Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You by Peter Cameron

STP(Not discussed by the group but written in a personal capacity.)

I got this book because the Chelternham group were doing it and I was not disappointed – indeed I have ordered another of his books – The Weekend.

I was once left with a friend’s eighteen-year-old son when she left the room. Trying to make polite conversation, I asked him what his plans were now that he had finished his A’ levels. He said that he was going to join the circus and get ‘as far from here as possible.’

Teenage angst, I thought. I had wanted to talk about universities and courses.

This book is written in the same sort of engaging language.

It’s Cameron’s fifth novel. He counts among his strongest influences the novels of British women writers such as Rose Macaulay, Barbara Pym, Penelope Mortimer, and Elizabeth Taylor. He admires these writers for their elegant and accomplished use of language and their penetrating and sensitive exploration of personal life.

From 1990 – 1998 he worked for Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, a legal organization that protects and extends the civil rights of gay men, lesbians, and people with HIV/​AIDS.

The novel’s title comes from the ancient Roman, Ovid; the full quotation is preceded with, “Be patient and tough”. It appears in the novel when the protagonist goes to a sailing camp – Camp Zephyr whose motto was “Be Patient and Tough; Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You.”

As the novel opens, in July 2003, James’s cynical older sister is having an affair with a married professor of language theory; his mother ditches her third husband on their Las Vegas honeymoon after he steals her credit cards to gamble; his high-powered father asks if he’s gay; and James is stuck working at his mother’s art gallery, which has mounted an exhibit by an artist with no name, of garbage cans decoupaged with pages torn out of the Bible, Koran and Torah.

The protagonist shows some signs of Asperger’s but maybe he’s merely an introvert: -I only feel like myself when I am alone. Interacting with other people does not come naturally to me; it is a strain and requires

And “I’m not a sociopath or a freak (although I don’t suppose people who are sociopaths or freaks self-identify as such); I just don’t enjoy being with people. People, at least in my experience, rarely say anything interesting to each other. They always talk about their lives and they don’t have very interesting lives. So I get impatient. For some reason I think you should only say something if it’s interesting or absolutely has to be said.”

Hiding his fears behind a curtain of disinterested contempt, James, who is gay but unwilling to either discuss or test it, likes only two people in his life, his wise and accepting grandmother and the man who manages his mother’s art gallery. In the course of the story, James comes to realize that he can’t wall himself off forever, finally making a maladroit and unsuccessful attempt to reach out.

Reminiscent of London Kings Cross: I seriously doubt women would have torn down the old Penn Station) infuriates me. At the new, improved Penn Station they don’t announce the plat­form until about thirty seconds before the train departs, which means you have to stand around staring up at the (really ugly) signboard and then make this mad dash along with thousands of other people to the announced platform if you want to get a seat.

Reminiscent of some places where I have been on holiday: I set out to walk to the Getty Museum. I thought this would be fairly easy since I could see it; it seemed merely a mat­ter of going around the corner and up the hill. But it turns out you can’t walk to the Getty. At one point the sidewalk just ended for no apparent reason and I was forced to walk on the shoulder of the road, where obviously I was not supposed to be walking because I almost got run over. Drivers in L.A. are not pedestrian-friendly; it’s like they’ve never seen pedestrians before and they don’t believe they’re real, so they can drive past them at eighty miles an hour. The road I thought would take me to the Getty Museum only took me to an eight-lane freeway, which I knew I could not cross, even though I could see the Getty Mu­seum right in front of me.

A single reference yields something of an explanation: James saw, at close range, the planes crash into the Twin Towers. The closest he come to commenting is to turn to a story about a woman whose disappearance after 9/​11 went unnoticed for a month: “[It] didn’t make me sad. I thought it was beautiful. To die like that… to sink without disturbing the surface of the water.”

I found it odd that Americans called continental quilts ‘comforters’.

I had to look up ‘finagle’ = To obtain or achieve by cleverness or deceit, especially in persuading someone.

Also ‘termagant’ = a harsh-tempered or overbearing woman.

A little proof-reading wouldn’t have gone amiss – e.g.’stoop’ when he meant step’.

It was one of the American Library Association’s Best Books for Young Adults 2008. It also won the Ferro-Grumley Award for Gay Male Fiction 2008.

Cameron coverQuotations:

“The day my sister, Gillian, decided to pronounce her name with a hard G was, coincidentally, the same day my mother returned early and alone from her honeymoon. Neither of these things surprised me.”

” I’m only eighteen. How do I know what I will want in my life? How do I know what things I will need?”

He was Japanese, and had interesting theories about identity—for a while, earlier in his career, he had changed his name every month, for he felt identity was fluid and should not be con­strained by something as fixed as a name. But apparently after a while of changing his name every month people lost track, and then lost interest in learning, or remembering, his name. So he divested himself of names completely.

This bread was not sliced but “hand-torn”; apparently slicing adversely affected its taste and texture.

I sat down on one of the two Le Corbusier chairs that faced his desk. ‘Apparently Mr. Rogers is a compulsive gambler. He stole my mother’s credit cards and lost about three thousand dollars:’

“Three thousand dollars? That’s all? Some of my dates cost me nearly that much. I don’t think it’s anything to end a marriage over:’

“It’s not really the amount. I think it’s more the issue of trust. He waited till she was sleeping and took her cards and left. On the third night of their honeymoon:’

The waiter came over for our order. My father ordered steak and I ordered penne with basil and heirloom tomatoes.

“You should have ordered a steak or something;’ my father said. “You should never order pasta as a main course. It isn’t manly:’

“I’ll keep that in mind,” I said.

“No, you won’t;’ said my father. “And listen, while we’re talking about this, let me ask you something:’

“What?”

“Are you gay?”

“What?” I asked. “Why would you ask me that?”

“Why? Why not? I just want to know:”

“Why? Do you get to take an extra deduction on your taxes or something?”

“Very funny, James. No. It’s just that we’ve never talked about your sexuality, and if you are gay I want to be properly supportive. It’s fine with me if you’re gay, I just want to know:”

“You wouldn’t be supportive if I were straight?”

“Of course I would. But not—well, the world supports het­erosexuals. It’s the norm. Heterosexuals don’t really need sup­port. But gays do. So I’d have to make a special effort. That’s all I want to know. Should I be making a special effort? Should I not say things about pasta being faggy?”

I didn’t want to go—the program was allegedly bipartisan but the NRA or the DAR or some organization like that ran it, and I knew it would be awful. I’m an anarchist. I hate politics. I hate politics and I hate religion: I’m an atheist, too. If it weren’t so tragic, I think it would almost be funny that religion is supposed to be this good force in the world, making people moral, and charitable, and kind. The majority of the world’s conflicts, past and present, are all caused by religious intolerance

“I found this spectacle somewhat depressing, because I had always thought, or hoped, that adults weren’t necessarily as hobbled by mindless conformity as so many of my peers seem to be. I always looked forward to being an adult, because I thought the adult was, well— adult.
That adults weren’t cliquey or nasty, that the whole notion of being cool, or in, or popular would cease to be the arbiter of all things social, but I was beginning to realize that the adult world was as nonsensically brutal and socially perilous as the kingdom of childhood.”

“Most people think things are not real unless they are spoken, that it’s the uttering of something, not the thinking of it, that legitimizes it. I suppose this is why people always want other people to say ‘I love you.’ I think just the opposite— that thoughts are realest when thought, that expressing them distorts or dilutes them, that it is best for them to stay in the dark climate-controlled airport chapel of your mind, that if they’re released into the air and light they will be affected in a way that alters them, like film accidentally exposed.”

“I felt this awful obligation to be charming or at least have something to say, and the pressure of having to be charming (or merely verbal) incapacitates me.”

I thought that at the rate we were repeating each other’s words we wouldn’t get very far in forty-five minutes. “Please don’t answer a question with a question in that therapy way.”

Without any reaction or hesitation she said, “What do you think about therapy?”

I didn’t say anything. It just seemed pointless, like trying to have a conversation with a parrot or someone who’s been lobotomized.

“I found the idea of being a librarian very appealing–working in a place where people had to whisper and only speak when necessary. If only the world were like that!”

Nothing was swell for me. Mealtimes were the worst. Break­fast was fine—a buffet in the hotel’s Excelsior “Ballroom” at which many people chose not to appear, so there were many empty tables, and even if you had to sit at a table with someone, they didn’t expect you to say anything besides good morning, and that I could handle. I wish the whole day were like breakfast, when people are still connected to their dreams, focused inward, and not yet ready to engage with the world around them. I real­ized this is how I am all day; for me, unlike other people, there doesn’t come a moment after a cup of coffee or a shower or what­ever when I suddenly feel alive and awake and connected to the world. If it were always breakfast, I would be fine.

I was looking out the window at the garbage that was strewn along the breakdown lane. Most of it made sense—soda cans, the detritus of fast-food meals, newspapers—but every once in a while there’d be something alarming, like a child’s red boot, a birdcage, a suitcase burst open, disgorging its contents. And it bothered me because each of these objects was on the shoulder of the highway for a reason, something or some things had hap­pened to cause someone to toss a child’s boot out the window, and I felt like we were rushing past story after story, and that each story was sad. And I was thinking about this, and trying to think positively, trying to imagine a happy scenario for the odd objects I passed—a little girl had just been bought beautiful new boots, and the old ones were gleefully discarded; someone had packed for a trip to the hospital but on their way had been called by the doctor to say that it was all a mistake, their liver was not riddled with cancer, they should go home had thrown their suitcase out the window.

I find it disturbing that so much seem­ingly altruistic behavior is really quite selfish. Even so-called saints like Mother Teresa bother me. In some ways she was just as ambitious as people like my father or anyone who wants to be at the top of their profession. Mother Teresa wanted to be the best saint, the top saint, so she did the most disgusting things she could do, and I know she helped people and relieved suffer­ing and I’m not saying that’s bad, I’m just saying I think she was as selfish and ambitious as everyone else.

It just bugged me that she thought if I was gay she could do something to help, like give me a Band-Aid or something. And besides, being gay is per­fectly cool these days, so why should I need help? And what help could my mother, whose third marriage only lasted a matter of days, be? I knew I was gay, but I had never done anything gay and I didn’t know if I ever would. I couldn’t imagine it, I couldn’t imagine doing anything intimate and sexual with another per­son, I could barely talk to other people, so how was I supposed to have sex with them? So I was only theoretically, potentially homosexual.

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