Here is the road, longer than it was, and narrower - no, not really, it's I who am shorter and wider and older. And here is the house, the same but different - yes, really. Like me, it's different in aspect and pretensions, but fundamentally unchanged. For our house has been re-olded, re-cottaged, the doorway unblocked and the wide modern windows refitted with small-paned casements. By owners, no doubt, who bought it cheaply because of its lack of original features, who shook their heads and sighed at all that tearing out, in the 50s and 60s, of cast-iron fireplaces and moulded plaster cornicing, traditional Victorian doors and windows. Now it's a pretty cottage again. Indeed, I'd be happy to live in one like it. Not this one, though. The memories aren't good.
The bedroom window's open and as I take a photo a woman's head appears. She glares and bangs the window shut and I shuffle off, embarrassed. Wonder off to sit by the river with a glass of wine. Wine on a late Sunday afternoon in Autumn, wine in a pub garden, alone, wine at all, was not in our lives here when I was a teenager. No such indulgence, aimlessness or solitude. No money either. Not that I have any now. But I wonder and stare and spend in the world nonetheless. Older, freer, more appreciative of small pleasures. More alone, too, and more lost.
An impulse to jump off the train as we pass the road where I lived and stop at the station where I boarded to go to school in the next town. I'm feeling old, at the end of a weekend in the country with 20 students. Tired, impatient and perhaps a little envious of their energy and hopefulness and silliness. Wondering, if I'd known at their age what lay ahead, would I - could I - have carried on? Maybe not. Hope sustains youth. I've not arrived yet, we keep thinking, but any time now... Some of us, though - those with little aptitude for life - never arrive. We go straight from a long, long youth to the beginning of old age.
I drink my wine, deep purple, near-brown Spanish wine with bite and depth. Stare at the low, low sun on the river's metallic surface. The phrase 'withered on the vine' comes to mind, and fits my self-image too well for comfort. The sun goes behind a cloud. Autumn afternoons are short. On the train home, I contemplate the little house on my camera screen and wonder why I did this. As the last juices dry, a drop of nostalgia for what might have been?
Only once home do I hear the news: the earthquake in Pakistan; the villages around Lake Atitlan in Guatemala - I've been there - buried in a mud-slide; avian flu has reached Europe; of the 10,000 British kids who ran away from home last year, only 30 per cent were ever reported missing by their parents or so-called carers. I feel bad for dwelling on my own unhappiness, that if I can't be happy, I could still be useful, but I'm not. Oh dear.
¶ 5:08 pm
Oh, that was wrenching, Jean.
I've been around a lot of teenagers and college students recently, and it's sometimes almost unendurable, the contrast between what I hoped and what happened.
Lots of love to you. Thank you for opening this window, this way.
Where is this, Jean? (Or do you not want to divulge?)
A few years ago I went back to the town where I grew up (and took my middle-school-age daughter), and stopped by all the old stomping grounds to take photos. Some places were unchanged (and very nostalgic) and some (like the house I grew up in) had really - sadly - gone downhill. Still, I'm glad I have the photos.
Just wandered here, but wanted to say I love your childhood house, and I so well understand your desire to board your old school bus. Where do such things, which live on in such concreteness, in memory, actually go? I wish I could share a glass of that brown wine with you and discuss it. But I guess this little comment will have to suffice.
'little aptitude for life' - there is a considerable body of evidence on your blog that gives the lie to this. And I think your willingness to share and to explore is useful in itself. Maybe a working weekend takes its toll?
Jean, This is a beautiful piece. Reflection on what makes us who we are is so important, I think. Even though it can be sad and painful. I so prefer this kind of real feeling to the stuff that talks about keeping happy all the time. It's exhausting pretending to be what we are not. Once again I love the way you write - so much.
I keep coming back to this post. Puzzling. There's so much here that I connect with, that reminds me of how I've felt. And my response keeps being, "Yes, AND..." These feelings are real, and you've expressed them beautifully. For me, ah here it is, the search for usefulness and meaning keeps coming back to connection. With self, with nature, with others. It's small stuff, I suppose, but strong and necessary like nothing else. And yes, wildly useful and redolent with meaning.
This is so poignant, as though the waft of scent from the wine glass has imbued everything else--your words, your pictures, the light of the afternoon--with an air of melancholy and remembrance. And in writing it, you have done something--you've called us to pay attention, to remember that life, bittersweet or not, is precious.
Oh, now I think I understand Dale's post today, the one that stats with the quotation from the Book of Thel.
Oops, I see from his comment that I was right! Now I feel clever. But...
Some of us, though - those with little aptitude for life - never arrive. We go straight from a long, long youth to the beginning of old age. These lines bit deep. I have often felt that way about myself. So many others have ambition and drive and purpose, but it all seems kind of pointless, doesn't it? They pity me; I pity them. So long as neither side indulges in self-pity, I guess we'll all be fine.
jean i guess however successful or happy, we never arrive at that childhood dream that was contained within those cottage walls. I too went back and your post reminded me of that deep and very real melancholy. thank you. autumn is a real reminder every year of those dreams gathering dust....and yet an impulse to move forward too?
*Some of us, though - those with little aptitude for life - never arrive. We go straight from a long, long youth to the beginning of old age.*
I picked up on these two lines as well. Ouch! But I wonder if those of us that this seems apply to are trying to fit into lifestyles that are in fact not meant for us. We just haven't *named* and honoured our own particular paths sufficiently.
I am finding, actually, that just writing about my own small day-to-day happenings on my blog invests them with a genuine worth that I would not normally accord them. Not that I am special or anything, just that life, anyone's life, is intrinsically worthy of respect -celebration even - irrespective of whether we think we have achieved society's (or our own) goals.
I'm here via Dale (Mole) and must say your writing moved me. So many times I've felt as you describe. A metaphor that works for me is the archer's bow: before you aim and release your arrow, whatever it may be, you have to pull your bow back and back and back...sometimes for years.
jean, I came via dale's site, and I must say that I was unbelieveably moved by your words. I yearned to be sharing that glass of wine, and trying to look back, but not too hard, and with eyes that know that going back never fixes what was broken to begin with - it only seems to highlight the shell in which the broken-ness lived. I once went back myself (to a childhood home), and it seemed so dinghy and sad and foreign, yet achingly familiar.
So much of what you said was stated so beautifully, with a gentle hand and a melancholy heart. Your writing is hauntingly tangible, in that your words are LIFE itself. The life being reflected is with just the right amount of acknowledgement and retrospection, and yet the empty spaces are filled with unspoken words as well.
"little aptitude for life"
How poignant, and well-spoken, although you are probably the least likely candidate to qualify for this statement. The very act of searching is a skill unto itself, and you certainly are ahead of the curve.