It’s been a struggle of a year – personally as well as corporately. And now, at the bitter end of 2017, I am where I desperately hoped I would not be: approaching the end of my contract (NB: I’m okay til the end of August. Don’t panic. It’s just that, in higher ed, the hiring cycles churn well before the actual transition happens. Planning ahead is essential.)
So, instead of relaxing over the holidays, I’ve been spending the time between Christmas and New Year’s tailoring applications. And worrying. And telling myself not to worry.
We turn to old friends when we’re in need of ballast, and I’ve returned to three novels for the month of December that please me perhaps more than any other writing I’ve ever read.
First was Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead – a profound, honest, and utterly real narrative of a life by one man living at the end of it in the place he is rooted: Gilead, Iowa.
Then was Last Orders by Graham Swift – a profound, honest, and utterly real narrative of a life by a close group of people at the end of one man’s life in the place they all are rooted: Bermondsey, South London.
The last I just finished before turning out the light last night. It is an absolute gift and the best thing I read during my undergraduate degree. It is David Malouf’s An Imaginary Life – a profound, honest, and utterly imagined narrative of a life by one man living at the end of it in the place to which he has been uprooted: Tomis, on the shores of the Black Sea in what is now Constanta, Romania, south of the mouth of the Danube and the furthest limits of the Roman Empire.
It is the imagined metamorphosis of the poet Ovid in exile, from the slick cosmopolitan poet to one awake, aware, and untethered from his life and his world. If you need a book recommendation for 2018, all of these are good, but this is perhaps the best of all.
I read the sentence scrawled out in the photo above and felt it encaptured the sensation of precarity and openness I somewhat have and very much need right now. Here it is, more legibly.
What else should our lives be but a continual series of beginnings, of painful settings out into the mystery of what we have not yet become, except in dreams that blow in from out there bearing the fragrance of islands we have not yet sighted in our waking hours, as in voyaging sometimes the first blossoming branches of our next landfall come bumping against the keel, even in the dark, whole days before the real land rises to meet us.
An Imaginary Life