There is a name for every phobia imaginable, including “fear of peanut butter sticking to the roof of the mouth” - Arachibutyrophobia. Weird as it sounds, I can understand this one. I’ve never liked peanut better because of its cloying dryness, although I think that my condition is fear of it sticking to my arteries.
There is not, however, a listed phobia for what I discovered today when clearing out my upstairs office. It’s not the one I work in, but it has served very well over the years as a storage area for supplies - well, three areas to be precise (it’s a big house).
I clearly have a fear of running out of paper. I could open my own Ryman store with the amount of paper up there. Small notebooks - plastic-bound, leather-bound, cardboard-bound - and every size and shape of writing paper: lined, blank, A4, A5, Post-It notes, big writing cards, little writing cards, blank and lined, exercise books I took with me when I left my teaching job in the Bishop of Llandaff - in 1983, for goodness sake! Who keeps a stash of blank exercise books for 33 years? But there they are - ten E J Arnold olive green books, now a little faded at the edges.
I’ve always liked writing in exercise books and, in the States, buy the same ones when I go to Staples, where every day they have more irresistible bargains, and none more glorious than the five pack boxes of A5 (the US equivalent of our A4). Yes, I have another paper stash in New York - rows of empty exercise books (and a lot filled with writing, too), and more paper - for ink printing, photo printing, note-taking.
When I first moved to the States, I took ten five ream boxes of A4 and, now that I have run out, I have a fear - no, terror - of having, finally, to convert to A5. Then there is the Staples stash currently sitting in a Los Angeles storage unit, too. I think I would be happy renting a shelf to live on in Staples.
But, upon investigation, there is no named phobia for fear of running out of paper. There is fear of running out of toilet paper (Endrollphobia), and fear of paper (Papyrophobia); there’s also fear of writing (Graphophobia), which I obviously don’t have (I have a fear of not writing, but I think that’s just called work avoidance), and fear of running out of reading material (Abibliophobia). Given the thousands of books I am having to get rid of, I think I might have had that one for many years, but appear to be getting over it during this move.
Not all of the paper in my possession is blank. There are boxes of ‘A’ Level notes and essays for English and History, my ‘O’ Level art paintings (all designs copied from How to Draw), university notes and essays, thousands of handwritten newspaper articles, and more half- written plays, books and stories than I could ever have believed possible even from the most prolific writers. Why didn’t I finish any of them? A cursory glance gives me the answer to that. I was a veritable little Sylvia Plath (in temperament, not talent) in the making. I half expected a razor blade to fall out of the pages.
Then there are the diaries, going back as far as 1977. Acres of angst over men, worry over exams, concerns over health, and even a letter written to my mother in 1983, telling her of my money worries and how, once I wrote that big novel, all would be well in the financial coffers.
Thirty three years on, little has changed, at least in relation to men and money. Paper is a recorder of emotions, and writing something down doesn’t change the fundamental you. Have I really learned so little since that 19 year old self wrote about her tears, crying over an unavailable man? (No, I haven’t). But there, on 1st December 1977, is the editor of the university magazine, Link, who came to see me in my halls of residence after I submitted a piece for their Letters page.
And here’s the entry: “ He said that the letter I’d written wasn’t like a student’s; they’d thought it was a lecturer. He said it was very unusual to find a girl who could write with such punch.” I remember being thrilled. Patronising git, I’d say now. So I have learnt something.
So, while I haven’t made much cognitive progress with men, I can say that the paper trail has grown, and the decades of words I’ve written have given me opportunities I could never have imagined when I made that entry during my first year at Cardiff University. I have been lucky enough to write for the smartest people in journalism, and still do; it wasn’t easy, by any means, but that’s a struggle I’ll save for another day.
Yes, I am sure I have a fear of running out of paper, because it is my life. Every word I put on every sheet is a privilege - a privilege to be part of the family into which I was lucky enough to be born, a privilege of a great education paid for by the State, the privilege of having been born with a skill that really was the luck of the draw that so many are denied.
My fear now is not one of running out of paper, but of running out of time in which to fill those empty spaces.
But panic aside, the blank pages before me today are tomorrow’s story: a story that has yet to be written.
Only fate will decide when the final page dictates The End.