Last night I finished Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy. I was a wreck. I had to take my glasses off during the last thirty pages because I was crying so hard I couldn’t see. I’m still a wreck.
I can’t really give a review of the books without giving a lot away. Suffice to say that I don’t understand what the point is of criticizing the books when there’s so much to love about them. I think they’re better than the Harry Potter series. Pullman doesn’t waste a page, a sentence, or even a single word – I imagine the editing must have been brutal. If it just jumped out of his head like that, I’d have to worry about his sanity.
It’s exhausting to read. Every three pages, at least, I found myself gasping, jumping in my chair, saying, “Oh, shit!” But no one seemed to act out of character – nothing was done for shock value. It was all built in to the story and the characters from the very beginning, an elegant construction. From the first book, I had a foggy impression of what might be coming. Even if I didn’t want to believe it.
There’s a brilliant passage in the third book where one of the characters finds herself in an out-of-body experience – she’s literally lifted up and pulled outside herself. But she realizes that if she doesn’t somehow pull against that metaphysical current, she will never get back to her body and finish what she’s started.
So she begins to remember, purposefully and thoroughly, her physical body. Certain tangible memories that eventually help her reconnect with it. One of those memories I immediately recognized – the graceful dance of her fingers on the keyboard, which is pretty much an eight-hour-a-day experience for me. Sometimes it’s even fun. As Bryan Kest says in one of his classes, “It can be beautiful.”
I began to think about the memories, the corporeal experiences that I might use to find my body again, should I ever lose it. (Not that I would. Under most circumstances I’m strongly rooted in my body, even if it feels unbalanced. I have to be pretty well sloshed or otherwise drugged to start leaving my body – and mostly that means I just feel numb.)
But the light speed of my fingers on the keyboard was a beginning.
Then the sensation of pregnancy, of feeling my daughter move inside me for the first time.
Sex, for sure.
Chocolate. The warm, soft texture, slightly bitter in the back of my mouth. Coffee, dark and strong and warm in my hands through the cup.
The unspeakable bliss of walking from sweltering, humid outdoor air into an air-conditioned house or store. And its opposite – suddenly being surrounded by warmth when you’re chilly or cold. A warm bed partner can do that – well, even a sweater or a good thick blanket can do that.
The soft toes of my daughter kneading my legs as she drops off to sleep.
The scorching relief of a hot car seat, when your back is aching from sitting at a desk all day. The wave of hot air hits you when you open the door, then you sit down and the narcotic heat of the leather seat settles into your back, better than any massage could be.
Flour and butter, when you’re cutting them in together for biscuits or pastry or shortbread – the mixture is soft and cold between your fingers, and if you’re paying attention, you take a whiff of the combination, right before you add the water to bring the dough together. It smells like home.
“… heavy and soft with love.”
It’s a phrase from the third book. I think I’ll hold on to it for a while. It reminds me of the way my daughter relaxes onto my shoulder or tucks her head in the crook of my neck when she’s sleepy, and sometimes when she’s just woken up. It reminds me of the utter relaxation that happens once every so often, when my legs are shaved and the sheets are clean, when I slip into bed next to my husband and something deep and warm and gentle connects between us.
It reminds me that for us, for humans, emotion expresses itself through our bodies. And I think if that flow is easy and open, even if the emotion is hard and overwhelming, it will, eventually, pass on. And the good stuff replicates itself. Our bodies want to be in love, and not just with our partners – with everything.
Wishing you peace and love, and a world without fear. Wishing it for everyone.