Imagine that I’m a recovering alcoholic. Imagine that I have issues and torments, the kind that need a troubled cure for a troubled mind. Imagine that I’ve gathered with seven other self-flagellating substance misusers to try and effect some small changes in my life which may just set me on the road to recovery. This is not so much therapy as self-help, with serious doses of woe and misfortune from all corners and sides. It’s about stepping out of the mindset which allows us down and outs to proceed on autopilot, so that we can repurpose our rote behaviours away from what we don’t want, and towards what we do. To press pause, before we press play again.
At least, that’s the theory.
Having relaxed in our seats and closed our eyes, we are asked by a gentle guiding soul to imagine a lemon on a pure white plate. As we are mentally picking up the lemon and putting it to our respective noses, the silence – which we have been made aware is not in fact silence simply by having it drawn to our attention (the whirr of fans, talking from the next meeting room along, the cries of seagulls) – is broken by the entry of a grey-haired man with a similarly-coloured moustache and tattoos on his muscular forearms; an apparently random entity. We open our eyes, surprised, but our guiding soul decides to ignore him and proceed with the visualisation, trying to maintain the spell, to keep us in the palm of her hand, and the lemon on the plate from vanishing. So, in the stranger’s presence, we are asked to take a knife and cut our lemons in half, observing how the fruit feels, its colour, the smell as the serrated edge bites through its skin. ‘Cut a slice from the lemon, and eat it.’ I eat mine with the rind on, pips’n’all, wincing at the sourness in front of Miles Davis, to see if the sight of lemon being eaten renders him incapable of playing, as the urban myth suggests is true of trumpeters, and so that a lemon tree begins to grow inside of me, the fruits emerging in a matter of minutes in place of fingers and toes and ears and nose and – no, I’ll stop my imagination and yours short of there. The guiding soul has said that all this might seem surreal or weird to us, but to me, it’s what I do, imagining lemons, or rather, what is not, what is elsewhere, what might be, to the extent that sometimes I find it hard to be present in the actual moment, which this visualisation of the non-actual is confusingly proceeding from.
Having eaten some lemon, we come back into the room and open our eyes again. The interloper is still there and I ask him which meeting he’s expecting this to be. ‘School governors?’ he says, and we tell him, no, and he leaves, having witnessed something which must have seemed infinitely more surreal and weird out of context than in.
We are asked to volunteer an aspect of our behaviour that we would like to change. When it comes to my turn, I look around the room, as if to make doubly sure that none of the people with whom I work directly are there to hear what I’m about to say, and then talk about burning the candle at both ends, and how my – ahem – ‘creative pursuits’ (a phrase which occasions some fnarr fnarring, so that I’m obliged to say ‘oi, stop it!’) keep me up till all hours and minimise the amount of time I have in which to sleep, until inevitably I end up feeling exhausted, falling into a daily afternoon slump that inevitably affects my work. The guiding soul teases out how I feel about this. I am conflicted. I wish there were twice as many hours in a day, but there aren’t, and if I want to keep imagining lemons while also attending a place of gainful employment at which I am on occasion invited to imagine a lemon, then my behaviour has to change.
To finish, and without sharing, we commit to a task; mine has to be to go to bed earlier. I already know this – had in fact resolved upon that course of action the previous day – but sharing something of myself with people to whom I rarely if ever open up gives my commitment an edge. And last night, I did indeed go to bed early, or at least, earlier. One harvested lemon doesn’t make a summer, and I can’t say that I feel entirely refreshed on the back of it, but I believe that will come, in time.