A Long-Overdue Update

I just put down The Mill on the Floss mid-sentence and leapt across the room to the computer, because after many months of mostly chugging unremarkably forward, I feel my soul being stirred enough for it to be worth writing again. This week a good friend from undergrad came to visit, and I had cause to remember and to reminisce about the years in which I transitioned from child to adult, as well as to revisit all the most beautiful parts of the city that enabled that transition, as we saw the sights. It’s real high summer now, a nice round 25 degrees celsius with not a cloud in the sky, and after I saw my friend off this afternoon I came home with a smoothie, and I did my laundry and cleaned my room and made dinner, and now at 10pm it is only just dark, I have rewatched the first episode of the Granada adaptation of Brideshead Revisited and made some small progress in The Mill on the Floss (my first Serious George Eliot Novel; Scenes of Clerical Life doesn’t count), and I am reflecting on how many evenings I have spent like this over what I presume to call the years, wandering through sun-drenched Oxford by day and flitting from trapping of culture to trapping of culture by night, building up a fortress of ideas and feelings that served both to teach me how to live and to insulate me from the dangerous business of doing so.

If I do this now, though, I think that I do it for old times’ sake more than anything else. Last week, the Corpus Christi College Chapel Choir were on tour in Bordeaux, we sang sacred music, went to the seaside and tasted wine, and as my fellow grad student and I felt acutely our distance from the undergrads and their cares, the snatches from our repertoire that had lodged themselves in my head came to mingle with another refrain: “I can’t believe how much has changed.” On another international tour, seven years ago in Helsinki, a first violinist who was very nice but to whom I was not particularly attracted made advances towards me, I said yes because I felt that I should, and because in those days the world—even in Helsinki—seemed very small, unlikely to be full of people willing to make advances towards a shy and self-hating sixteen-year-old with baggy trousers and a bowl cut. On this tour I wore linen skirts and a big straw hat and started thinking about whether I might grow my hair long after so many years, and after so many years of reading novels and wishing, I beamed and beamed when we took the train to St.-Émilion and I had the chance to spend the day among grape vines in the golden sunlight.

Last night my friend and I laughed as we looked up old Daily Princetonian articles and remembered all those old conversations about the Anscombe Society in which I, at least, first started to learn how to think. Today I can’t bring myself at all to worry about how much archival research is still undone, because it is with such joy in my heart that I thank whatever it is that I pray to at evensong that a happy and fulfilled life seems possible now in a way it definitely didn’t before I first started to know this city of aquatint, before I lived with Symonds and impossible love, before I read Forster or saw the Mediterranean. I rejoice that my life is so full of possibility that I no longer need say yes solely out of obligation.

Some time ago, at about this time of year, I would have been eager to express pride in membership of a community whose desires had long left them outcast and criminal. I can’t say that I have ever been personally ostracized on account of my desires by anyone other than my own sadistic superego, and I no longer need that community to help to explain my visceral sense of disconnect with everything surrounding me. Whatever the complexities and problems with such ways of establishing identity, though—and the more that I have learned, the more they have increased—they have long demonstrated so well how deserving of pride it is when you come not to hate yourself quite so very much. I am proud beyond measure to say that, this spring and summer, it seems that I am finally learning to do just that.

2 thoughts on “A Long-Overdue Update

  1. “Or was it in a punt on the Cher that I really fell in love with her–moored to a shady bank, or feeling the punt-pole ripple as I hurried after a read and a siesta to the Cherwell Hotel for tea? . . . Or was it . . . during talks through the `sacred’ night –talks so often repeated that daytime, for all its beauty, seemed nothing but the pleasantest of interludes in a symposium indefinitely prolonged?”
    Victor Gollancz, My Dear Timothy, 1952

  2. Another one to add to my list. You really know where to find the most special things to say about this city.

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