19 October 2008

Younger than Before

When I was younger, younger than before
I never saw the truth hanging from the door
And now I'm older see it face to face
And now I'm older gotta get up clean the place.

That's the first stanza of Nick Drake's "Place to Be." I've been playing that song quite a bit lately, and it goes through my mind, especially when I am alone. The undulating, but not quite lilting guitar chords, don't merely accompany the words: They lift, but do not float, the song on its journey through space and time. If I were to listen to something while taking a long bike ride, this would be perfect, at least for part of it.

Here's the rest of it:

And I was green, greener than the hill
Where the flowers grew and the sun shone still
Now I'm darker than the deepest sea
Just hand me down, give me a place to be.

And I was strong, strong in the sun
I thought I'd see when day is done
Now I'm weaker than the palest blue
Oh, so weak in this need for you.

"Now I'm darker than the deepest sea." It sort of reminds me of what, if I recall correctly, Antonio Machado said: "We die not from darkness, but from cold." And he and other poets, including James Wright, wrote about people growing darker as they age.

But it's that first stanza that goes for the gut. "I never saw the truth hanging from the door/And now I'm older see it face to face." Although I did see the truth about myself--actually, I sighted it and turned away as quickly and violently as I could--the day on which it came face-to-face came much later. That, of course, was the day I saw that woman in Saint Jean de Maurienne and realized I could no longer live in this world as a man.

But there are other kinds of truths that have come face-to-face. Like my attraction to men (although my feelings for women have not died). And that I absolutely must write and teach because, well, what am I if I don't do either? Although I didn't really get the opportunity to show what I could do in my previous position--which had a long, pretentious title--I know that fighting that battle now would be just another distraction. So, I have surrendered it, if without grace. Then again, there aren't many things I do gracefully.

Anyway, to return to the topic of the passage of time: Over the last few days, I've begun to feel as if much of my life happened more than a hundred years ago. Yet, I don't feel as if the time has passed, at least not in the ways to which I am accustomed. However, I also don't feel as if I've gone from chronological Point A to chronological Point B in some kind of time machine. I feel as if I have spiritually, and even physically, passed through all of those years and all of the places I saw during that time. They were, for an instant, as immediate and at times painful as they were when I first entered and left them.

I really do as if I've passed through a hundred years. But I don't feel that much older. (Not that I would know what being a hundred years older would feel like!) In fact, I feel as if I've scarcely aged at all.

If you're thinking, "Hey, cool," well, it is, in a way. What I've experienced really does turn the past into the past. On the other hand, it's disconcerting and exhiliarating at the same time: I feel like someone who's just showed up in this world and is taking her first steps, much like those of the Apollo 11 astronauts on the moon. I feel as if I've been jettisoned from my old world, from my past, after having had only that past as a resource.

What that means is that I can't act out of memory. Somehow I've become acutely aware of this after the week that just passed. I have taken walks, seen plays, gone to dinner and done all sorts of other things with the women and men with whom I've been romantically or sexually involved, as well as with friends, family members and co-workers. But somehow none of it applied when Dominick and I walked along Long Island Sound at the former Fort Totten, when we circulated among the crowd at the reception that followed the play we saw at the college, and even when we just whiled time away after walking out of the movie.

The past year, the past five years, the previous five, the forty that came before: all of them seem frozen in some sort of amber that I couldn't crack even if I wanted to. It seems that the people with whom I am friendly now--and I include my parents--have either moved away, and helped me to progress from, it or simply weren't part of it in the first place. I also realize now that those who've decided they no longer want to be friends or otherwise continue relationships with me have chosen to enclose themselves in that amber: They only know the past, and how I was in it, and don't want to move on, with or without me.

It seems I have been handed down, given a place to be. But I'm still getting used to it, really. After all, I only entered it--slowly, and with a lot of fear--five years ago. And I'm fifty now: at the end of a ray of time, but still younger, younger than before.

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