Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Then and Now


"I never look back, darling," Edna tells Mr. Incredible. "It distracts from the now." As laudable as her attitude might seem to self-help gurus, I'm not convinced that The Now is all it's cracked up to be. Sure, there are a few downsides to worrying about the future and regretting the past, but for me the idea of living in the present seems kind of ... one-dimensional. (Technically, I suppose, the term I'm looking for here is three-dimensional. But still. My point is that four dimensions are more dimensional than three.)

I spent hours last summer selecting paint colours, furniture, and floor coverings for my new home, but it was only when I moved in that I realized how ... 1970s all my choices turned out to be. I have shag carpets everywhere, dark brown curtains hanging from every window, and the yellow paint on my kitchen walls is only a shade more Tuscan than the buttercup-yellow curtains my mother hung on her kitchen windows when she moved into her brand-new house in 1977. My carefully selected couches are upholstered in a woven fabric that is uncannily similar to that of the couch I sat on to watch Sesame Street and Electric Company.

It's not just the house. It's the Meet-the-Teacher BBQ and P.D. days and packing lunches. When my children were infants I was blazing a new trail, but now that they're in school it's more clear: I've turned into my mother. And there's something so reassuring to me about the act of placing my feet carefully in her footsteps.

In The Mill on the Floss, Maggie Tulliver reacts to her father's bankruptcy with the dismayed sense that there will be nothing at the end of her life that is the same as it was at the beginning. These days, we no longer expect to find ourselves surrounded, on our deathbeds, with familiar, well-worn objects. Our houses are disposable and our beds and tables even moreso. But that urge to preserve the past has always driven me to diarize, to preserve the past, to stretch the now like a thin piece of crepe so that the past shines through it and illuminates it.

Today I was blindsided by a sudden sense of panic. I reeled from a sense of impending betrayal, an almost physical sensation of pain. And then I remembered. It's the first of October - the tenth anniversary of this conversation. Thinking about that day doesn't hurt me anymore, but the pain is still there, a kind of companion to these fall days, a dark friend that lends a new dimension to the now.

21 comments:

Anonymous said...

I'm in absolute agreement; I prefer a dash of the past along with the present, and a liberal sprinkling of anticipation for the future to boot.

I've never been one to "let go" quickly or easily, and concur with Dylan Thomas's "Do not go gentle into that good night." I couldn't be a Buddist (according to Andrea's interpretation) either.

Karla

minnesotamom said...

"to stretch the now like a thin piece of crepe so that the past shines through it and illuminates it"

Reading that was like eating really, really good chocolate.

Do you find that your writing helps you work through a lot of the past? That the post-processing taking place is beneficial to you?

Andrea said...

A proxy comment! Huzzah!

(ahem)

I don't think it's human to live completely in the now. Dogs live in the now, cats live in the now, frogs live in the now. By and large, humans do not live in the now. It's one of the things that makes us human.

Besides, how could a creature that lives in the now ever write a novel? You need to have a sense of time, and of time influencing events.

Omaha Mama said...

My mom was tidy, confident, and calm. I wish I could channel some of that right now. If only an olive green fridge would do the trick, I'd go buy one. ;-)
I think your home is lovely and current, not 70's at all.

gretchen from lifenut said...

From what I've seen of your home, the 1970s do not spring to mind. Unless you are hiding macrame plant hangers, needlepoint pictures of owls, colored toilet paper, and have chianti baskets stuffed with faux ferns hanging in your kitchen.

Living entirely in the now? Impossible and undesirable. That would mean yesterday is as worthless as 10,000 yesterdays ago, and that isn't true. Our days are built on top of each other.

Mary G said...

Just came here from Mad's post on self conscious 'literary' posts. I saw your comment, and I most emphatically do not put you in that category. Reading your posts is like walking through a very fine private library, the kind with shelves to the ceiling and ladders to reach the top books. And not a self conscious over elaboration in the room.
I discovered last week that shag is 'IN'. Again. So is brown. You are of the moment, obviously. I tend to channel my grandmother, which scares me silly.
I love your take on this. Bring on the avocado appliances!

kittenpie said...

I usually have that same weird, visceral reaction on Sept 11th, but this year, a 6-day old baby distracted me sufficiently that I noticed halfway through the day that I was not noticing. Which was nice.

Aliki2006 said...

Well, you just perfectly articulated what I have been feeling lately--beautiful, Bea.

Kyla said...

10 years. Strange to think I've been reading your writing for over two years. I went back and read my comment and then found your comment back to me. I'm quite certain I never read it before now.

I could never live in the present. What would I agonize over?

Jennifer (ponderosa) said...

And there's something so reassuring to me about the act of placing my feet carefully in her footsteps.

When I was young I wanted to be Original and Unique, but now I feel that same way -- that well-worn paths are reassuring. How else would I know I'm going the right way?

womaninawindow said...

Oh, I'm a problem living-in-the paster. (I'm quite confidant that that must be a word.) So much so that I err on forgetting the present, and sometimes balk at the future. Not so sure about the colours of 1970 though. You might need a tiny intervention there.

lar said...

This post caused me to remember that today is that kind of day for me--the 3rd anniversary of a life-altering event. It changed me and my family in a profound way, and although we were convinced that we'd never be happy again, we are now swimming in a place that seems normal. We are better off in some ways than before; more cautious, less optimistic, but more assured that our faith is not misplaced.

After it happened I thought of it hourly, then daily, then weekly; now I hardly think of it at all. But its effects will always be with me, like a scar that heals but never fully regains the same tone as the skin around it.

Mimi said...

That's funny -- I've been looking at my kid, dressed in brown cords with green shirt and a denim romper on top, her hair in bouncing ponytails and had that same flash: dear sweet baby Jesus, it's 1975 all over again. I am my mom, and that's okay. It's good.

carol said...

I am new to this post and confused - the 10 years ago conversation (which was beautiful and indeed perfect)-everyone assumes that it was you who were betrayed. The post does not reveal that.......a painful conversation 10 years later either way you read it nonetheless.

Bea said...

Carol - Good point. I didn't actually identify which side of the conversation belonged to me. Suffice it to say I was the cheat-ee in that conversation (not the cheat-er).

No Mother Earth said...

I saw a kid the other day who, swear to God, wore the exact same outfit that I did in '77.

My house is decorated quite a lot like the house I grew up in that my mother decorated. We may have a different colour palette (and it goes without saying that her house is neater), but the essence is the same. It just feels right - like home.

I wonder though, it's not decorated at all like the house Mr Earth grew up in. Does he not want to make his house like home. Do men just really not care about these things? It's unfathomable to me.

Merle said...

Your post was quite powerful. Quite sad too.
Your house is beautiful and the colours are both current and old which really makes the best of both worlds.

Beck said...

My kid dresses like Mimi's kid - we've even established that they wear the same shoes - although I go the extra distance of using those huge plastic pom-pom things to hold HER pony-tails. Oh yes I do.
I like those warm, earthy colours from the 70s, so long as we may abstain from the macrame, the coke and the wife-swapping.

JordanG said...

I cannot stop reading your posts! thank you!! :)

Bon said...

agreed. i've spent a lot of my adulthood trying to learn how to live in the now at all...but the past (mine and y'know, everybody else's) is always with me, the lens i'm usually looking through. now that i think i have some kinda balance to the whole thing, i like it this way.

Leanne said...

I'm having the same problem as I renovate and redecorate my home. Our past makes us who we are so I guess it's not surprsing. But still, I'm surprised.