I've been so wrapped up in a couple of things the last four or five days that it feels now like I really can't focus on anything. That probably isn't completely true; I am getting things done after all, and in order to do something, anything, you have to be able to focus at least some little bit. Yet I still feel scattered and some part of me wants to solve the problem by doing something else -- after all getting things done seems to be the secular religion of modern life. It is easy to tell ourselves we are good as long as we are getting things done, and to feel like we are somehow slipping if we just let time wander by. But I suspect this feeling is not so much an inability to focus but a process of sorting out, although I can't quite put my finger on what exactly is being sorted.
So what have I been doing that occupied all my attention?
The big time-suck was sorting out photos and putting them in albums, although that wasn't what I originally set out to do at all. I was simply rearranging furniture in the guest room, and I had other plans for the end of the week. But in order to move a bookcase I had to unload it. Then it seemed like such a shame to put the big box of photos back on the shelf along with the pile of empty photo albums just waiting for those photos to magically arrange themselves on the pristine pages. I decided the time had come to either finish unfinished things or let them go, and this thing needed finishing.
It took far longer than I would have liked. First there were the old albums that were falling apart, the one's that were not archival quality, that my younger self purchased at Hallmark, the albums that were not doing anything pretty to my photos. Those photos all had to be transferred to newer albums. And then there were the photos that never made it to albums for one reason or another, usually because George had started exploring black and white photography and had turned a guest bathroom into a darkroom, but it would sometimes be two or three years before he would have photos from a trip ready, by which time my own motivation had waned.
And yet this proved to be a good time to sort through that previous life and revisit it, to explore the healing balm of memory when it is not held too tightly out of fear. It was a good life, and it was good to see the young woman I was then and reflect on the woman I have become, am becoming. By the time I had finished with three decades worth of photographic memories, I was sick of glue dots and photo squares, sick of the process, but then I moved on and gathered and sorted the digital photos as well, the markers of this new life and ordered prints for a new album. I hadn't originally thought I would do that, create a new album. I was wrong. I like paper. I may not revisit those photos frequently, but for now at least I like knowing they are available.
Friday night I went to my first symphony concert of the season. I was tired and somewhat cranky, lost in my own internal monologue, and not eager to go out. But I knew I should see people, knew I should let the music carry me away, knew I should get out of my head. Sometimes I do think it there may be benefits to not living one's life so deeply wound up in one's own mental peregrinations, but then without my swirling thoughts I wouldn't be me.
Suffice it to say the concert was beautiful although I feel incapable writing of my normal review. I've heard the pianist, Orion Weiss play before, both as a soloist and in chamber performances, and have long been a fan. His nuanced playing of the Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto #3 in D minor was breathtaking, as was the interaction between the soloist and the orchestra, and the dancing flow of the music. The performance played up the depths of this piece, a piece that is often overplayed. The orchestra also did a magical job with Tchaikovsky's Symphony #5, another piece with great lyricism and emotional depth, which is not always adequately explored in performance. I know the musicians and our new music director are still getting to know each other but I went home smiling, and looking forward to the upcoming season.
I finished reading Hanya Yanagihara's A Little Life. I had actually started it in June, but only got half way through it before my mom arrived. Somehow, it is a book that takes too much out of the reader, and I couldn't read it while Margaret was here, so put it aside and started over. It held up surprisingly well to rereading, and suspect it will be worth reading again at some future point, but not again immediately. It is a difficult book, both lyrical and gentle and yet simultaneously brutal and emotionally wrenching. I know that many feel extremely manipulated, and although I think it is part of the role of fiction to manipulate our emotions and our understandings, this book is particularly difficult and I can see why many struggle with it. And yet, despite some issues, I believe Yanagihara has nailed the unimaginable struggle in the psyche of anyone who has survived significant childhood trauma, and who, even after overcoming it and perhaps even living a successful life, still struggles with that trauma as an adult, that unimaginable inner voice of the small child whose sense of self was so compromised before there was any opportunity to build self defenses. That small voice, that crying child, that sense of being evil, wicked, dirty, wrong, whatever you call it -- it never goes away completely, no matter how much the rational mind tries to convince one otherwise. If we could understand only this, perhaps we could change the world.
There is more to the book than just this, much of it even more evident on the second reading. I highly recommend it, but not as casual reading, and not if you are not willing to be pulled in directions you may prefer not to go. It is not a book that can be forgotten once it has been read.