A reflection on The Museum of Words

I read ‘The Museum of Words – a memoir of language, writing and mortality’ in a matter of hours.  It is a memoir published posthumously by writer Georgia Blain.  Georgia was diagnosed with a brain tumour in 2015 and passed away in December 2016. 

Georgia began writing The Museum of Words shortly after her diagnosis, and she finished a near-final draft just before she died.  At the time of her diagnosis, Georgia’s mother, writer Anne Deveson, was moved into a nursing home with Alzheimer’s and her best friend and mentor, Rosie Scott, had just been diagnosed with the same brain tumour.  Anne couldn’t remember that her daughter was sick.

In being diagnosed with the same form of brain cancer as her best friend, Georgia writes:

It is hard to believe, that we would both go down with the same thing.
If this were fiction, I would say it was too far-fetched.
But unfortunately, it is true.

Georgia was also about to publish her novel ‘Between a Wolf and a Dog’.  In reflecting on Between a Wolf and a Dog, Georgia says that she simply wanted to write about life:

… life from the middle and life from the end. The ordinary joys and sorrows that seem so momentous when you think you have all the time in the world, compared with how you view them when you know you’re going to die.

In asking her doctor friend for an illness for her main character, she told him that she wanted one in which there was no hope.  Her character was pragmatic, she said, and wasn’t going to go through treatment if it is not going to cure her.  Her character wanted to end her life on her own terms, while she was able.  Georgia’s friend suggested brain cancer.  ‘Perfect’, she said. 

She writes:

It is hard to believe.  We often expect reality as we experience it to be less dramatic than fiction, and most of the time it is.  But this was the perfect storm: a confluence of dark clouds, gathering, all lined up in the horizon, every one of them heading my way.

Anne died on Georgia’s birthday, two days after Georgia.  When The Museum of Words was published, Rosie was still alive but she passed away in May 2017.

During her illness, Georgia was also writing a monthly column on her cancer.  She reflects that: 

Everything came down to the same pinprick piercing the page: We are all dying. We all should be living life appreciating the beauty of the ordinary. But so often we don’t. And this is the eternal human paradox: the only way we can cope with our mortality is to ignore it, to live as though we have all the time in the world.

How many of us, who grieve the passing of a loved one, who feel what Jack Kornfield has called ‘the storm clouds of the heart’, still live as though we have all the time in the world?  For all that has happened, and all that we know through sadness and loss, we often struggle the most to be able to live life and appreciate the beauty of the ordinary.  I am no fool on how precious life is.  But what is ordinary after sadness and loss?  That is no easy path.

In the foreword to The Museum of Words, Georgia’s husband writes that there is loss and terrible sadness surrounding this creation.  But it is a creation.  ‘Something new has come out of this sadness and loss.  And this is a wonderful thing.’

Which takes me to a quote by E.M. Forster on wonderful and ordinary things: ‘What is the good of your stars and trees, your sunrise and the wind, if they do not enter into our daily lives?’