Beautiful 2013

Last year, maybe it was even in January, Zadie Smith wrote an essay in the New York Review of Books entitled, ‘Joy.’  ’It might be useful to distinguish between pleasure and joy,’ she begins. Because as to joy — ‘If you asked me if I wanted more joyful experiences in my life,’ she says, ‘I wouldn’t be at all sure I did.’

Pleasures are simple. I have always liked the safe consolation of a pleasure, so I know just what she means.  When faced with the choice between a night on the couch with my husband, our two cats on our laps, watching re-runs of Seinfeld we have seen so many times we might act out the lines ourselves – and bungee jumping, let’s say, off a very high bridge in New Zealand — I would almost always choose the couch. Bungee jumping might very well be intensely enjoyable — it might provide a sense of joy, in fact,  that would burn itself so brightly into my mind I would never forget it. I will easily forget the nights of Seinfeld, they blend into a hazy soft glow of forgettableness. But I like a hazy soft glow. And what is that few seconds of intense illumination to a lifetime of candlelight? As Zadie writes, Joy is, ‘not much pleasure at all, but rather that strange admixture of terror, pain, and delight.’ Something, we must find a way to live with. Find a way to not let destroy the everyday.

In many ways, this is how I have come to think of the last year of my life. It was heightened. It was intense. It was delightful. But it was also very terrifying, more painful than not, and very rarely of the calibre of a soft forgettable glow. For one year of my life, I got to behold a landscape in which the thought was not — can I live with this view for the next fifty years of my life?’ but — you can only see that for a year, for six months more, for another week, and then it’s gone. Everything was parenthesized by finitude. I knew it couldn’t last. This did not have the effect of making me feel grateful in a sort of optimistic, making the best of things way — but extreme. I felt that every emotion I experienced, I would never experience again. So I became greedy.  if I teetered out on a dark cliff, I let myself nearly fall. I sat one night on a park bench watching the sun set on an August evening and I sobbed openly for how beautiful and simultaneously painful being alive was. I couldn’t own my experience, so I let it own me.

Now that I’m back to a normal life, to asking myself questions again of  – can I live with this? — and reaming back my emotions to a tolerable everyday sort of hum — I have begun to try and make sense of this past year. It is a year I think that really begins in June of 2012, when I discovered that despite wishful thinking and making the best of things, horrible things still do happen. When I thought, to hell with moderation and responsibility. When I felt reckless, and deep down, very angry and painful and raw. Now I am beginning to understand how to weave this back into a life where there are tomorrows to think about. When you still have to wish for the best, even though you know the best isn’t always what happens.

In the end of the essay, Zadie shares a line that she heard from Julian Barnes — a line that was written to him by a friend when he was mourning for his wife. ‘It hurts just as much as it is worth.’ The daily pleasures — the nights on the couch, the bowls of ice cream that I eat alone in the kitchen, the way a friend knows exactly what you mean about the tone your other friend used when you asked her to dinner, and why it was very significant — well, these are the things that protect us from the brilliancy of our own lives. I think the brilliancy would be too intense, otherwise, and it might blow us to pieces. It is the simple hum that softens things, and makes the hurt and the joy something we can live with.

Anyhow, a little look back at my year:

January:

Hill gazing, moor climbing, coast walking, bus waiting

browntor

beech coastwalk buswaiting

February:

Coffees at Espressini, St. Just in Roseland, St. Mawes

espressini just2 just3 stjust stmawes

March:

Camellias, trains and manor houses.

camellia train IMG_2083

April:

London town

lamp london3 london4

May:

Exploring the hedgerows, taking the ferry to Flushing, wild garlic

hedgerow boat hedgerow2

June:

A visit to Sussex in the midsummer sun.

lucindas sussex sussex4

July:

Gooseberries and long walks in the wheat.

gooseberries wheat

August:

Walking all over London in sultry summer sun.

london london3 london2

September:

Last looks.

falmouth2 falmouth3 falmouth

October:

Back to Michigan.

michigan2

michigan

michigan4

November & December:

Snow and citrus.

IMG_3525

citrus

Comments

  1. Shelagh in Vermont says:

    I cherish your photographs. Hopefully I will be able to make a few more “every other year” visits to my aging, dwindling family in Falmouth. I am anticipating my month-long visit in May, when I will get to celebrate a milestone in the life of the King Harry Ferry with many fans (now FB Friends), and lots of walks in all those familiar places. Did you pick hanging strawberries from the “raised beds” at Trevaskis? My sil lives on Frobisher Terrace, with that same amazing view across to Flushing. This is helping me get through the -20 icy weather today!

  2. Having just found the wonderful pleasure of your blog….I have a dream to visit the UK one day and your pictures have kept that dream going…what a wonderful warm treat to find you, your words and pictures!

  3. Joe says:

    My interpretation of what you’re describing about your year was that it made you intensely present through its very finitude. It’s a heightened state of awareness, like being in a fugue. It’s like the buzz you get when you’re at a great dinner party where everything flows well, and leaves you blue when it’s over, as all things must eventually do.

    When I studied abroad in Ireland for about 5 months– ugh number of years ago– I wrote in my journal that every day living there felt like a week, every week a month, and every month an entire year. Not in a bad way, but in that the experience was often so surreal, so very there because it was like, but unlike, my ordinary life back in the States. It was just enough to keep me from becoming complacent. I feel a trace of it each time I visit a new city in the US, but I know if I were to ever to visit, say, Istanbul, this feeling would become terrifyingly intense. It’s not a feeling that can be sustained for long. I think it’s also like being in love… at first, it’s intense, in the moment, and makes you feeling tingling-ly alive, but the longer it goes on, the more hazy it becomes until it’s not much more than a pleasant buzz, or a soft glow as you described. It may be a human survival mechanism, because, like grace, we can’t bear it for long, not in this three-dimensional existence.

    Cheers to a happy new year brimming with creative writing!

  4. Cathy says:

    This is a lovely look back over your year. Beautiful photos and memories. When I first lived abroad I took lots of photos, but also wrote down everything I experienced, and am so glad I have that to look back on. Hope 2014 is good to you Danielle!

  5. Random Lincs says:

    Beautiful, just beautiful, Danielle. You have captured the feeling of an intense experience, and you’re right – it can’t be sustained – but maybe now, on reflection, it will distill into a warm glow. Miss you xx

  6. Clara Bitcon says:

    I had to read this twice Danielle…and I’m sure I will return to it again. The brilliancy of life, the donner and blitz, the exhilaration seeking, yes clear marks on ones story. I too am realising there is extraordinariness in the ordinary, and the slow burn of the glow is so much, well, easier. Much love to you and may the new year continue to unfold those pockets of literary delight hidden within you. – Clara xo

  7. marthasnail says:

    I have enjoyed looking through these photos time and again. Such beautiful captures of your days. Here’s to 2014, a new year with new pleasures to discover. xoxo

  8. Anonymous says:

    Thank you – it is great to read of your musings

  9. Lucinda says:

    What a beautiful post, both the words and images are full of so many delights. I think that, when you are a sensitive person, the emotion you describe is just too overwhelming to sustain. I always remember reading how in Chinese medicine ‘joy’ is considered one of the emotions that leads to illness in excess. It took me a while to really understand what was meant by it but its exactly the kind of joy that Zadie Smith and you describe.
    That wild garlic is simply incredible!! And I think I recognise a certain garden gate too. :)
    Big love to you my dear. xxx