Christmas away from st Anne’s

Sorry to keep you waiting, dear. Christmas occurred, and I’m also trying to straighten a few things out for the new year. I hope your solitude never deteriorated into loneliness, and that stupid reality kept from rearing it’s ugly face thus disrupting your much preferable fiction. I wouldn’t worry about it, by the way. Fiction is basically play, as that delightful sprite Brian Boyd made so beautifully clear in his ”On the origin of stories” last year, and play should be taken very seriously indeed. It is how we learn, and prepare. It offers the experiments it would be unwise, or unethical, to try out in real life. And yes, preparation for death might be one of the things it accomplishes, if done right.


My Christmas, alas, was not spent in solitary confinement, but with son and ex-husband. The miniscule family unit we once where and now can reminisce about, all of us sharing war-stories in a playful, semi-detached way. About how the unit messed us up, if that is what it did. It’s funny how three intelligent people each can have this constitutional sense of distance to their relational situation and its history. Thus begging the question who was actually in it to begin with.


We even attended church on st Stephen’s day, once the effects of the Port had subsided (Robert, the ex, having decided on Christmas Eve that what I had in store would have to do, considering the weather. ”Any Port in a storm”, you see).


Christmas is a time for, well, what? Reading books? Obviously, but we do that all year round (and little else) anyway so that’s no way of distinguishing christmas. No way of ”individuating it” as they say at my department, and it is apparently a big old problem about most everything. For those of us not comfortably isolated by snow, there is rather less reading going on than usual. Perhaps it is another type of reading that takes place. Reading in order to escape from dishes, boorish relatives, or even the Doctor Who Christmas Special.


Oddly, I have rather fond memories of Christmases spent with my family from my time as a student at St Anne’s, Oxford (this being the 60’s, it was after we’ve become a full college within the university, but well before men where allowed). I would try to stick around as long as I could after Michaelmas ended and return well in time before Hilary began, but still, the break seemed an endless and counterproductive disruption of the social and erotic project. Along comes Christmas, setting developments back a few weeks by reminding us all about our bagage, making us unfit for any successful experiments in living.


Those first Christmases as a budding independent were insufferable. Relatives where almost defined by their inability of getting whatever it was that you just discovered for yourself. And your place in this scheme were just as nearly defined by your reluctance to being understood by these people. Because if they understood, so went the argument, even if by your tutelage, this would somehow diminish your accomplishment and the fundamental change brought about by your development. Relatives, again, almost defined by their grasp on you being derived from outdated sources, such as anecdotes from your toddler-hood.


Just having learnt to speak properly, with interesting people, indeed: just having discovered the possibilities of speech, by Christmas one had to put up with the limping excuse for conversation offered by the family. And for those few critical years, the redeeming power of love and loyalty was forgotten, or deemed insufficient to make up for this abject failure to have a grown-up conversation. Oh, how one longed to return to university. And when back, the only way to get the project back on track as soon as possible, was to try out the language, theory and attitudes developed together on deconstructing the events that just occured in your family over Christmas.


It struck me that I might actually live to see the 50th anniversary reunion. I wonder who else is left alive? Wont it be ghastly? And is this horror of reunions (there really should be a latin phrase for it) just a reiteratation of our adolscent horror for Christmas gatherings? The common denominators being 1) our fear to encounter people who might carry an out of date conception of us 2) this conception being unflattering 3) our doubting our ability to bring it up to date or 4) our fear that an accurate update will be even less flattering than the outdated one.


I do go on, don’t I? I’ll leave it at that, I think, and keep my reflection on how our musings relate to the efforts of so-called ”literary theory” to my next letter. I also have some half-baked observation about sex in letters that will have to mature into the next year. Now, won’t that thought keep you company for the duration?


My very best wishes




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