human.
One topic of conversation was the Archers‘ slow burn storyline of coercive domestic abuse as Rob begins to undermine and control Helen, gradually increasing the pressure to the point now where he has hit her. One of my friends had been unable to continue listening.
For many years, I loved East Enders. I enjoyed the bleakness, the characters, the writing and storylines, the families and their relationships. As a writer, I learned a great deal from the ways that those plots interwove, the need for ancient soap history in order to unscramble some of the current issues, the building and releasing of narrative climax. Soap narratives are always open-ended, there’s never a happy ever after, the end – not even for death.
Remember the return of Dirty Den, whose body had been recovered from the canal a year after his shooting? That British kitchen sink realism contrasted so perfectly with the glamour of US soaps, notably Dallas and Dynasty in the 80s, where characters were horribly burned in car crashes to return as a new, flawlessly beautiful actors after burns surgery. Den just reappeared, teeth bared as usual, having apparently faked his own death. Then the trope of improbable plots became deliberately hilarious with Footballers’ Wives – the fake tan baby swap was the pinnacle of British soap piss taking meets pantomime.
But East Enders began to change. The Dawn Swann and mad doctor May storyline went on, and on, and on and on. I could no longer suspend disbelief, or even enjoy the disbelief as an end in itself. I stopped watching, because I simply couldn’t take any more of the dragging out. This is a recognised phenomenon, and it’s the one S was mentioning at lunch. It has several names, including ending fatigue. It prevents us from ever attaining the emotional resolution we need, because there never is one.
Waiting, endless waiting. Always waiting.
I love a good story, a good drama. Some writers have that ability to tell tales in such a way that they reveal deeper truths, surprises, twists, new perspectives. Writers like Hilary Mantel, Kate Atkinson, Joanne Harris and Stephen King know how to do that, understand the balance, the importance of characters and situations. Then there are those highly popular storytellers who lack finesse or skill, who just offload a good story in narrative chunks, tell rather than reveal; Jeffery Archer and Barbara Taylor Bradford are two who rely on that tactic. It might be a rollocking tale, but it leaves me cold because I’m interested in the wider truths. Stephen King describes finding a story as digging up a fossil using a range of suitable tools; if you hack at it with a mallet you’re going to lose lots. (If you look down on Stephen King, read ‘On Writing’; he’s wonderful, and he’s a darned good writer).
My own reveal has been prolonged already; gradual awareness, inquiry, thought, explaining away, and then the start of the resolution for the first part of my narrative; I have a brain tumour, here it is on the MRI scan. I fossicked to find more, was met with honesty, a few suggestions, no definites. That’s the beginning of my narrative as its progressed and I’ve begun to take in what is going to happen. Meanwhile the possible outcomes have narrowed.
At each stage, I’ve met setbacks. The delayed operation, the result of a wider political culture that’s hell bent on privatising and putting finance above social care and public welfare impacting directly on my personal story. Then the cancellation for no bed as I was prepped and ready to go. The melodramatic decision to go on Spotlight. The wait for the next op date, the stress of sitting and waiting, wondering whether the bed would be there for me.
The operation went ahead, I came through remarkably well. I’ve learned that there’s no magic abcess to let me off the hook and as information has dripped in, I’ve understood that this is most likely the illness that will kill me. But I don’t know for sure; maybe I’ll get run over by a bus, or trampled by a Galloway on the moors. I know I will have radiotherapy on my brain first off, I know that I have cancer cells roaming my brain because the protective blood brain barrier has been breached.
I know the prognosis for a GBM4, the type of primary tumour this might be, is poor. I know the prognosis for metastasised cancer (most likely this will be breast cancer, but not for certain) is variable, but poor. I know I have nodules on my left lung that might be further mets. I don’t know how treatable they are, whether the disease process can be slowed in my case.
So here I am, living the endless soap of setbacks and delayed resolutions. As S said about the Archers, the stress comes with the lack of an emotional release, the resolution delayed to the point where you’d rather stop listening.
After my prolonged Easter weekend wait, the two bank holidays, the not hearing, I tried on Tuesday afternoon to discover when my appointment would be. There is one Neurologist Oncology nurse covering the SW this week, one. I eventually got hold of a secretary in neurology, who told me that I have an appointment next Monday, but as yet no time; she will let me know. Another weekend. My soap opera storyline continues. I wonder whether I might be killed off now, and perhaps return next year as a new actor without cancer.