Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Everywhere I Hear the Cry of Birds

Borris House in Carlow, scene of last weekend's Festival of Writing and Ideas

I missed the start of the conversation between Michael Harding and AC Grayling that was one of the highlights of the Sunday of the Borris Festival of Writing and Ideas. (Will write more on the festival later). I was there for the end though, when Grayling recited a poem in Chinese. This is the translation I wrote down quickly:

"We awake expecting to see the blossoms of Spring
Only to find the rains of autumn are already falling"

I like this, and thought perhaps that Leonard Cohen was right when that "a single line of Chinese poetry could change forever how blossoms fell". I went looking for the poem on Google, but couldn't find it. I found this though, which may be the same poem, translated differently.
"I slumbered this spring morning, and missed the dawn,
From everywhere I heard the cry of birds.
That night the sound of wind and rain had come,
Who knows how many petals then had fallen?"

And it is my life, right there. Everything. It's not that there any flowers left. I'm not infirm, yet. Many would call me a young woman, but only if I did something like die. Forty is young to die. It's old to do most of the things I want to do.

Now is the afternoon, when others' thoughts are turning to rest and the evening. They have done the work, some rising even before dawn. Their garners are full for the winter ahead, their young around them.

This is envy, a self-destructive emotion. I have thing that others envy and there is no balance-sheet in the sky. There's no metric for a good life, for happiness. I've been trying to follow Paul Dolan's advice in his excellent book "Happiness by Design" and focus less on the evaluating self which tots up the points on the life-satisfaction inventory and look instead at what I'm doing every day, at the experiencing self. I'm trying as well, relatedly, to consider how it feels more than how it looks when it comes to making decisions.

And I feel always that it's too late. And I feel always that I can't give up. And I know the most dangerous way of all to think of your life is that it's like a story. Especially a story from a film. The movies have spoiled us all into imagining narrative arcs where there is only rational chaos. I think, is this the critical moment, the turn of the screw, the second challenge our heroine must face and if she succeeds we will have resolution and the falling action of contented old age. This all depends on the screenplay and all too often I sit back and wait to see what will happen. All around me I see confirmation that for most people, like in most movies, there's a reasonable chance for a good outcome. These observations aren't a reliable guide. I could, for example, be the only one of my peers whose film is playing at the art-house cinema instead of at the Omniplex.

I got lost on my way to Borris. I got lost on the way home.  I sought the meaning of trying to work out a shortcut instead of going the suggested route. On the way home I had decided, decided I tell you, to take the Waterford route only to get to the first T-junction and take the other road. I expend myself in such useless challenges, like trying to break the six-stone barrier (My goal when I was twenty). These roads were built that way for a reason and you have to accept risks if you turn off them.

What's my useless challenge now? I spent a long time navigating the Carlow/ Kilkenny countryside, driving in circles through the narrow streets of the confusing towns, thinking I was on the right road, thinking wrongly that I was on the wrong road, doubling-back and sucking it up, and eventually I re-joined the main road and then I knew where I was and could breathe.

I'll never known what might have happened if I'd stayed on the road I'd decided on. I'll never see the petals that bloomed while I slept, though I torture myself with imagining. What would really be unreasonable would be to go back to bed in a huff, or to forget that soon enough the rain and the wind will truly and earnestly blow all signs of life away.

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