Thursday, 19 October 2017

Keep It Small, Girl

Often, it seems everyone else has so much life – to live, to give – whereas I lack that vital spark. Obviously, my body keeps to its own regular rhythm like the tick-tock of a wall or bedside clock and my heart beats, somewhat silently, but beating all the same like a slow winged creature, of the sort a natural world documentary deliberately puts in slow motion so that we, the viewers, appreciate the sweep and curve of its feathers. It looks so effortless, just like our own autonomic functions which only trip up when we fail to care for them properly or focus on them to such a degree that they jump out of sequence. Flutter and miss their timed spot.
That slot when I could have done something, anything, I feel has gone. And I say that personally, because friends that are older (and much wiser) than me are still doing what I consider real living. Heading out there and giving things a go. Holidaying alone or dating. Participating in supposedly what life is all about, in all the life there is on offer. Some get those kind of kicks through or from work. Once I guess I did too, when the spirit hadn't left me or I felt this was what you had to do to get on, but that now feels like another lifetime. A different person did that.
And although I'm not unhappy or discontent, those comparisons always start. You think you'd reach an age where you'd be beyond that, and mostly I have as I certainly care less about how I look and dress, though I think a date would be mortified should I suddenly decide to re-enter that playing field, yet still these feelings of inadequacy creep in when you least expect them.
I know I've let things slide and removed myself from scenes that no longer held my interest to return to my core: that firm point of being I'd denied or temporarily forgotten about, but now there's very few pursuits I enjoy which require another. That suits me, in the sense that I like my own, often quiet, company, and yet, frequently I'm reminded of the disadvantages. By others, though not of course with any intent, just in passing. What others do is fascinating; sometimes there's common ground as mostly as a species we associate with those that are similar, but then there's also those dissimilarities which occur due to age, experience, taste or differences in character. I like hearing of these exploits, thinking I could never do that, be that bold, but it does leave me feeling, an hour or two later, somewhat lacking.
Why doesn't it motivate or inspire? It can, but the sensation is so fleeting that it's gone before it can be acted upon, largely because dreaming up a plan and then putting it into action are two very separate things. A plan can take months to materialise and by then I will have lost that buoyant energy or nerve, so that what will likely come to pass will rarely be the happy event I envisioned. Also, I know deep-down, though I might be reluctant to admit it, I'm not that person, even if I thought I was or fooled people that I was at one time.
I feel more true, and yet my quietude keeps me somewhat contained, either to my flat and my books or to brief exchanges in the street, in shops, and in the library which can leave me feeling awkward if the question is asked, as it always is: what have you been up to? Whereby I fumbled around as if someone's suddenly turned out the light or a bulb has blown, and try to switch the conversation back around to the enquirer who obviously has much more to say. I'm sure some mistake this as secrecy; the case, however, is usually that my world is unchanged since I saw them last. I haven't been anywhere nor do I have anything planned. Nothing exciting has happened. And if anything untoward has I'm less likely to report it, unless our friendship is in that zone where nothing needs to be withheld or censored.
I never, however, mention my inadequacies. Why I'm doing so here has perplexed even me? But then this is just one-sided talking, as well as, possibly, an attempt to understand why I analyse myself in the way that I do (not that I ever get very far) and hold myself up against everyone I come into contact with too! How can I be enough for anyone else if I'm not enough for me out in that big, wide, baffling, and over-exhilarating world?

Picture credit: Woman With a Fan, 1919, Amedeo Modigliani, stolen from Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris

Thursday, 12 October 2017

Plenty Lettuce

In 2016 when the baby-boomer generation became the scapegoats for everything, my plea seemed to fall on deaf ears, and I'm not sure that ten months on it will be heard now.
I never have and will not hitch myself to this bandwagon, though I think the horses long ago galloped off with the cart. And it was, I recall, a rather full and crowded cart with more people climbing up and hanging on to its sides since the space inside was already taken, so that when the horses, nervy with the increasing weight, decided to bolt their passengers squealed with joy and failed to recognise their lives might be imperilled. One of the horses was even lassoed but it being frightfully strong then took a string of men with it, its mane flying and hooves pounding the dirt with its man-made kite-like tail trailing and bobbing before most were shook off and left face-down eating mud.
Those that were sore, yet uninjured curse and spat; a few others sat up dazed and tried to make out in the distance which dots were the horses and which the cart with its heavy cargo. Those that were wounded could do little but admit defeat and stay where they were: lying face-down and occasionally moan.
I don't know what happened to any of those cursing, dazed or defeated men, or if all the cart's cargo, or even the cart, made it, but I do know that those horses slowed; at some point calmed their racing hearts, munched on some grass and took water on in a less dry valley.
These horses, whom we shall call Plenty and Lettuce though they've had many names since, were frequently during 2016 captured and trotted out, and although they had been paraded numerous times before, these occasions were different. It was more usual for stones to be thrown instead of words of admiration. They weren't wanted and were an unwelcome sight in the show ring where they would go for a song. Old nags, it was said with mutters and shakes of the head, which by the looks of them should be put out to pasture, and yet because they provoked talk they never went unsold, though it was usual for the two to end up at another cattle auction in their not-too-distant future.
Folks didn't know how to treat them, the world being what it was. There was no respect for the spent, despite the work they had put in in preceding years. Their very first owner, an English man who liked American slang, having bought them when he was flush had registered them under the above given names: Plenty and Lettuce, for he was proud that he'd achieved so much when he never thought it would be possible for someone like him, not realising that by doing so they would come to symbolise everything that is apparently wrong with every single socio-economic system. But he was long gone by the time that revision had come about: sold up, moved on, to then age on an nest egg he'd been canny enough to invest and save.
And that, according to (mostly) younger generations, as well as media and political pundits, is a problem, one of many, which they say comes from having had it so good. These horses, I think, would be less likely to agree, for all they did was run the race that was marked on their card: the 3:30 at Cheltenham. It was luck. Things were on the 'up' and the State were more helpful. And now having lived well, as a millennial might proclaim, they've been footing the blame for our stretched resources: in healthcare, the housing market, and even overcrowding in prisons.
It's unjust, and it's disrespectful. All of us are products of our time, which means some of us benefit, some of us don't. Each generation, no matter where they fall in the scheme of things, has their own ills to contend with, individual and societal, which have an impact on how a country's then run and the provision of services. In other words, we all add to the pot as well as take away, whereas blame just shifts responsibility and delays positive action. I say cut the baby-boomers some slack because their only crime, as I see it, is to have lived as any other generation would have done had they been in their position.

* Plenty lettuce: American slang for plenty of money.

Picture credit: A Day in the Country, Victorian print, 1877

Thursday, 5 October 2017

Mule It Over

John Steinbeck, the American novelist and short storyteller, said events had to ferment before being written down. I understand exactly where he was coming from, though I've just had to correct myself on my choice of words. A fair number of his works are so fresh in my mind I forget he passed from this world, having written about and searched America, twelve years prior to my birth. I wasn't even an possibility then as my parents I don't think had met, or if they had it they were very young and the relationship was very new. It was still a good few years before they sailed to Australia and then returned to settle down to a more conventional living.
Steinbeck: his words and his America are as alive (and relevant) to me today as when they were first written, although of course in reality some areas as Steinbeck knew them don't exist whereas I now do. I won't ever in actuality see what he saw in his lifetime, not if I travelled to and across present-day America. My experiences would be different and far removed from his fiction or a painting by Hopper. I won't get the America of my old-fashioned dreams: the good and backward, but then neither did Steinbeck when he took a road trip in 1960, though his purpose was largely observational, more sociological, than a recapturing of youth or time. If he was disappointed (and there are subtle and obvious hints of that in Travels with Charley), he nonetheless tempered any real vehemence he felt about progress, and lack of, in the resultant account of his journey.
If I set out to find any of Steinbeck's America, from his early or later works, from rainy England, I'd too might be sore when the materialisation proved very different to what I had pictured through reading American novelists, even though I might have prepared myself for that inescapable fact, known that that America was a distant memory. The uninitiated can't visually magic up something that's long gone, and I also don't know if I could be as open and as generous as Steinbeck was to 1960 America to America in the 21st century. Though of course, I've seen some States, very little of but some, and yes, those small trips are filled with an emotion I won't soon forget, particularly one when I was like him a lone traveller, and yet in memory it still has a somewhat touristy vibe. Maybe true openness to change or the willingness to accept only occurs when it's your own country and your own peoples, when it's not somewhere, thousands of miles away, built up in your over-exercised imagination on a stereotypical scale as high as the Empire State building or as gaudy as Trump Tower.
A road trip of England's regions would be perhaps more comparable to Steinbeck's American travels and tales, because observationally I'd already be an insider. Some sights would be new and attitudes would vary, but they wouldn't be entirely foreign. Being of the country, if not of the county, I'd hold a common insight that would communicate itself to whomever I might come across. This was true in Steinbeck's journeying, which meant, as he documented, that people were more likely to speak or often assistance to an out-of-towner when it was required. I sincerely hope that would also be the case if I chose to go in search of the United Kingdom, but like Steinbeck I might wait until I'm well into my fifties to attempt it, as well as able to hire a driver and borrow a four-legged companion.
I'm sure, however, that I would find taciturn individuals for the English too can be a tight-lipped bunch until they've got your measure. Also, that what I might see may not be a true picture, representational of the region I so happened to be in, for that too would depend on my views and the attitudes of the people I'd meet on a given day. Some places, as Steinbeck said (to paraphrase) of the South, will stay troubled with people caught in a jam, and sometimes there's very little you can personally do for a change in attitude demands patience, which I like to call the 'drip effect', though you can of course record your experience and the impressions it made upon you, whatever they might be.
At the end, Steinbeck , his feet relieved of their itch, comes home again, as most travellers do at some point, and yet with a lot, as a friend of his might have said, to 'mule' over, which I've found I've also done with the close of this delightful book.

Picture credit: San Pablo, 1610-1614, El Greco