Changes often seem to come packaged in binaries. This or that. Pros and cons. Forward and back. Then and now.
I moved house recently – that’s one big, expensive change. At first this made me so unhappy. I LOVED my old flat. I’d been wanting to live in a warehouse apartment since, oh, I was ten years old?! Somewhere with bare brick walls and huge windows where I would paint and wear a man’s white shirt (think Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman), where I would write and draw, cook and dance. So this flat meant a lot – the childhood dream, the pinnacle of creativity and the place I longed for when I was homesick in the States.
But, then, our commercial landlord decided to serve notice on us (to do major renovation works, I should say, not because we were bad tenants!). I was gutted – rather more so than I should have been, given how lucky I was to even have such a beautiful place to live when so many people I know and read about are all over the place. So I gave myself a shake, and started calling agents. I adapted, I changed. I stopped being in love with an idea and an old dream, and I found somewhere cheaper, newer and better insulated. Yes indeedy.
The new place isn’t a stylish warehouse apartment, but it is surrounded by trees. It isn’t as close to where things are going on but it is green and quiet. It makes me want to run and be outdoors, and since we in the UK have been having the best few days of summer in recent memory, I want to praise something big and impressive for allowing me re-read Siri Hustvedt’s What I Loved on my very own balcony. Yes! Hurrah!
So: reading and changes. I first read What I Loved as a teenager I must have been in the throes of love, or self-obsession, or studying for exams – my mind was NOT on this fantastic book, that was for sure. Because I had forgotten the beguiling sub-narrative of hysteria and anorexia – both diseases that spread osmotically, their definitions as fluid and incomprehensible as their medical realities. I’d forgotten the rich explorations of conceptual art. I thrilled at the eloquence of Hustvedt’s foray into the theory of ‘mixing’ – the dynamic between a ‘mixed’, complex world and the impulse to control those mixings was presented at once as pathological, psychically rich and erotic. I realised I hadn’t noticed ANY of these things first time round. How on earth could I have missed them?! What fool was I?! Re-reading, when the book shocks you into recognising changes in yourself, is both a pleasure and wake-up call. It’s been ten years of rapid change bookended by two readings of the same book, and it is as if I can see my younger self’s eyes on the page, willfully forgetting the things I didn’t need, and moving on.
[Side note: I still loathe the cover of this edition… And I have a suggestion for an alternative: it’s this, Betty by Gerhard Richter:
Also: many people from my past came back to visit this weekend, in one way or another, mostly involving wine and books and laughing. And that’s nice, to remember, that among all the changes, you’ve still got a few constant threads, the long wefts of friendship that keep you connected to where you came from.