Sunday, July 24, 2016

Of an Age

Being the right age is a concept you've spent an entire lifetime anticipating, mindful of such rites of passage as being able to carry a pocket knife, a book of matches, having a permit allowing you to drive a car, having the potential, as witness the single condom in your wallet, if not the actual opportunity to engage in more emphatic sexual activity, being able to vote, even having some measure of available credit and thus able to purchase beyond your immediate cash on hand.

Arrival of these various and varied stations has without doubt prepared you for other stops along what that inveterate letter writer and politician, Dante Alighieri, called the road of life. Some of these stations, not in any particular order, include loss, disappointment, frustration, accomplishment, survival, surprise, appreciation, and discovery.

You're not certain when it was that you found some benefit in the ability to look back, not so much in any sense of nostalgia as for the sense of wondering where you'd left your sunglasses or wallet, then, through some triangulation of memory, being able to reunite with the lost object.  Arrival came to mean having a reserve of experience and skills upon which to draw when at the metaphoric place Jack London's nameless character found himself in one of his more memorable short stories, "To Build a Fire."

Now, you've reached another way station, the right age of being able to let your earlier self off the hook for not having done or said or thought or read or written or studied or loved things that have come to have value for you now.  This particular right age is the equivalent of reaching between some cushions out of curiosity, then finding a handful of change. To give the metaphor a stretch, this is the equivalent of not only finding coins of a specific monetary value but as well of having some numismatic value as well, which is to say much much better late and even by whim or accident than never.

In recent days, you've been looking back at a specific time, your days as a student at the university, where your focus was sharpening on the specific work, the poem, the essay, the play, the novel, rather than the time in which it was written and the surrounding circumstances, often financial ones. Ah, Mozart wrote a concerto, did he? And in it, he borrowed from himself something he'd used in a trio or quartet, which is always worth a nod toward your own copious memory for such arcana. Or is it?

You've caught yourself wondering how it was that you could have thought to cut some many of the history classes required of your major. Why, for instance, study Tudor history or care that Chaucer's employer was John of Gaunt, a sturdy limb of the Plantagenet tree? What possible effect could that have on your appreciation of Chaucer and his works?

Some reasons, again not in any specific order: a young woman named Kay, another, named Louise, who was said to have a crush on you, leading you mistake this Louise, who was the equivalent of Rowena in Scott's Ivanhoe, with she in Ivanhoe who was in fact Rebecca; a young woman named Janet, studies of Dryden, Pope, the Victorians, and the Romantics.  Thus you have the understandable binary of reading and raging hormones.  You are even able now to understand the you who sat in a darkened corner with a young woman named Adrienne on your lap, her hands directing one of yours to explore personal intimacies, asking you as you did so what you were thinking of, and your answer, "Shakespeare."

The past has brought us to where we are, the conductor has said, "End of line," meaning we either disembark or find ourselves borne back to the terminal. We alight to the moment, blink in the sun, then go forth to encounter whatever Reality has caused. You have in your pocket a folding knife, intended for splitting baguettes and slicing charcuterie. In your car is the sort of device any waiter in a restaurant that serves wine would have close at hand. In your experiences are the more appropriate tools. You like to think you know which wines would go well with a mild fish, say a sole. You also think you'd know by now not to begin a sentence with the words It or As.

You'd like to think such things because you are of an age. Soon enough, you will be at others, hopeful you will recognize the language in which the conductor speaks when he makes his announcement.

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