Columnists, like actors, are popularly believed to go on writing or acting come what may. Many are the writers whose last column has gone to print posthumously, having been written shortly before their demise. This happened, I think, to the great Francisco Umbral, and to my dear friend Montserrat Roig, the Catalan novelist and journalist, who succumbed to cancer in 1991 at the indecent age of 45, and who, the previous evening, had sent in her usual article from her hospital bed.
It is the same case, as I have already mentioned, in the theater. There are countless stories of actors who have taken to the stage as if nothing had happened, just after their mother, wife or child has passed away. And there are also many examples of thespians who have dropped dead on the boards, mid-performance. Such resistance is normally considered heroic, admirable. I am really not so sure - neither in the case of actors nor columnists. As a general, all-purpose norm, human beings tend to do what comes most easily. In short, we simply do what we can do.
And what we can do, in the first place, is to cling to the routines that keep us going. To be a columnist with a deadline is a powerful routine, one of those social exoskeletons that sustain the chaotic, ragged, neurotic life of a writer. We can say the same of actors and their shows. Our jobs, both writing and acting, are in general primary tricks that we use to survive, to get through the day, to bear the anxiety of existence. Routine not only consoles us, but it is also a relief, the trick we use to drive back the shadows.
So there is nothing very heroic about it. The actor who goes out on stage when his father's body is barely cold is doing so because it lessens the pain. He wouldn't know what else to do. I, too, wrote columns until the end, when the person dearest to me lay dying. It consoled me. As I said already, we do what we can. And in general we can do rather little.
As a general, all-purpose norm, human beings tend to do what comes most easily
The point of this somewhat lengthy introduction is that it is about time I wrote my article, and it so happens that I am in a hospital. Nothing important, fortunately, but it is tiresome and painful. I might ask the newspaper to let me off, and put in a piece by someone else, and they would surely do so, but I don't want that. I can't. I owe it to my routine - it is my savior, my consoler.
However, it is hard to hold much else in your head when you are trapped inside your body. The body/soul pairing is a territory at war. The body traps us, limits us, kills us. We are hostages of the body we happen to have, and our fight with it ends only with death. We struggle against the body, to tame it and make it ours, ever since we learn to toddle and make that immense achievement of a sense of balance, which we take so much for granted.
We all struggle against our body: elite athletes; mountain climbers who put theirs to extreme tests; monks and nuns who (not to my taste) mortify the flesh with hair shirts and cilices, to silence the body's natural (animal) demands; the people prematurely obese in youth who heroically starve themselves into an approximation to prevailing canons of sex appeal and beauty; the middle-aged obese, who cut and paste the form of their body to counteract the inevitable decay of age.
It's true, the body is a tyrant. You can be making your plans for summer, carefree, and suddenly the body knocks you on the head and puts you in a hospital. But at the same time... what a grandiose thing, this body (better speak well of it), which enables us to see the world, listen to music, drink and eat delicious things, kiss and caress and love, walk in the hills on a fresh morning. Dear, detested body, about whom I can't help speaking today because I'm in a hospital, because it hurts, and because it's about time I wrote my article.