Perhaps it was only a matter of time, but I think someone has been fiddling with my closet door. I’m not sure who it is, but I suspect it must be someone close to me -someone who knows my inner thoughts, my secret desires. I’m just wondering whether, once they find me in here, they will quietly close the door again and go away with muted lips or sharpened pencils.
I haven’t always been willing to read my label I suppose, but age, and too much time piled on my shoulders to brush away, have weighed me down. Now I find myself bent with unrequited needs: nothing perverse though, you understand- just things I once wanted to do, but didn’t. Things I once wanted to be, but am not. And now in my reclining years, I feel a need to clear the air for any who care to look.
A question, then: can you live vicariously through yourself? No, really… Suppose, say, you have come to think of yourself as more than just one person? More than just yourself.
We are all multiplicities I think, but what if one of you lives under the thumb of another who you are presumed to be: your public persona? What if the other you wants out? What if there is a secret feuilleteur composing stuff inside somewhere?
I suppose it was obvious to those nearest to me, that I have lived a double life -only one of which achieved any hint of notice. The other, the hidden one, barely rippled the surface: a grain of sand cast upon the water. But since I am, anyway, close to being outed -or, is it merely close to an end- I might as well cast what sand remains to the wind.
I must confess I have always wanted to be, and am a writer. Even during the hectic years of grade school when I was charged with copying cursive in every exercise book I was allotted, I busied myself with scratching stories, hoping for a break. No one, of course, could read those early efforts, but I had to start somewhere. And when I finally graduated to writing real words, I wrote my first novel -well, short story… Okay, very short story- but I was intensely proud of it. The Oracle of Quaerimonia I called it, for some reason. It’s meaning, if it ever had one, has been lost in the neurotangles of a 9 year old’s brain I suppose, but caerimonia is a first declension, feminine Latin word meaning something like ‘ceremony’ or ‘sanctity’ -so take your pick. Where I found the word, much like where the story and its plot are currently stored, I have forgotten; maybe I was just showing off. Or maybe even then I was aware of layers and the difficulty of defining them.
But childhood is constant discovery; it is a matryoshka doll with never-ending surprises, if not rewards. When my novel failed to achieve the fame I had anticipated, I turned to music. I was pressured into piano lessons -as were many of my friends in post-war Winnipeg- and I learned a new cursive: notes on staves. I figured notes were akin to words and with an energy similar to that which launched Quaerimonia, I handed in a short novel written in note-cursive to the school teacher who was tasked with convincing 10 and 11 year olds that musical instruments were like friends that you could hang out with. She seemed unimpressed with my efforts, however, but in an effort to demonstrate the need for structure in creativity -as opposed to impulse, as she put it- proceeded to translate my creation into actual piano notes. Fortunately she did not name the author because everybody laughed, and I was forced to join in the merriment for fear of being discovered. It was my first inkling that occasionally you have to wear camouflage, and sometimes you have to write pseudanonymously -a word I invented once the bell rang and we were liberated once more, into the crowded, indifferent corridor.
I’m trying to remember when I branched into poetry. I’ve always liked it -I developed an early love of metaphor. The idea of describing something as something it was clearly not, appealed to me. It was a kind of excusable lie that came in handy on essays when I didn’t actually know much about the topic I was supposed to be explaining. But I suppose we all try stuff like that on occasions -I just seemed to be better at it than my friends. Or maybe I used bigger words -I also branched into sesquipedalianism at a tender age.
Around that time my mother had discovered a deal at the local supermarket offering sequential volumes of the Encyclopedia Britannica if she purchased a certain amount of groceries each month. And so each month, the next alphabetically ordered volume would find itself in the bathroom next to the over-thumbed Reader’s Digest for the family’s perusal. The words were sometimes difficult, and the articles lengthy, however. I was constantly harangued at the breakfast table for the tardiness of my ablutions, but I found I could often silence my critics by quoting some fictitious aphorism and layering it in Britannica-speak. I would see my mother trying to hide her smiles under appropriately admonitive eyes. I had also found it helpful to store a dictionary by the toilet too, and that in turn led to the sesquipedality she so admired.
That somewhat meandering path somehow ended up, once more, in poetry by the time hormones were interfering with my friends, and marking me as, well, different. I was rather shy anyway, and while my friends were busy trying to impress girls and each other with their depth of knowledge about cars and sporting heroes, I turned inward and found I could impress myself by writing down the things I noticed all around me and turning them into metaphors. They were simple things, at first: snow became icing, and grass became a carpet. Then, a mountain-side turned into a rumpled blanket of trees, and up close, their bark: dark hard scales of skin with their history written in texture.
But when you are 13, and surrounded by acne and sweating bravado, and when reality is measured in braggadocio and successful competition, the advantage of being small and hard to catch on the playground after shouting a clever but inscrutable insult is no longer a signal characteristic of success. Avoidance, not catching, became the insultee’s preferred goal, so I was left alone with my music, my poetry, and my all-important pocket protector for the collection of pens and pencils I deemed necessary to carry for just-in-case scenarios.
Then followed the Dark Ages of high school when academic achievement melded smoothly with my reading habits, but stalled my explorations of deeper matryoshkas. Just as well, I suppose, because it got me into university, and eventually a profession. And yet, even that path was serpentine: parental guidance forced me into the Scientific Magisteria, although my preference would have been Philosophy or Journalism. But when you’re assigned a bus, you have to ride it and hope it will end up somewhere interesting; I travelled on it through 40 years of a satisfying disguise.
The layers have peeled away in Retirement, though -as if, in extremis, I had tired of the taste of unpared vegetables. And so, with the added freedom from work, the experience afforded by age, and the increasing heaviness of time, I have decided to relabel myself as a full-time writer, and in the immortal words of Macbeth as his time, too, shortened: Damned be him who first cries “Hold, enough!”
I do not write for others, so much as for myself, and if I am no longer who I was -or as successful- so be it. I am the inner matryoshka as well. In the words of one of my favourite poets, Kahlil Gibran, ‘Say not, “I have found the path of the soul.” Say rather, “I have met the soul walking upon my path.”
And that is enough for me…