Home > Events, Reflection > I’ve Walked A Road

I’ve Walked A Road

“Oh no, I thought, tomorrow is Sunday again! Sundays seemed to be rolling around every four days. Another two Sundays and I would be 20 years old. I stretched out in bed and stared at my calendar as dark feelings washed over me.” – Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami

I found it strange that I should have been reading this from two nights ago. I bought the book for my sister, but I had no idea what the style and content would be like. (If I had, I probably wouldn’t have presented her with such an inappropriate book.) But life has been very much like what is described above.

Norwegian Wood is an excellent novel, but when I started reading, it was less pleasant than unsettling. Too many things were too distractingly familiar for me not to be self-conscious, though with regard to the coincidence in ages I was more curious than self-conscious. This is not to say that the coincidence in ages didn’t strike me; how could it not when 17 to 20 is pretty much the age compassed by this blog? But I also realized I’ll remember this one as more than an excellent novel.

One of the hallmarks of the books I most appreciated in my adolescence is my appreciation (no better word) of the narrator or protagonist. I thought Camus’s Absurd Man was admirable in certain specific ways, and I thought the same about the writer; I appreciated John Irving’s narrator’s voice and his characters Cuthbert and Trumper; I identified with Styron’s narrator in Sophie’s Choice; in every case, the mix of responses included admiration, identification and aspiration. But one specific thing these characters/narrators had in common was what I can only clumsily describe as a struggle for mere honesty. In Norwegian Wood, there is a point when the emotionally worn-down narrator writes:

“I’m not trying to make excuses for myself, but I do believe that I have lived as sincerely as I know how. I have never lied to anyone, and I have taken care over the years not to hurt other people. And yet […]”

That was something I recognized as familiar in substance.

*

Despite whatever impact my reading history may have had, I don’t think Norwegian Wood is a statement of identity or anything like that, but as a fact of my recent experience it was vividly precipitous. To tell the truth, I’ve been plunged from a number of other cliffs recently. I don’t think that there’s been a year I’ve cried three times before April, at least since crying stopped being a means of communicating. In fact, years 16, 17, 18 and 19 seem 100% tear-free in my memory. (Did I just evoke Johnson & Johnson shampoo?) I know it’s not true, but I am unable to recall any particular episode. I think this is very much a consequence of how I lived my life and saw myself. Life was just that way, I was just that sort of person. I see this more clearly now, in the wake of my most recent bout of tears, the times in the past three or four months I’ve been thinking about the past three or four months, my blog redesign, my section noticeboard profile, university applications, and most recently Norwegian Wood. (Like I said, precipitous; I’m thinking of chem prac and rain clouds too.)

For much of the novel, the narrator is nineteen and twenty, remembering the death of his best friend when they were seventeen together. His life in the ‘present’ is thoroughly removed from his old life socially, geographically and even culturally. As for himself, he seems much the same, if mainly because he has no complicated ideas about who he is; he seems to be mainly what he likes and what he does, and like Stingo, Cuthbert and Trumper, what he does would make a rather sparse and unspectacular CV. (On a side note, this quality makes for a rather spectacular narrative perspective on which other characters’ lives are layered.) On the other hand, by virtue of experiences alone, it’s hard to say that he hasn’t changed. Not having a myth of self is a paradoxical quality, in that although the idea of self is going to be remarkably consistent in certain ways over time, there is also going to be little that regulates the more discernible aspects of the person’s life.

I’ve mainly assumed that I haven’t changed and don’t change very much. I think writing can make one quite aware of inconsistencies in identity and whatnot, and prompt one to look quite hard for consistency, and that usually ends up being written. This blog’s been very much a record of myself, and although the variety of modes and motivations disqualify it is any sort of consistent history, the fact remains that the words I’ve put myself into are written, if not quite in stone.

Motivated by nostalgia, I’ve been looking back quite a lot; as Daniel told me a few minutes before, ‘Enjoy your last coupla days of being a teenager,’ and, ‘We’re *indistinct sound* twenty!’ Looking in the rearview’s been unexpectedly uncomfortable, though; as I gained some new perspective it’s also been difficult to accept some of the places I’ve traveled through. I have all these little tableaux from the points I stopped to take my surroundings in, but I haven’t really considered the times I rushed headlong. In my relentlessly conscious mindscape, those times hardly even register. What I’ve realized is that those times would be as revealing as the myriad other realizations I’ve had, and that the person I’ve left behind those gaps is beyond reach. The uncertainty and alienation I’ve been feeling arose from the knowledge that the person was once me, and that I came from it, that it doesn’t feel like me, but that it may still have a hold on me.

I’ve been putting of thinking about the future and stopping myself when my thoughts threatened to drift too far down the road. Mainly it was fear, although I also experienced resentment as things went along and I couldn’t. I also developed a sense that there were things that were undeniably pressing in the present, because part of my limited vision of the future involved removing myself from a lot of what makes up my life now. By God’s grace, through doubts and fears and tears, I’ve had the chance to come to terms with a number of the most stressful things, and right now I’m mainly thankful.

I’m thankful because I realize that overall I’ve had a good few years. If I had to grade it I’d give it a 41. I’m not going to count my blessings, because it’s not like I’ve been counting what I’m owed; I’ve realized that that makes it a rather empty activity. Besides, it’s only after I’ve seen more of what hasn’t been good that I’ve been able to right myself. In retrospect, the past four months have seen me trying very hard to be happy and ultimately failing, because it was me fighting. It’s been difficult for me to trust, but God is faithful.

I’ll be turning twenty soon, and for the first time in a long while I don’t feel like my life is running away from me. How can it, when I’ve given it up? I also think it’s the first birthday in a few that I haven’t felt harassed or depressed, which is a little bit strange because I’ve coped with my life in the past few years by being optimistic, being strong and working at things. I still think it was good practice, and even necessary, but life is changed, things are different and thank God for that. I was talking to Philip recently about how wanting to study abroad was basically wanting to see if another kind of life was possible, and I said that with a measure of guilt and with reservations, but right now I think I’m ready to allow myself to be a different person and to have another life. I just pray for the faith to trust in God and look to him as I begin.

“One by one, the teardrops fall as I write you.
One by one,  my words come falling on the page.
One by one, my dreams are fading in the twilight.
One by one, my schemes are fading fast away.”
– ‘One By One’ by Billy Bragg and Wilco, from Mermaid Avenue

That’s as poignant and melancholic as it gets, as I’ve discovered through country music and my Wilco years. Indeed, I’ve felt dreams and schemes slipping away from me, but I want life more, and I want God.

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Categories: Events, Reflection
  1. 'neth
    31 March 2010 at 11:36 pm

    haha shut up. Happy birthday, in other news

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