Friday, September 8, 2017

Run-Over Pencils

Biking around town this summer, I’ve stopped and picked up several pencils from the road where they had been run over by cars. The pencils split along the wood join, revealing their architecture and the groove where the lead sits. 
Elegant machines.

I showed my little collection to Marz. 

She laughed, “Now you’re picking up run-over pencils.”

Yes. Now I am picking up run-over pencils.

Last night I dreamed about a couple I used to be friends with. Our lives overlapped for a couple years when I was working at the art-college library and they were both finishing their PhDs—she in art history, he in physics. Then they got busy with high-power careers in museums and medical technology. I haven’t seen them in years, but they show up in my dreams sometimes.

I could have been like them. I was steered in the direction of being like them. But I didn’t go that way.

I blogged the other day about poverty—how I haven’t felt poor, even when I’ve had little money, because
I'd had the choice to be otherwise. If choice is power, I haven't suffered too much (relatively speaking) from poverty of power.

After I wrote that, I wondered if I was being too philosophical, if I only had that choice (that power) in theory.

But no, that’s not the case. You can’t always pinpoint a turning point in a life, but I can point to a moment when I chose not to be like those friends of mine.

The summer before I finished my BA in Classics, when I was thirty-four, I went to a week-long conference at the University of Oxford with my professor, himself a graduate of Trinity College. He showed me around, introduced me to scholars, and encouraged me to apply to the graduate program in theology and philosophy there.

It was the summer holidays and the colleges were empty of students. Being there was like being in a Merchant Ivory movie of my life. The days were hot and dreamy. We had tea in the shade of linden trees, eating strawberry meringues out of a cardboard box tied with string. I got a pass to read a manuscript in Duke Humfrey's Library, for my thesis on Saint Ambrose.
I was a little in love with the whole thing—grooves worn into stone steps; scent clouds coming off jasmine draped over walls; leather books on slabs of dark wood; my professor wearing a straw boater with a faded blue band; and with the power of my brain, and education, and the fact that I could understand the scholarly lectures––that this world was comprehensible to me.

I could actually do this, I realized.
I could go to Oxford.

One evening after a lecture, I was walking by myself past the circular Sheldonian Theatre. It was misting rain, but a group of Morris dancers were performing, and I sat on a damp low wall and watched.

And it came to me, sitting there, entirely clearly: 

I don’t want to go here. I don’t know what I want, but I don’t want this life.

Along with it came an instruction to myself: 

REMEMBER THIS. There might come a time when you wonder why you didn’t take this opportunity, so remember how entirely clear you are about not wanting it.

In the twenty-two years since then, I
have felt and do feel a bit weird about my life sometimes, but I’ve never second-guessed or regretted that decision not to pursue academia––even though I may forget the moment of decision itself, like when I wrote about having choices but forgot that crucial one. 

To be like my former friends, I would have had to twist myself out of shape. As it is, I feel that if my life were run over, it would split cleanly, showing that its construction makes its own kind of sense.

1 comment:

ArtSparker said...

Very eloquent. Elegant.