December 18, 2008 § Leave a comment
Last night coming home from dinner, there was snow on the roofs of the cars, a few flakes in the air, and I began to feel winter yearning. Fields of snow, silence, crisp blue air, air the way it was in New Hampshire when I was 18, and a walk across a snow-covered golf course with a boy was full of meaning packed tight…the kind you don’t unravel for years, and maybe shouldn’t at all. It’s not hard for me to feel sorry for myself (in my teens I saw it as a gift, that I could do for myself what I couldn’t ask others for), but now I feel there was a kind of luck in being so lonely. Connection of any sort was astonishing. Moments of intimacy were like stars that I hoarded in memory, wanting to share their brilliance but never knowing how. And once I did become able to talk about them, talk with all the words I knew to someone who wanted to listen, I found that what for me seemed so rare was to other people not uncommon, that they weren’t moved to tears by the idea of a long night’s more and more honest conversation, by the ability to reveal something new.
My nieces have nets of friends such as I couldn’t imagine in youth. I wanted a gang, a group—which many people had—but what exists today seems closer to what I would have asked for, had there been a deity encouraging me to expound on my desire. Friendships with boys and girls, with people from other countries, individuals flitting in and out, around each other like dancers on a stage. I’m not envious of them for being happier: I doubt they are. Happier than I was, maybe—that’s a low bar. But not happier in general. Sex, for one thing, has gotten worse: it’s a competitive sport. How well do you perform? Have you shaved your crotch today? Philip Larkin has a famous poem that begins “Sexual intercourse began in 1963/Which was rather late for me”—1963 being when the pill came out. Larkin was brilliant at self-pity; he turned it into art without making it utterly comic, which is hard to do. In his poem he goes on to muse on how maybe his father had the same envy of his generation, because they weren’t afraid of God and hell. And reading that at 22, I wondered if I would envy the young of the future their newer freedoms. I don’t. It’s not about freedom now. I marvel at their friendships. Even so, given a choice I’d rather be young again in 1975. I miss my dinosaur era, the slowness and silences. Maps you had to draw yourself and nobody at dinner with a telephone. Not that it matters, but I think I’ve made progress: I’ve fully accepted that I’ll never be young in Paris in 1921, that I won’t know everyone great and peculiar and interesting, that my life is and will be more hedged in than I ever imagined. Hardly surprising—I wanted to live in books. They’re not really large enough for a person. I kept not getting that. They seemed large. And now it seems small and sad that I don’t want to live in books anymore, barely even remember what it felt like to want that. I want to live writing books, which is entirely different. It may be that you only become mature as a writer when you can’t live in anyone’s books but your own. You have no choice then. They have to be good.