Tag Archives: adulthood

Nostalgia for a Place: When Time Forces Us To Move On

Nostalgia is most frequently defined as a “longing for the past.” This melancholy, sentimental feeling might be triggered by any number of events:  we stumble upon a journal from our childhood…we watch a documentary about the Kennedy family…someone dies. Or it might happen when we re-visit a location that has a very specific, evocative meaning for our lives – a first home, our elementary school.

This sort of deep attachment to a place – and the bittersweet emotions it evokes – was the subject of an essay by Judith Warner in her NYTimes.com blog, Domestic Disturbances, on Friday. Entitled “Summer’s End,” the essay talks about Warner’s most recent trip back to her family’s second home in France following the death of a close friend over there. It’s a wonderful and far-ranging piece, encompassing themes of aging, mortality, friendship and nostalgia all in one go. But what I found most moving was the “irrational” (her word) attachment she feels towards this house as a sort of alternate anchor to her “real life” in Washington, D.C., even as she recognizes that time itself has changed the house’s meaning irrevocably.

As she writes: “I used to feel that our life in France was as solid, as permanent and unchanging as our little house. Like our identities there, built in the moment, always in the present tense, it existed outside of time. That has changed. Nothing can be taken for granted anymore.”

This sort of nostalgia rooted in place is also the subject of a small, lovely movie that came out last year called “Summer Hours” (L’heure d’été). It’s also set in France and is about a group of (grown) siblings who must come to terms with selling the large country home their family has held for generations. The two younger children – who clearly symbolize modern France  – wish to be done with the burden of keeping up the house and move on. It’s the eldest brother who- while realizing that it would be most practical to sell the house and use the proceeds to finance various family expenditures – can’t quite bear to part with it emotionally. But he, too, is forced to acknowledge that times have changed, his kids have grown up, and the house no longer has the same meaning or use that it once did.

I felt this way myself this summer, when I went to Cape Cod on holiday. Our family vacationed there every August throughout my entire childhood, but I hadn’t been back in nearly 20 years. And this time it felt very different, because for the first time in memory, my father wasn’t there.

My father worked a lot when I was a child, so we didn’t see all that much of him during the school year. But those three weeks in August were a special time for us, because – among other things – he was around. And so when I went back this time with my own children, I felt his absence all the more. I saw him at the beach, plunging into the freezing cold Atlantic Ocean and screaming “It’s toasty warm!” at the top of his lungs. I saw him at the corner store where he used to purchase his signature diet of coffee, cigarettes and newspapers (and comic books for us). The big treat were the days when he’d stuff all four of us into the trunk of the car – sometimes with a cousin or two in tow – and we’d drive the 1-2 miles to the store in complete, exhilarating darkness. And I saw his craggy, time-worn face embedded a thousand times in the stones that line Rock Harbor.

But because he wasn’t there this time, I now saw the Cape as I imagine others do: beautiful and rustic, yes. But also kitschy and tourist-y: a jumble of roadside clam bakes and miniature golf venues. That doesn’t make it any less appealing to me. But it does make it – inevitably – something else.

And I guess that’s what it means to grow up.

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Image: Las Dunas de Cape Cod by Copepodo via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

Hobbies in Adulthood: West End Here I Come!

The writing was on the wall when I found myself lingering in Tesco (a major British supermarket chain) just so that I could sing along to the soundtrack playing in its aisles. I mean, c’mon folks. How often do you get to listen to Men At Work’s Land Down Under and Celine Dion’s  My Heart Will Go On in one 10 minute interval?

Then, last Friday night, I found myself squirreled away in a recording studio in the seedy end of Camden Town. About eight of us middle-aged parents decided to forsake shame and concoct a mums and dad’s band to perform at the upcoming school summer fair. We called ourselves The NERMADS, which was short for New End Rock Mums And Dads (Our children attend New End Primary School in London. I personally preferred the moniker “Nermaids” but it didn’t fly…or swim). Some of us played guitar; others the saxophone; most of us sang.

The studio had all the requisite features if you wanted to fancy yourself a rock chick for  – oh, about three hours or so:  the nearly invisible entrance hidden beneath the railroad tracks…the chipped paint and dark lighting…heck, I half expected someone to be shooting heroin when I walked in. (Only the bathrooms disappointed. As one friend noticed, they were unfailingly clean. Sigh).

And it was a blast. We sang that old favorite Stand By Me, that folk lover’s dream Put a Little Love in Your Heart, as well as assorted rock tunes. (Check out some of us at the actual fair here and here.)

I’ve always loved to sing. I was in a women’s a capella group – The Ursa Minors – back when I was an undergraduate. And I briefly sang with a group at the Old Town School of Folk Music in Chicago when I first moved there. But that was like 15 years ago and since then, I haven’t really sung with anyone (well, outside of those poor souls haunting the cereal aisle at Tesco).

I’m a big fan of pursuing hobbies in adulthood. I think that – as adults – we sometimes feel that hobbies are for kids: you learn to shoot a bow and arrow. Maybe you take some piano lessons or do an art class here and there. And you have fun. But once you grow up, that’s when the serious stuff kicks in: work,  family, LIFE.

But I think that’s a huge mistake. Because there’s something exhilarating about taking up something entirely new – or perhaps returning to an earlier interest – when you’re grown up. Perhaps you even take a class and discovered other like-minded souls. I did this with an acting class last fall.

It’s just…fun. And it keeps you feeling alive.

Which is why I’m incredibly psyched that – right after said performance at the school fair and after running the school raffle for a mere three years – I finally won a raffle prize. And guess what it was? A half-price coupon at London’s adult learning centre, City Lit.

When I got home, I sped through the course listings and happened upon this gem: a *brand new* course offering next year called – wait for it – Actors Singing From West End to Broadway.

An entire six weeks of show tunes? And you don’t have to have any formal training?

Bring it on baby. And Give My Regards to Broadway, because I’m bound for the West End…

*****

Speaking of show tunes, I came across this internet-age tribute to West Side Story – Web Side Story – courtesy of Middle Aged Women Blogging.

Image: Singers by Mr Mo-Fo via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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Guilty Pleasures of Adulthood: The Joys of Re-Reading

OK, admit it. You probably didn’t think I was going to end that sentence with “re-reading.” Sorry to disappoint.

But I was really taken with an editorial in last Saturday’s New York Times by Verlyn Klinkenborg about the pleasures of re-reading. In it, the author confesses that as much as she admires people who are widely read, she herself is much more of a re-reader.

I’m the opposite. I almost never re-read books. In fact, I compulsively get rid of books once I’ve read them, either returning them to the library or giving them away. (The zeal with which I “throw things away”  is yet another variant on my own personal ziplock conflict with my husband, btw…)

Part of this is because I live in a closet. But mostly it’s because I always feel like there’s a better use of my time. There are so many classics out there that I’ve never read that if I’m going to re-read something, I feel that it ought to be “important” – Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, for example. (This is also, btw, why I can be such a buzz kill in book clubs.)

But lately, I’ve come to appreciate that one of the great pleasures of getting older is that it gives you the opportunity to re-read. You pick up something that resonated for you at one point in your life and you see what it means to you now. As Klinkenborg puts it so eloquently:

The real secret of re-reading is simply this: It is impossible. The characters remain the same, and the words never change, but the reader always does. Pip is always there to be revisited, but you, the reader, are a little like the convict who surprises him in the graveyard — always a stranger.

A great example of this process for me – and which, interestingly, did not lie in the realm of the classics – was when I re-read Allison Pearson’s brilliant I Don’t Know How She Does It. I first read this funny and moving treatment of working-mom-hell when I was deeply ensconced in working-mom-hell and recognized myself in the stressed-out, over-performing, irreverent central character. (As did so many of my friends. My favorite anecdote from this book is when the main character wishes that she could create a special check-out line in grocery stores for particularly harried working mothers. I hear you, sister.)

The second time I read the book, however, I’d moved out of that phase of life into an entirely different one. I was trying to write a novel of my own and thought that it would be helpful if I read someone else who got the tone that I was shooting for right – i.e. a voice that was funny and insightful but also tinged with sadness and moments of darkness. And it worked. Because I already knew the plot line, I could read the book for the language…the tone…the rhythm of events. In short, I read it less as a mother and more as a writer. And it was a totally different experience.

I’m sure that there are loads of books out there that I could be re-reading if I would just let myself…stay tuned for tomorrow’s post.

*****

Speaking of paranoia about not being sufficiently well-read, via the ever fabulous Very Short List I came across this link to a book aptly titled Beowolf on the Beach which gives plot summaries of all the classics. Crib notes for grown ups!

Book Babel: Half Read Tower of Shame by Pindec via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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