Afar, From the Archives, Home

Notes from a Wild Childhood

IMG_5670_2

My sister and I were feral throughout much of our childhood. My most vivid memories are of cooking food over a campfire by a tepee out in a far, often-frightening, wooded corner of our land; of running through the dappled forests around our house wearing a billowing, homemade gown; of climbing up to the roof by a precarious route that involved an old stone wall and electrical wires to read up in the treetops; of dancing barefoot in the summer rains; of falling asleep on the screen porch to the sound of cicadas; and of hours upon hours spent drawing, painting and writing.

I was, at times, a little careless regarding personal safety in my unguarded activities—I broke my arm, stepped on scorpions, and once jumped off a roof—but I shied away from the truly dangerous, and generally erred on the side of safety. I was rarely bored; I relished every moment of free time I had. I resented school immensely and loved nothing so much as the potential of early Saturday morning. My imagination ran even more wild than I did, and around the age of perhaps six I began to experience the endless flow of words and stories that has yet to abate.

When I was eleven, I somehow argued my way into home schooling. My weeks lost whatever structure school imposed. In addition to the usual subjects, I read voraciously, took art classes, and wrote my first full-length novel (a charming little tale of revenge and friendship). I worked, even then, with the sort of self-motivation that would have never been possible if my time had been entirely accounted for, and with the kind of imagination that can only come of rampant freedom, physical and mental. It was the same impulse that led me to Oxford and into freelance writing, and I believe the same native drive to create (born out of a similarly wild childhood) that drew me to my husband, who spent his youth fashioning exceptionally accurate period weapons and woodland forts.

Of course, we needn’t confine our free roaming to childhood. Plane tickets and passports are all very well, but yards and parks, not to mention blanket forts, suited our purposes then—so why not now?

Standard
Afar, From the Archives, Home

Hold On

Romeo and Juliet, in the Poetry Garden www.bluemesablog.com

I don’t lose things, material things, very often. Through countless travels and moves, I’ve kept a close hold on objects of meaning. Perhaps the rarity of the occurrence makes me regret the losing all the more, when it does occur. Certain things misplaced throughout my life still have the capacity to make me feel a little hollow when I think of them. Just this week I stood outside an airport crying, very uncharacteristically, over the loss of a confiscated pocket knife I had forgotten to remove from my purse. As I did so, I wondered why something so small and replaceable should result in more tears than the loss of things, people, and places of much greater significance.

Why, for instance, do I still feel guilty when I remember dropping and breaking a small animal figurine that I had as a child? Why have I been unable to let go of the memory of a pair of earrings that someone stole, a necklace I left in a hotel room, a tartan blanket lost in the mail, or that pocket knife?

Perhaps because the pocket knife reminded me of my father, the figurine of my mother, the earrings of a journey through Mexico, the necklace of my husband, the blanket of an old friend I haven’t spoken to in many years. The knife can be replaced, the figurine was lost in the jumble of childhood objects, I wouldn’t wear the earrings if I had them now, my husband bought me another necklace, and the blanket—well, that really is gone.

But it seems that even replacing the lost thing cannot efface the memory or effect of the loss itself. Still, why should a broken figurine matter more than a totalled car, or a lost blanket more than a lost friend? I don’t know. Perhaps because in losing these objects, I have also lost the memories they held in association.

Romeo and Juliet, in the Poetry Garden www.bluemesablog.com

Romeo and Juliet, in the Poetry Garden www.bluemesablog.com

Standard
Afar, France, From the Archives, Home

Nostalgia

Nostalgia, Rennes, France www.bluemesablog.com

I always catch a bad bout of nostalgia at this time each year. There’s something about the cooling air and changing winds that stirs up memories—not just images and words, but scents and feelings as strong as they were the first time around. It’s a beautiful, moving and troublesome sensation that never fails to leave me restless. It’s not exactly a yearning for times past, but rather the slightly overwhelming feeling of so many recollections arising at once. As my memories become more potent, my dreams become more vivid, and I find myself yearning for some intangible quality that falls somewhere between wanted to experience again and wanting to experience anew.

Nostalgia, Rennes, France www.bluemesablog.com

This morning alone I’ve been back at my childhood home as warm sunlight comes through the windows, I’ve been putting on my school uniform, and pouring cream into my coffee. I’ve been wandering the cloisters of Mont St Michel, and exploring the standing stones at Carnac, walking through the gardens in Rennes, swimming in a chateau moat, rolling in the fallen leaves in Central Park, wandering the ruins at Tintern Abbey, and the climbing the stairs of Broadway tower.

Nostalgia, Rennes, France www.bluemesablog.com

I’ve met a variety of old lovers and forgotten friends, I’ve wandered the quiet streets of Oxford and the ruins of Godstow Nunnery, walked along Aldeburgh beach, fled from a herd of charging buffalo, rested by the fire at Barnsley House, and even revisited old dreams in new ones. I’ve nodded to a variety of past selves, and feel content that they’ve more or less resolved into who I am now (with a few inevitable outliers).

Nostalgia, Rennes, France www.bluemesablog.com

But then, this morning I’ve also woken up next to my husband, ground coffee, written a letter or two, and watched a misty sunrise over the California hills. I image these moments will also flavour future memories when they arise unbidden decades hence.Nostalgia, Rennes, France www.bluemesablog.com

Nostalgia, Rennes, France www.bluemesablog.com

Nostalgia, Rennes, France www.bluemesablog.com

Nostalgia, Rennes, France www.bluemesablog.com

Standard
From the Archives, Oxford

Oxford Girl

Oxford, England www.bluemesablog.com

I think the very first thing I saw in this world must have been ‘The Oxford Book of English Ghost Stories’, which my mother was reading around the time of my birth (not during, mind you). The book features prominently in the first photo of me ever taken. It was a curious choice for hospital reading, but one in-keeping with her particular variety of maternal sentiment. She did not have children to coddle or cuddle, but to introduce us to the various wonders of the world and the joys of discovery.

Oxford, England www.bluemesablog.com

The city of Oxford has afforded many of these joys. When I was six, my mother took me out of school for a month to travel around England. Before our trip, she had read me ‘Brideshead Revisited’ by way of a bedtime story. When we reached Oxford I stood on Broad Street, before the blue gates of Trinity College, and declared that I would go to Oxford when I was old (as college-age seemed at the time). We returned to the city when I was eight, and again when I was fifteen, and my intention to attend the university endured even though I had shown a distinct lack of aptitude in school. At home I was a voracious reader, ploughing through weighty Victorian novels from the age of seven, but at school I was shy and quiet, and my teachers took this for deficiency in either interest or intellect, and did little to encourage me. Even in a small school I fell behind, and by my mid-teens had resigned myself to the solid middle-ground of academic achievement.

Oxford, England www.bluemesablog.com

At sixteen I spent a year abroad in France, and floundered terribly in school although I improved in most other ways. My other improvements, or perhaps simply the variousness of my education, were sufficient to get me into a boarding school in Oxford, and I completed my final two years of high school enrolled in the British A-Level system in that city of dreams. Around the halfway point something changed. I realized for the first time in my life that I was intensely interested in what I was studying, and that I wanted to succeed. I also realized that if I wanted to attend Oxford University I would have to work a hell of a lot harder than I was accustomed to working. Alas this realization did not come quite soon enough to counteract the damage already done by apathy, and I spent a couple of years in a sort of limbo back in Texas. It was a time essential to my formation (or rediscovery) of self, my respect for home, and my commitment to that goal I had set at age six.

Oxford, England www.bluemesablog.com

I spent a year and a half at a Texas university, where I worked relentlessly. I took the maximum number of classes allowed each semester and each summer, never missed a day of class, and received the highest marks in every subject. After a year and a half I had sufficient credits to spend my second and final year back at Oxford as a visiting student, and to Oxford I returned.

Oxford, England www.bluemesablog.com

Back and forth I went between Oxford and Texas in the next few years. I returned to my beloved city for a Masters, which I received with highest honours, and in time I even married an Oxford boy, an historian I’d met years before.

Oxford, England www.bluemesablog.com

All this is to say: beware the books you surround yourself with at the birth of your children. You never know what effect they may have.

Oxford, England www.bluemesablog.com

Standard