A New Year

Posted on 05 January 2012


Once there was a shock
that left behind a long, shimmering comet tail.
It keeps us inside. It makes the TV pictures snowy.
It settles in cold drops on the telephone wires.

One can still go slowly on skis in the winter sun
through brush where a few leaves hang on.
They resemble pages torn from old telephone directories.
Names swallowed by the cold.

It is still beautiful to feel the heart beat
but often the shadow seems more real than the body.
The samurai looks insignificant
beside his armour of black dragon scales.
by Tomas Tranströmer
Translated by Robert Bly
(I’ve just discovered this Swedish poet who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2011.)

Looking back on 2011

I begin each new year putting a collage together of photographs from the past year to get an overview of how I’ve spent my time. I think it was Milan Kundera who said that one doesn’t know how to live one’s life until one has lived it. Another thought leaps from this one. A number of years ago I read Joanna Field’s (Marion Milner) “A Life of One’s Own” in which the author notes the moments when she is happy so she can, if I remember correctly, create more of them.

I look back at 2011 to see how I felt about the year as a whole, to see if there are things that I can change to experience more happiness.

Each picture represents not one event but are prompts, reminding me of what happened before and after the shot. (For instance, I look at the first picture of a mannequin and I remember late January in Paris when I had rented a small unsuitable apartment where Rob got food-poisoning, delaying our trip to Canada. I remember also how I felt re-entering the fashion world as a buyer.)

The sum of photographs remind me that I spent at lot of time travelling last year – six weeks in Toronto, two in Vancouver, and two in Northern Ireland. Rob and I also went on short excursions to Sommieres, Hendaye, Marciac, and Bordeaux in France, and Roses in Spain. I went to Paris twice to work. Gill joined me the last visit, flew down south with me, and, from home, the two of us went Aix-in-Provence.

Rob and I spent almost five months mid-year entertaining visitors – mostly family but a number of friends visited for varying lengths of time. My happiest moments with guests were spent at the dinner table. My least enjoyable were spent cleaning, washing sheets and towels, and sight-seeing. (In the end, I would drive guests to a location and then sit and read while they explored.)

My favourite months (those were I sustained happiness for the longest time) were September and October although there was no month without moments of pleasure. My saddest month was December.

If as Leonard Cohen says, we find our self-respect in our work (I’m not entirely in agreement), I am happy about what I accomplished workwise – managing the house in the village (nearly every guest wrote a rave review), editing a biography and holding the published version, buying in Paris for LJ in West Vancouver, and designing cards and pamphlets for a friend and myself.

I am not happy that I did so little of my own writing. (Thank goodness for my writing week in Ontario with Shirley. Whether what I wrote is crap or not, I want to complete the work I began too many years ago. When Rob leaves tomorrow for Nice and Villefranche-sur-mer for a month-long intensive French course, I shall immerse myself once again.)

What would I change if I could live 2011 once again? Although the year left me breathless and with a miserable cold, there is not much I would change except shorten the visiting months. (The hardest thing for me when others are around is deserting them and doing my own work. Some are fine with this and wander on their own but many simply sit and wait. I just can’t bear this.)

In 2012, I intend to clarify for myself what makes me happiest and to do this I must force myself to retreat to quiet places, preferably without internet.

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