I’m all grown up now. Walking abroad this January Saturday “in a shower of all my days”. As all grown up as I will probably ever be, which is enough for me. Happy walking about here in my own skin, on this day before a birthday.
It certainly isn’t “my thirtieth year to heaven” as Dylan Thomas had it when he walked out one morning on the same sort of walk. Him remembering chapels and childhood, which I remember too, though I don’t feel like going through all that childhood stuff, not all the time. Because I’m all grown up now and so much has been left behind.
Much has been gathered too, including the book that’s with me today. “Are You Somebody?”, a memoir by Nuala O’Faolain. So Nuala’s walking with me, though she doesn’t know it and isn’t with us anymore. Still, what I’m about to write might turn out to be a conversation between us, in a way. You never know?
Anyway, it’s her has set me off on this stream of thoughts I’m going to start writing. I’d decided to come out to Squash on Windsor Street for my breakfast, as I sometimes do, and while sat here I started reading the book, where she says this near the start:
“There was no reason for me.
Yet my life burned inside me. Even such as it was, it was the only record of me, and it was my only creation, and something in me would not accept that it was insignificant.”
And it was that ‘only creation’ that got me thinking, especially being the day that it is, about my life, this ‘creation’ of me by me as she’s just called it.
It’s true too. Sure, two other people really did create me, a long time ago now:
“The individual comes out of a vessel into which two jugs called Heredity and Environment have been poured” says Nuala.
But after that it’s down to each of us, I’m thinking, to make what we can out of the time, place and tendencies we get given, isn’t it? Making what we can, out of all the ingredients we choose from, to make our own version of ourselves?
“The most useful thing I brought out of my childhood was confidence in reading.”
I could say that too, reading being pretty near the top of the ingredients list of me. Above it though is probably walking. This determination, from what would now be considered a dangerously early age, to leave the house and walk wherever my feet decided to take me has stayed with me. Leading me, from the age of seven or so, into a life of curiosity where I’ve occasionally walked until I’ve got lost, sometimes to get away from somewhere I simply didn’t want to be anymore.
We’ve walked along to Toxteth Library now, Nuala and I, where she’s doing a good job of weaving together stories from her early life with ones of becoming a journalist decades later. A much better weaving than I’ve ever managed.
Twice I’ve made serious attempts to write down my own life story and twice I’ve stopped. Because of arriving chronologically at times or situations I couldn’t be doing with any more. Not that I haven’t done some things about some of those times. Some talking and some counselling. But once done I’ve found I didn’t want to go back and write about them as well. They’re done, and now it’s now.
So now I tell short stories, in little pieces on this blog, about the parts of my life that most interest me. Editing the memoir, if that’s what it is, like you would with any creation. Like Nuala’s saying with the creation of ourselves.
Hearing which has led to me feeling all grown up, on this day before my birthday, as we walk over to the Cathedral. Taking the long route round its gardens, because I think the snowdrops might be coming out by now.
Arriving inside the Cathedral in time for one of the loveliest words in the English language. For Evensong.
Where even though Dylan Thomas’ ‘legends of the green chapels’ are one of the things I’ve left behind, a good Evensong can still be appreciated for the thing of beauty that it is.
Sat later on the steps by Tracey Emin’s gentle words, Nuala’s talking about the lifetime of pleasure reading has given her:
“Novels were about what I cared about. They asked the questions I wanted answered. How do lives get lived? How is love found?”
Yes, and walking has been that for me too. Walking along thinking about those same questions, for all of these years.
After we’d left the Cathedral, Nuala went off to visit the convent school where she’d been sent as a rebellious fourteen year old. And I walked home thinking about the things we’d said. Still mostly about this ‘you reach the age where you’re your own creation’ idea, and you can’t blame it on anyone else. I’m happy with that. Happy to accept that how I am is my own creation now, for good and ill.
So I’m all grown up and it’s a Saturday evening. Nearly another birthday and time for some music, another essential part of me.
My song of now, then, from another adult in the room. Mary Chapin Carpenter singing ‘Sometimes Just the Sky’:
Read more writings about books here at ‘A Book in Your Bag.’
And I realise, by the way that Nuala O’Faolain died a few years ago. But the words and opinions of a great writer like her live on, don’t they?