Text: Solveig Hansen, 2020
“…my mind takes flight like a butterfly,” Jean-Dominique Bauby (1952–1997) writes in The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (French original: Le Scaphandre et le Papillon), blink by blink, after suffering a stroke that left him physically paralyzed. He was the editor-in-chief of the French Elle magazine.
In this book, Bauby reminds us that whatever circumstances, the mind is free like a butterfly, even if the body is locked inside a diving bell. He would know better than most of us, his circumstances being as they were. A massive stroke in 1995 left him with locked-in syndrome, physically paralyzed and only able to communicate by blinking his left eye. That’s how he dictated his memoirs, his “bedridden travel notes,” blink by blink, four hours a day for ten months. 200,000 blinks, an average of two minutes per word, 29 chapters, 130+ pages. He composed and memorized the text before each writing session: “In my head I churn over every sentence ten times, delete a word, add an adjective, and learn my text by heart, paragraph by paragraph.”
Jean-Dominique Bauby died in 1997, two days after the book was published in France.
I love this snippet from the prologue:
“My diving bell becomes less oppressive, and my mind takes flight like a butterfly. There is so much to do. You can wander off in space or in time, set out for Tierra del Fuego or for King Midas’s court. You can visit the woman you love, slide down beside her and stroke her still-sleeping face. You can build castles in Spain, steal the Golden Fleece, discover Atlantis, realize your childhood dreams and adult ambitions.”
The creative force inside us is truly amazing.
The screen version of the book, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, is on the top 25 list of my favorite movies about writing.