This post has been a long time in the making — since I published the previous one, in fact. And it has been in my head since the beginning of July. And, much like the ‘I won’t grow out of indiepop’ piece, it was excruciatingly hard to write. Words resisted me all along the way. I suppose that’s what I get for not writing more: I forget how to do it. But I have resolved to stop beating myself up ‘over little things the way I do’ – because it stops me from seeing that I’m doing remarkably well at the bigger things– and writing on a blog is, really, a little thing. (A much-loved little thing, of course.) And so I have decided to try writing here in a different way, to aim for a long post every week or two instead of ‘normal’ blog-type posting. And if this reminds you of something I’ve done before, it is not a coincidence. I think that some of best writing came about this way.
1. Sometimes I start reading a blog and I don’t know why. Or, rather, it is that sometimes I keep reading a blog and I don’t know why. I read blogs for all different sorts of reasons –most of which boil down to a feeling that my life and the blogger’s, however different, run on oddly parallel lines at times– and yet sometimes I just can’t find any reason. Until, that is, one day, suddenly –or, perhaps, not-so-suddenly, over a period of time– the blogger unfolds another aspect of their lives in front of their readers’ eyes, and it all makes sense.
A while ago, I came across this poem on one such blog. It struck a chord with me. I looked it up on Minstrels –as you do; and went through all the comments. I soon discovered that I disagreed with most of them. Sarcastic? Putting on a brave face? Flippant? What were those people thinking about?
To me it is simply a poem about how you’d better use the little things to practise letting go, because sooner or later you’ll have to leave behind something big. I happen to find this piece of advice excellent, by the way. I have such an awfully hard time letting go of those small things — the lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
2. A few days before that I found myself sitting in my grandparents’ kitchen discussing death with my fourteen-year-old goddaughter. (She is also my first cousin; we share said set of grandparents, half of whom aren’t doing very well, which is what spurred the discussion.) This really made me feel like a godmother, let me tell you. It also made me feel rather uncomfortable, not because I find my own feelings about the topic hard to deal with but because the kid was twelve last time I checked, and I swear I only turned my back for a couple of minutes. I haven’t had the time to develop the skills it takes to talk truthfully yet age-appropriately to a fourteen-year-old who is going on eighteen — or on eight, depending on which way the wind is blowing. I found myself improvising wildly.
At first she didn’t even want to talk about it and acted as if it was bad luck to even mention it. And yet she was teary. And so I explained as gently and firmly as I could that death is nothing terrible, only a passage into another state of being — a little like growing up is. As soon as I had said it it became obvious that this didn’t seem to mean anything to her. At a loss, I asked her a question. What did she think happened to people when they die? She talked of heaven and god and angels — all things she doesn’t really believe in, things that don’t fit in with the worldview her fourteen years on earth have resulted in, but they were better than nothing, so I let them be. This wasn’t the time for a religion lesson.
“You see,” I said, “you think so too. We don’t disappear when we die. We just go someplace else.”
“Yes,” she said. “I know.” And then, referring to our grandmother: “But she won’t be with us. And that makes me sad.”
She’s a smart one, my goddaughter. That much I can say about her. Her ability to cut to the point reminds me of myself at her age, and it is about the only thing about her that does. That I would end up with a godchild so different from me is something would never have imagined when, at the age of twelve, I felt compelled to ask to be her godmother. It is unsettling. She keeps pushing my buttons and taking me by surprise, and I keep finding myself saying things before I had any time to think about them.
“Yes, that’s true. It is all about saying goodbye. But that is something we often have to do in life anyway.” She gave me an incredulous look. I wished she’d stop doing that sort of thing when I was trying so hard to find the right thing to say. “You are still little, but as you grow up you will find that we have to leave a lot of things behind. And people, too. Sometimes we have to move on, and sometimes they do. And sometimes they just won’t come along. I had to leave Constantin [an ex boyfriend of mine she adores], and your sister will have to leave her boyfriend too at some point. That’s just the way life is.” I paused. “In fact it is the living I find it harder to say goodbye to…” I finished. She gave me the sort of look that could be taken to mean ‘thanks, godmother, I feel so much better now,’ which was every bit as ironic as you think it was, and the conversation ended there. She doesn’t really like it when I talk about such things.
And who can blame her. I walked away wondering whether I could have said something slightly more suitable — like, for example, that nothing can really separate people who love each other. True, I hadn’t got my hands on Harry Potter yet, but something along the lines of ‘death is but crossing the world, as friends do the seas’ would have been just right. What is it that makes talking to teenagers (or, in any case, to this teenager) so very difficult? In the end I decided not to beat myself up too much about it. I figured that what she would most likely remember about this conversation when she grew up would be my straightforwardness and honesty, and that has got to be a good thing.
3. In April I wrote about a line of trees that join Exmouth and Exeter (a line of trees that I wanted to draw but would never really get round to drawing) and I drew a parallel between those and all the friends I never made (all the people I have met and fallen for yet nothing ever came out of it), and I wondered if the parallel worked. It sounded a bit odd to me at the time. But it must have done, because over time those trees became mixed up, in my head, with all the photos I have never taken, and those, in turn, with all the friends I never had, so that now I feel that characteristic pang of loss and longing every time I happen to have left my camera at home (or the light is not good enough, or I’m not fast enough, or the bus is not slow enough) and I see something pretty, or touching, or sweet. So many things that seem filled with the intent to be lost . Some days it breaks my heart.
4. It is true. It is the living I find it harder to say goodbye to. Because I believe we die out of some kind of spiritual necessity; we make friends (and lovers) out of choice. And with the living you can never be sure if they meant to leave, or if they just never got round to staying.