Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Surrounded by ghosts

It dawned on me the other day that I spend far too much time surrounded by ghosts. The films I love to watch are predominantly full of actors no longer with us. The authors whose books populate my shelves no longer breathe. The people who created the music I listen to are now eternally silent. The hands that made the art I adore are forever still. Even the house I live in is a constant reminder of other, happier days, when everyone I loved lived and their laughter filled the rooms. Slowly melancholia takes over until it fills my soul with its soft incessant murmuring. Time is going by, time is over, time is moving on. And am I? I don’t know.

The prompt for this latest bout of sadness was, funnily enough, the nicest feel-good musical known to mankind, Singin’ in the Rain. I saw the stage show in London's west end recently, and it was so fantastic it tipped me straight back into the film. Although I always delighted in watching Gene Kelly and Donald O’Connor dance across the floors (and chairs, tables, off walls), it’s only now, as I have practised more dance myself, that I am thinking all kinds of holy wow at their talent. So I have been dipping into YouTube, watching clips from distant television specials and black and white films, and it’s so un-nerving to go from seeing Donald O’Connor aged ten tap-dancing with his brothers for an audition to – one click! – his last ever performance as an elderly man. One click – he was born! Next click – his obituary. A whole life – boom, bang-a-lang – and then that’s it, folks. Show’s over, and no amount of applause will coax an encore, not this time. Not in this life.

This sort of thing gets me every time – from well-known actors to people glimpsed in social history, from documented famous lives to unknown faces fading in second-hand photographs. I find myself looking at people coming to the end of their twilight years and thinking ‘how was it for you?’, hoping that the answer is good, as our journeys through living time are so relatively quick. One tick, here. Next tick, gone. And the meter keeps running no matter what. Who pays the bill at the end? I guess that stays a secret.

When melancholy gets too heavy I have to step out of the past and surround myself by my contemporaries, by people who breathe. And so I make a point to watch films with actors who see the same sunset as I do, and read books by authors who wake each morning to tackle a new page. I add new tunes to my playlists by musicians currently recording, and go to exhibitions by artists who are alive. Remind myself to look around every so often and see the world as it actually is – right here, right now – not a sepia reproduction but a living place with possibility.

Sometimes I spend so much time looking backwards that I forget about looking forwards. I have to surprise myself, take future-thinking unawares. I’ll make a sneaky plan and then jump ahead a little, and am almost surprised at getting a step closer to my goal. Deep down I really want to look ahead, but layered on top are years of conditioning that tells me to be wary, that unpredictable things are always bad, that if you do that you will fall, that if you take risks you will sink. But I’ve been working very hard to make this conditioning diminish – even if it doesn’t totally leave me, I can make it lesson, take its power away. And keep facing forward.

16 comments:

Mise said...

A melancholy post, and I'm sad too for that lost laughter in your house. Maybe you could move to America, Jayne, where no one ever fails?

Old Kitty said...

It's so weird but yesterday - and purely because my new neighbour has just moved in and is a most enthusiastic DIY-er and spent the day drilling and banging and more drilling - I put on my headphones, cranked up YouTube and for some reason ended up watching I Love Lucy clips. There's one lovely sketch were she meets William Holden and tries to eat her spaghetti as he stares at her! LOL!
Then I realised the whole back catalogue of I Love Lucy clips turns into The Lucy Show, Life with Lucy and Here's Lucy - hence chronicling her marriage to Desi Arnaz, her divorce, her kids all grown up, her last shows where she was still playing the fool to comedic perfection right to the end. It was sort of amazing but sad too.

I think you're a Cancerian? History and retrospection and introspection are in your astrological blood! But you are ever the optimist too! Good for you for looking ahead to the here and now!

Take care
x

Maria Zannini said...

As I read this, I kept glancing at the url, wondering if I had written this in my sleep.

Lately, the past and its ghosts have been haunting me.

Mary Mary said...

Our pasts are what created us, but keep in mind that our futures can define us and make us even better. And yeah, some of those classics are pretty great!

S.P. Bowers said...

Keep facing forwards. That is so important, and so easy to forget.

I believe that is one reason why artist create. To have things that live longer then they do, and in a way make them imortal.

Debbie said...

These ghosts are always around. Some people do not notice them, but some of us may see them all the time. The past makes us who we are, but the future isn't set in stone. Whilst I don't like to dwell in melancholic moments, it can prompt change and creativity.

Elizabeth Varadan aka Mrs. Seraphina said...

Melancholy, I suppose, but lovely, and full of that bittersweet awareness one gets at various points on the road. I love history, and I also get awed at times that I'm reading about people who felt the way I do, cared the way I do, hoped the way I do, and now are gone. I had a very strange insight once, when I saw the wedding picture of my deceased grandmother and realized that in the picture she knew nothing about what was ahead of her, and I, viewing it, knew everything that came after.

A.M. Swan said...

I love this post. I too am always looking backward. I too am a lover of ghosts and I too think of that merciless thing called time and how we are gone in a second. Perhaps this is why I write books. Although, those are the saddest of all to see those words all crammed together among the library shelves and know that so much of those author's blood sweat and tears are rarely remembered.

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

Heavy words for someone like me, who's just had another birthday! I've been looking backward a wee bit myself this week as a result. Ah, but there is so much more ahead, don't you think? Happy days...

Zara said...

Hi Jayne! I see what you are feeling, and sometimes, similar thoughts may run through my mind too...

But.. it's really that once you start thinking deep over it, the fear may be paralizing. And you are so right, being in 'here and now' is the most therapeutic. Once you step inside yourelf, there is only a joyful feeling of peace. Sweet melancholy is good though...

I've found this quotation:
“Live in the present, remember the past, and fear not the future, for it doesn't exist and never shall. There is only now.”
― Christopher Paolini, Eldest

Thank you for your visit, I am very glad those interiors got you inspired!

Have a beautiful week,
Happy Being! ;)

XO-Zara

snafu said...

This is how we got where we are, everything we use is made in the past.

Wisewebwoman said...

Oh my, I could have written this and maybe not so well. I too live in old movies, music, books, poetry. Love revivals. but you are oh so correct in saying we need to spend time in the present too. Lots of it. My granddaughter gives me that :)
but I delve into the past for most of my writing.
Lovely blog.
thanks!
XO
WWW

Jayne said...

Hi Mise – I love that idea. Perhaps one day...

Hi Old Kitty – That is exactly it – amazing and sad. Sometimes I find it more amazing, sometimes more sad. I guess it depends how I’m feeling about myself as to which way my emotions will fall. I’m not a Cancerian though! I’m a Virgo... what does that mean? Still water that runs deep, perhaps (and carries a chemist shop in her handbag).

Hi Maria – Perhaps these sorts of feelings are common to writers / creative types.

Hi Mary – Love that thought. I adore classic film.

Hi S.P – I feel like a magnetic compass – constantly wanting to twirl to look backwards to a pole, but then having to force myself to face the front, despite that alluring pull.

Hi Debbie – Yes, I agree that periods of reflection prompt change and creativity. I don’t see it when I’m feeling blue, but afterwards I sense a new purpose in me, a resolve, perhaps.

Hi Elizabeth – That’s exactly it, and yes, it is a bittersweet awareness. History, costumes, sensibilities, traditions – these things can make it seem that folk who lived previously were completely alien, but they were people who think exactly the same as we do, who live, breathe, hope, and dream. Fashions change, in mind and dress, but people don’t, really, and I guess it’s that knowledge that intrigues me, and makes me wonder about them, and want to know more.

Hi A.M. Swan – I know what you mean. I recently was in a giant second-hand book warehouse – a huge place – and couldn’t stop thinking of all the authors behind the books, and whether their lives panned out the way they hoped.

Hi Pamela – Yikes, not the best of reads for a birthday! The future always tingles with possibility, and sometimes it sings to me more loudly than other times.

Hi Zara – What a lovely quote, thank you for sharing it.

Hi Snafu – Very true.

Hi Wisewebwoman (great user name!) – Glad you like the blog, and that your granddaughter keeps you grounded in the present! We all need that sometimes.

Dolly said...

This was beautifully written and expressed the feelings I have much of the time. I feel the ghosts constantly and most of the time they are comforting. I agree though, it is good to keep yourself in the present too, and definitely to take those risks.

Jayne said...

Dolly - Risks, yes. It's all about that 'feel the fear and do it anyway' sometimes. I need to coax more of that into my life. Thank you for saying beautifully written, I really do appreciate things like that. :)

Anonymous said...

I feel the same.