It would be a gross exaggeration to say that I'm sick right now. I'm about to head out to Duane Reade for contact lens stuff, and I'm meeting a friend for a drink later this afternoon. Still--the unfamiliar tightening around the uvula, the wide net of malaise pulling me back to the couch. Not enough to do me in of course--I wrote a full scene this morning and might go back in again--but even the smallest cold seems to bring out the imaginary gauges and meters. You're not quite your body anymore but standing a little apart from your body. You're thinking about your friend with whom you shared that piece of cake the other night, and you're hoping she's taking her vitamins and drinking her juice. You're opening your mouth wide, watching that throat in the mirror, wondering if it's going to set you down, or bear with you a little while longer until body and mind can agree that moving around is a lot more pleasant than lying down.
Is there a better writer on illness than Virginia Woolf? Here are the opening sentences from "On Being Ill," which are next to impossible to extract from. Let's just say I had to stop.
From On Being Ill
Considering how common illness is, how tremendous the spiritual change that is brings, how astonishing, when the lights of health go down, the undiscovered countries that are then disclosed, what wastes and deserts of the soul a slight attack of influenza brings to view, what precipices and lawns sprinkled with bright flowers a little rise of temperature reveals, what ancient and obdurate oaks are uprooted in us by the act of sickness, how we go down into the pit of death and feel the waters of annihilation close above our heads and wake thinking to find ourselves in the presence of the angels and the harpers when we have a tooth our and come to the surface in the dentist's arm-chair and confuse his "Rinse the mouth--rinse the mouth" with the greeting of the Deity stooping from the floor of Heaven to welcome us--when we think of this, as we are so frequently forced to think of it, it becomes strange indeed that illness has not taken its place with love and battle and jealousy among the prime themes of literature. Novels, one would have thought, would have been devoted to influenza; epic poems to typhoid; odes to pneumonia; lyrics to toothache. But no; with a few exceptions--De Quincey attempted something of the sort in The Opium Eater; there must be a volume or two about disease scattered through the pages of Proust--literature does its best to maintain that its concern is with the mind; that the body is a sheet of plain glass through which the soul looks straight and clear, and, save for one or two passions such as desire and greed, is null, and negligible and non-existent. On the contrary, the very opposite is true. All day, all night the body intervenes; blunts or sharpens, colours or discolours, turns to wax in the warmth of June, hardens to tallow in the murk of February. The creature within can only gaze through the pane--smudged or rosy; it cannot separate off from the body like the sheath of a knife or the pod of a pea for a single instant; it must go through the whole unending procession of changes, heat and cold, comfort and discomfort, hunger and satisfaction, health and illness, until there comes the inevitable catastrophe; the body smashes itself to smithereens, and the soul (it is said) escapes.