It's pretty sad that I'm already haunted by nostalgia at the age of 37. I realize that the good old days weren't all that good, but there were certainly times that I enjoyed immensely. This isn't a rant about how kids today are horrible and my generation was so great (every generation is horrible in its own way), but rather a strange glimmering of insight into a part of myself that's been hovering just below my consciousness.
I was watching the 2005 film adaptation of "Pride and Prejudice" last night, and I was pleasantly surprised by how good it was. I'd put off seeing it for a while because I didn't want to be disappointed by a poor script or indifferent casting. As I watched the glorious story unfold, I had so many flashbacks to my childhood spent in England, as well as the years I spent there as an adult. I could feel the dampness of the air and knew what it smelled like as Lizzie waited for a downpour to stop; I could hear the birds and feel the atmosphere at Pemberley (Chatsworth, in real life), and remembered the day I spent there in 1990 with one of my long ago boyfriends. I recalled walking through the grounds, looking at the marvelous art collection, and having a fabulous afternoon. But what was most haunting was the dialogue. Of course it was very formal, but the wit remains forever fresh, and the exchanges were polished to a degree that is familiar and yet foreign. Moreover, the perceptiveness, the joy of word choice, and the glow of emotional precision brought to mind conversations that I had with my most learned and fun of English exes.
I sat on the floor this morning and read through all the letters that I'd kept from him, and was again enchanted by his erudition, kindness, and his elegant turns of phrase. Perhaps it was his public school education (in one letter, he joked about how one of my childhood friends had pegged him as "very public school"), perhaps simply his personality. What remains is that I feel so fortunate to have shared that time in my life with him.
I know many years ago I realized that I am truly American and not English, but I still feel that part of me is indelibly marked by my experiences living in the UK. I wonder sometimes if I'll ever be able to explain that part of my life to my children.
I also wonder if a large part of my sadness about leaving academia is tied to my leaving Britain behind, in terms of my career and immediate focus of critical attention. I suppose that I will continue to read The London Review of Books and The Times Literary Supplement, because I always want to know what's current there, in terms of cultural events and ideas. I think I am also mournful because it's been so long since I was in London. It's not my "home," but I do feel truly "at home" there in a way I don't in other places. I take it as an excellent sign, however, that I do feel at home in the East Bay; it's the only place in the US that I have ever felt that way.
I was at a friend's son's birthday party today, and there were so many lively people there, lots of kids and animated conversation. I couldn't help but feel a little envious that my friend has lived in the same place more or less since she was six, and has years and years of solid friendships here. My life is so disjointed in that aspect: childhood friends in St. Louis and England, college friends all over the place, Thomenon in Utah, but very important new friends in the Bay Area, too. I think that I don't trust people very much, and certainly not easily, although I come across as very easygoing and immediately open. I'm extremely good at isolating myself and living in my head (hence the nostalgia). But somehow I feel as though I'm emerging from a long period spent walking aimlessly and sadly in the gloom, and if I am patient and careful, much of the heavy weight of the past 20 years will lift.
To myself: carpe diem.