Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Anniversaries, revolution and mortality

You know, I didn't really notice the date when I began this blog three years ago, but I do remember Jeffrey noticing I had chosen Bastille Day on which to begin. I was reminded of this just now when Richard Stubbs was speaking on the radio with someone from Alliance Fran├žaise about learning another language, and the big debate in Australia now about whether we should learn European or Asian languages. Given that so few students learn a language at all, I would have thought we had little to be picky about here, but that's another story. Anyway, how proud am I that I could understand all of Kathleen's comment on my post about Italian classes (and a good deal of the grammar, too), and also the email my sister, who is enviably fluent in a number of European languages, sent me in Italian. I do think the reading is going to be easier for me than the speaking, but then since I'm doing this in part to enhance my reading of Petrarch, Dante and Boccaccio, that's probably ok.

Richard was also inviting talkback on the various revolutions you've enacted in your life. I didn't stay to listen because I've just made a very scary phonecall about a piano, and because I wanted to come in here to post. But if I think back to where I was three years ago, it's timely, perhaps, to think whether cancer revolutionised me.

Yes. And no.

In some ways, I think the biggest change for me over that time has been my progressive disenchantment from my workplace. Not that I've done anything about this, so I can't call it a revolution. I still work just as hard for it, and in its interests, as I used to, but falling out of love with my university has made a substantial change to the way I see myself and my working future. Not a revolution, then, so much as a re-adjustment.

The pointy end of my dealings with cancer has passed, of course, and on paper, my prognosis just gets better and better. Even so — and maybe it's just a sign of middle age, now — for the last few weeks, I have been regularly waking in the middle of the night and pondering mortality in a way I never used to before. And even sometimes during the day, too. Partly this is book-writing anxiety, but I find I have to work hard, some days, to remind myself it's not too late to learn a new language, to finish current projects and start new ones, and to have faith in the future. Though the poor planet, if it were sentient, would surely be waking at night with worry, too.

D'ailleurs, Joyeux anniversaire, mon cher blog.

6 comments:

Pavlov's Cat said...

Happy blogiversary!xx

Jeffrey J. Cohen said...

Joyeux anniversaire, from Leeds!

Eileen Joy said...

To add to Jeffrey, joyeux anniversaire, indeed.

Your post here is a bit eerie as it hits upon a rather intense conversation with two brilliant but very young [20-ish] PhD students last night in the Stable pub at Weetwood Hall in Leeds. I had what I can only call a rather severe brush with death just after Kalamazoo when I returned home to S. Carolina after Kalamazoo and visited a friend of mine [a former colleague and close neighbor who, over the past 10 years, literally became a sort of father figure to my partner and I and who also helped us to--again, quite literally--raise our severely emotionally-troubled daughter when even our own family members either could not or did want to help]. In January he was diagnosed with lung cancer [never smoked a cigarette in his life and not an ounce of fat on him--a total health nut, actually] and when I went to his house in May I was informed that he had been moved from aggressive treatment [chemotherapy] to in-house palliative/hospice care. I had last seen him in March and he looked good, and I was completely unprepared for what I saw in May. In a complete state of shock after sitting with him for about 2 hours and drinking a beer in his honor, after which he gave me his first edition copy of Henry Sweet's Old English dictionary [which he had purchased as a PhD student in medueval and Renaissance studies at Yale in the late 1960s], I got in my car, and so upset I didn't even really know how upset I was, I kind of swerved my car and drove up on the front lawn of First Presbyterian Church in downtown Conway--this is the kind of small town where you can do this sort of thing and almost no one notices--there are no sidewalks, just sandy lawns, etc.

[to be continued]

Eileen Joy said...

[continuing]

There was no part of my body that was not in a complete state of shock, and also anger--Don was going to retire after the fall 2009 semester and he and his wife were planning to take a trip to eastern Europe. I could not bear to imagine my life without Don always around the corner and coming over every Friday, as he always did, to bring us whatever fish he caught in Murrell's Inlet and out on the deep sea. During th 2005-06 academic year, when I went through a very dark time, Don came over almost every day after classes and sat with me on the front porch and reassured me that things would work out if I just kept my faith. Two weeks ago, while I was keeping vigil with him and his family and a few other friends, he died. His wife, Pat, allowed each of us time to be alone with him afterwards, so that we could keep talking to him, which somehow, actually mattered and felt right, and somehow lightened the devastation I felt.

What does this have to do with your post, with being in one's forties [middle-aged], with pondering mortality, and revolutions [or slight re-adjustments], and even the bright light of your prognosis, and those 2 twenty-something-year-olds in the pub? Well, when I was sitting in my car on the church lawn I was actually seized with the desire, not to make a re-adjustment, but to radically revolutionize my life. I can't share her exactly what that entailed as it is a bit too private, but suffice to say, I looked at myself and said, "Eileen, are you really going to waste your 40s, which might just be, along with your 50s, the best time in a woman's life?" [And I really really believe this.] "Are you going," I said to myself, "to continue the way you've been going and let all of this time slip away from you? And for what? So you could say, later on, that you were loyal and true, even if it meant giving up the chance of your own happiness?" And later that day, I changed the most important and the most unhappy part of my life. And I was telling this story in the pub last night in order to also say to these students, who are also my friends, that I honestly believe that the place I am in now, in my mid-forties, is absolutely where I want to be, age-wise and everything-else-wise and I don't want, and would never want, for any amount of money, to have my twenties and thirties back, when I was too stupid anyway to even understand what really matters, or what I really wanted out of life, professionally or personally. And I really believe, too, that although of course you have every good reason to wake up in the middle of life and ponder your mortality, that you are also one of the more vibrant and alive persons I have ever met and there is no end to all of the things that you still will do, and *must* do. Your horizons are wide open and the beauty of all this, is how *young* you still are and how, right now, you know more about what you want than you did 10 years ago. At least, I assume and hope this is true.

Stephanie Trigg said...

Thanks, all, for blogday wishes.

Eileen, you both scare and thrill me. You have nailed exactly this feeling — and I'm so sorry to hear about Don: a loss like that leaves a huge gaping hole, I'm sure. I agree that the comments box on a blog is not really the place to share these stories (and also that being in my forties and fifties, as such, doesn't particularly worry me), but it's true there are reasons why mortality strikes us, some days more than others. I've just written an obituary for a former teacher and colleague who died suddenly a few weeks ago, just one short generation ahead of me: maybe that's part of it. What legacy will I leave behind?

It's not actually the young graduate students I think about, so much, some days, as my son and his friends, so full of enthusiasm and promise, at 14 and 15, and the sense that they can do/learn anything they set their minds to.

Anyway, that's enough for here. Just wishing we could sit and yarn over a pint at the stables pub at the Weetwood. Now that would be pleasant.

Eileen Joy said...

We laughed a lot tonight at the Stables Pub at Weetwood--it felt good, and I wish you could have been there.