Friday, January 06, 2012

The optimist sees the doughnut and the pessimist sees the hole

I’ve been working on a short story for which I cannot find an ending. Why am I so bad at endings? I tend to wrap them up too neatly or leave the story dangling in mid space as if I have left it off half dressed.

I don’t like endings of any sort. I want things to be left in such a way that they can always be resumed at a later date. So for me the idea of riding off into the sunset or happily ever after does not sit well.

I suppose the ultimate ending is death and I don’t want to talk about death again, at least not for the moment. I’ve been on about death too much of late, or at least in my head I have.

My mother told me on New Years Eve that she had said a little prayer to herself, asking that she might last out 2012.
‘I can’t see why it’s not possible. I feel well. The doctor says I’m well. There's nothing wrong with me except my heart, so there’s no reason why I can’t go on.’

My mother then proceeded to tell me the story of a woman who had lived nearby in the units at her retirement village. This woman came to see my mother one day and told her about a recent visit to the doctor. The doctor had told the woman that she was in the best of health. The woman was delighted at this news and told my mother as much. The next morning her husband found the woman dead in their bed.

‘It just goes to show,’ my mother said. ‘You can never know. The doctors can’t always get it right.'

And here I am talking about death again or am I talking about something more, about the wish for certainty perhaps?

Those who visit clairvoyants and the like, are they looking for some sort of certainty? It's rather like reading your horoscope. The horoscope says today you’ll have a great day; make lots of money; meet someone fascinating; and so it goes.

We want to believe the best that’s on offer. We tend to downplay the worst, or at least many of us do. And of course, there are those others who focus on the negative.

This was always the contrast between my parents: my father’s negativity and my mother’s optimism.
'The optimist sees the doughnut and pessimist sees the hole.' This maxim I learned early in my life and it has stayed with me.

Everyone of our children is away at the moment, overseas or house-sitting or interstate and it is quiet for once in a way that I find unsettling. Perhaps that is why in my dream last night I went back in time to my life before I had children, to when I was much younger, a university student all over again and looking for accommodation.

My house is far less cluttered than it was, now after my annual Christmas clean up, but in my dream the house I occupied was full of clutter and signs of renovation.

That has to be a good sign, I think. Renovation. Hopefully I’ll go on renovating until I die, if not literally, then at least metaphorically.

It is change I look forward to and change that terrifies me. Change is the one great certainty besides death.

Nothing stands still and yet I sometimes want it to. This house for instance. It is over one hundred years old and my present family has lived in it for just over thirty. We moved into this house in 1980. We have twice renovated it and although our daughters say it’s time for another I am past such massive house renovations. The next step will be to sell it and to move into a smaller place.

Last night as I stood brushing my teeth and contemplating the silence of the place without the usual noisy clatter of other people and lights burning at all hours, I thought this place is too big for the two of us.

One day I will want to move out. Not now, not for several years, not until our youngest is past her university days and well onto a career of some sort, but relatively speaking one day, sooner in the scale of time than later.

What a task that will be, to shift out of this house that has seen so much of our lives. My children say we must never sell this house. We must always keep it, and pass it on to them, but that is unlikely to happen for all sorts of reasons, financial among them, but also, I suspect, our children will need to make homes and lives of their own.

They will have this house in their memories just as I have the houses of my childhood in my memory.

I remember the house on Wentworth Avenue best of all and my mother remembers her house on the Marnixplein. From the perspective of our memories, it no longer matters to us what happens to these houses, it matters most, for us at least, that we can remember them.

The house of my mother's memory from the inside.


My mother's room today.

Memory enables us to avoid the ending because we can repeat the scenarios over and again in our minds for as long as we like, and usually they shift closer to how we would like them to be.

71 comments:

River said...

I have memories of all the homes I've lived in too, with the longest tenancy being my previous unit, 8 1/2 years. we just kept moving, and when I married, my husband was in the Army, so again, we moved every couple of years.
Oddly, I have memories of homes I've never lived in too. I'll pass a house somewhere, anywhere, and instantly recognise it from a dream I've had.

The Elephant's Child said...

I am an optomistic pessimist in that I hope for the best, while expecting the worst. Which works surprisingly well. And, as my partner tells me, a pessimist can never be disappointed - they can only receive pleasant surprises.

Kath Lockett said...

"Hopefully I’ll go on renovating until I die, if not literally, then at least metaphorically." YES!

You're right about the memories of houses we lived in and how we can alter those to fit how we would like them to be. If you've ever revisited a home you used to live in you're invariably disappointed at how much smaller or meaner they are.

And yet, during my frequent wakeful nights, I love 'walking' through all the houses I lived in, remembering where doors and nooks and crannies were. Sometimes I even 'renovate' them to make them more livable! (The bedsit off Baker Street in London gets the most attention because it was the tiniest and presents a bigger challenge).

Terrific post to read as always, Elisabeth.

Andrew said...

Downsize? Imagine what you will have to get rid of. It can be a cleansing process. Make sure you direct your kids stuff to them, so you won't be blamed for chucking their stuff out. I never thought I could not live in a 'period' place, but gee it is nice to have perfect skirting boards without the chips of time.

jane.healy said...

Am I being too melodramatic when I say I dislike happy after endings because they are so unrealistic?

I like to think of myself as being fairly optimistic but enough of a realist to sense that fairy tale endings are just that ... real life is much more dramatic.

Guilt and difficulty in letting go is what keeps the clairvoyants in pocket - once last chance to tell the dearly departed how much they really meant to you and a need to feel that they are happy where they are now.

Dave King said...

I've never had a problem with endings which are not true endings- i.e. leave situations unresolved - but I realise that's just a very personal point of view.

I prefer that to the neatly wrapped ending.

Personally I see death as the former rather than the latter.

Another personal view: don't downsize until you're forced to!

Wadjella Yorga said...

Thanks for sharing this, it keeps me in memory of the circular nature of life...which is what I always wanted to live in - with a fire-pit in the middle or a garden that contained a secret bath :)

I did however happen to grow up in a grain shed, that was meant to be the interim dwelling, which however morphed into the family home. I would have been around two when we first moved in, when it was one big open space and I'll never forget the feeling of complete freedom and space...'free-wheeling on my ducky ride on' bloody loved it, and then the partitions, the walls went up...remember that feeling too!

Renovating rules...and as you can imagine I love nothing more than to tear down those walls! ;)

the cuby poet said...

I am the eternal optimist and rather too full of bounce for some! I used to write prose and finding the appropriate ending was always the most difficult part which may have been part of the reason I turned to poetry where the endings do not desire the same closure. I have lived in too many houses for memories to be quite as full but the people and activities are placed within these homes.

Jim Murdoch said...

I was brought up to believe that death is the end of life. There is nothing after. “The soul that is sinning—” [and who of us hasn’t sinned?] “it itself will die” (Ezekiel 18:4) and yet I happily watch films about ghosts and the so-called afterlife in the same way as I enjoy films about aliens and talking toys, as works of creative imaginations. Yet so many people cling to the fact that death is not the end, that there is something better—our just reward—somewhere else, on some other plane of existence. I don’t buy that. The Bible talks about resurrection—literally re-creation—and even though I don’t care about it I accept the logic. It does sadden me that I will not get everything I’d like to do done in the time I have left but that simply impels me to be highly selective in how I use my time; there are no second goes. I’m not even especially comforted by what the quantum physicists suggest, that in some parallel universe out there there’s this version of me who’s made all the right choices and has had one helluva life. Well bully for him.

Endings are natural. Every day is riddled with them but there is always something afterwards. Another sentence. Another breath. Where to draw the line? I struggle too and I always fret when I get close to the end of a book wondering how the hell I’m going to stop writing this thing now I’ve finally got momentum going but I’ve always managed it. The short stories are easier but then I tend to go for slice of life stories rather than stories with a plot; I am really not big on plots. Nor am I big on sequels even though I wrote one but I can see why authors don’t want to let go of a good character. We all want to know what happens next even if all they do is live happily ever after although we’d rather they didn’t because there’s not much of a story in that. Of course people do ride off into sunsets but the sun will rise the next day so I wouldn’t worry about putting the full stop and leaving your hero bathed in the sun’s cancer-inducing rays. I do like the ending to this particular post though—“ usually they shift closer to how we would like them to be”—yes, the misremembered past, the past with all the kinks ironed out, the past we laugh about now; ah yes, I remember it well, to quote Lerner and Loewe.

I like the doughnut story—heard it before, of course—but I prefer the glass of water one: an optimist sees the glass half-full, the pessimist sees it half-empty, the engineer sees a glass that’s twice as big as it needs to be and I want to know how the hell you all ended up with glasses.

When my daughter was younger—about the seventeen/eighteen mark—she used to hang onto everything, scraps of paper, lumps of rock; she had a desperate need to surround herself with aide-mémoires; she wanted to carry around her memories in boxes. This is a poem I wrote about that time for someone I never met actually, the girlfriend of some fellow I knew at work who told me her story:

      CUPBOARD SPACE

      Marie kept her memories
      in two cardboard boxes.

      They had pretty lace curtains,
      and a certain strange charm.

      She said one was for "good times"
      and the other for bad.

      But she felt they were "safer"
      though she wouldn't say why.

       (For Marie)

      30 July 1996

My daughter’s not like that now although I do know that her garage is so full of junk they can’t get the car in it but I suspect that’s true of many people.

I’ve never been involved in any kind of renovation—it takes me all my time to decorate—and I think I would move home first. Since moving out of my parents’ house I’ve moved 13 times. In fact the longest I’ve stayed anywhere is the flat we’re in right now—eight years so far—and we have no plans to move any time soon. That said I have no strong attachment to the place and could leave it tomorrow without a backwards glance.

The Weaver of Grass said...

What an interesting post and how true it all is. We say here that one is either a glass half full or a glass half empty person.

PhilipH said...

I like Polo mints,especially the hole in the middle - so I'm a proper pessimist. Are most Capricornians pessimistic? Probably as I'm one and I'm not an optimist. There's logic for you!
Endings, schmendings. Some of the best stories have no ending. Take that wonderful New Zealander, Katherine Mansfield. She was a superb writer (my fav tale is A Dill Pickle). Some of her stories do not have 'an ending' in my opinion and they are all the better for it. One can be left to wander on and think of what might have been once you've finished the story.
No ending, no disappontment. Just the job for a pessimistic reader.

scott g.f.bailey said...

One reason I'm so attracted to the stories of Chekhov is that his endings are indeterminate. No matter how the episode dramatized in a story is wrapped up, the lives of the characters would continue past that wrapping up, and who knows what will happen in that unwritten future? Chekhov tends to stop writing when he's reached the point where it's clear that his protagonist either will or won't recognize that they're in a situation that can't be sustained, or he'll suddenly shift focus away from the central action of a tragedy to show how the world remains essentially a wondrous place even when people suffer. None of his endings are cliches or what you'd expect. Which is to say, maybe you should just stop writing while the tales are only half-dressed.

Ma femme and I are both getting on in years, and we live in a house that was built in 1926 and has never been modernized. We love the place and while we've done a fair bit of work to it, mostly it's been restorative rather than redesign. We assume it's the house where we'll die. When we've gone, the house will probably be torn down and replaced by something nice and shiny and new, and I'm fine with that. I tell myself (and it's probably a lie, but it's a nice lie) that nobody will ever love this house as much as we do.

Anthony Duce said...

I liked the analogy and the realization that everything must change. Being a doughnut makes the inevitable much easier to accept.

Raajii said...

I hope your mom feels better :-)

Kirk said...

Mt favorite homily about the difference between optimists and pessimists goes like this: An optimist believes we are living in the best of all possible worlds. The pessimist is afraid the optimist may be right.

When asked once if being a POW held in a celler during the bombing of Dresden is what accounted for his gloomy outlook, Kurt Vonnegut replied that it may just as well have been the dog that barked at him as a child. Pessimism can start early.

As for writing a short story, you pretty much have to have the ending in mind as soon as you set pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard. It's different with a novel, where the flow of the story may determine the ending. There's very little flow in a short story. You might as well be sitting in a bathtub. For a short story with a "happy" ending that nonetheless hints at the darkness of life, I would suggest what I think is JD Salinger's best short story, "For Esm̩ Рwith Love and Squalor"

Windsmoke. said...

I must be an optimist because i see the doughnut as it is something to eat. I've often wondered whether a person can be a optimist and a pessimist at the same time. When i end a story or poem i go with my gut instinct :-).

Theanne said...

Have you written the ending to your book?

I love your Mom's home then and now...because it's where she is!

My parents were worriers, I started out as a romantic and idealist, then after life pounded me on the head a few times...I found myself a realist! I also was a person who viewed life as black and white...I'm much happier and mellower now that I am able to see the different shades of gray!

I enjoy my memories, even the not so good ones, they all made me who I am today...I know the odds against living forever are woefully dismal...that's OK! I was married over 25 years to my best friend and I enjoy being 5 minutes away from my son, DIL and 2 adopted g'kids...it works for me!

Marja said...

Interesting post. My children say the same about our house. It is not a house but a home. I remeber that after I moved out my parents house they moved to a new house as well. When I came to visit it didn't have the same feeling anymore as the old house contained so much memories. We feel very comfortable in our house and hope we won't have to move for a long time.
I loved the doughnut analogie

Anonymous said...

I too have a problem with story endings and have one story in mind that just won't resolve. Also, I must be the only person who doesn't like Jodi Piccault books as the ones I have read left me feeling frustrated. I read something about her once that might explain why she writes the way she does but I would need a blog to explain it.
As for houses, interiors and homes. I have always had an immediate feel for floorplans and can memorise them from one walk through the house or just from stepping through the front door.
We have also just re-renovated and I am the one always banging on about wanting to downsize, NOW, while we are still fit enough to manage but my husband blocks me stubbornly.
He can't give me a reason but I suspect that he is waiting for his grandchildren to know the home their fathers grew up in, which is something our children never had the opportunity to do, as all four of our parents had died before we had children and their homes sold. An unusual occurence in this day and age.
I can still drive to my family home which is quite nearby, but none of my children have ever expressed any curiosity or interest in it.
At least not yet.
(Wentworth Avenue? We even grew up close together, Elisabeth.)
Karen C

steven said...

ending. goodbyes. closure. they all signify "stop" and we know there's no "stop" in the real world. books may have "the end" written at the end of the words. but books don't end there either. i think you're brave and truthful to not end a story elisabeth . . . . steven

Christine said...

Interesting post about houses, memory and where one lives. And how things change. My parents rang me one day to say they had sold the house they'd raised us kids in. A private sale it was. They literally put an ad in the Saturday paper along the lines of 'House for Sale' and the amount they wanted and sold it that day. They wanted to move to be closer to their grandchildren. I should write a post about it... Perhaps there are no endings as much as change and moving on.

Elisabeth said...

River, it's fascinating the way homes can appear in our dreams that reflect places we've visited or only looked at from afar.

You know, there is the notion that when you dream of a house the house is a symbol of you.

I like this notion because I often dream of houses, some old, some new, some familiar and some otherwise but always they show up different and fascinating aspects that presumably reflect whatever my state of mind might be at that particular time.

Thanks, River.

Elisabeth said...

I suppose that's true, Elephant's Child, if you remain pessimistic you can only be pleasantly surprised, unless of course you get what you expect in further disappointment.

There's also the notion of the self-fulfilling hypothesis/prophecy, as I think it's called: if you expect something you are more likely to influence the outcome for good or ill, depending on where you're coming from. Rather like the placebo effect, I suspect.

Thanks, Elephant's Child.

Elisabeth said...

I like to try to draw maps of the houses in which I once lived, particularly as a child, Kath. A few years ago, when I visited the house in Wentworth avenue when it was up for auction, I was shocked at how much it fitted my expectations, except where they had renovated. They'd changed the back entirely. So now all I have are my memories here. Happy renovating in your imagination, especially in those hard to get at places, like that bedsit.

Thanks, Kath.

Elisabeth said...

The idea of 'perfect skirting boards without the chips of time' sounds wonderful, Andrew, and as I get older, I long for it. A smaller space that's clean and tidy would suit me well, but for now I have to settle with the clutter. As for shifting off the kids's stuff, that'd be tough. They all protest their places are too small. Eventually we'll have to do a cull, but maybe all of us working together, to avoid those accusations.

Thanks, Andrew.

Elisabeth said...

I don;t think you're being overly melodramatic, Jane, as to the unreality of happy endings. the truth is we all die at some stage or other, and that's unlikely to be a happy ending for any of us including our loved ones no matter how ambivalent we might be about life and living.

I agree with your link, too, between guilt about lost loved ones and clairvoyants. It's supposedly a forward looking activity but much of it harks back to the past.

Thanks, Jane

Elisabeth said...

I agree with you, Dave, about the unresolved nature of death, to some extent, and I don't want to 'downsize' until it's absolutely necessary.

But I worry about leaving it till it's too late. I dislike the idea of fixing up the house just to get rid of it and never living in it finished for a time. To me, there's a point in enjoying the next phase and the phase after that, for which we need time.

Thanks, Dave.

Isabel Doyle said...

Very interesting post Elisabeth, especially in the context of our discussions and my recent post Driving Home. Something perhaps about surrealism or synchronicity?

Thank you for the quote from your daughter: insightful and thought-provoking. Clever young woman.

It was lovely to meet (even if I worried about appearing 'human'(? what was that about?!?). One of the nicest parts was feeling trusted and accepted and not judged.

I'll be in touch soon.

Best wishes Isabel

Elisabeth said...

Ah, Wadjella Yorga, you talk of once living in a grain shed that eventually became your childhood home. When I was born we lived in a converted chook shed. But it did not become our home. Instead my father built a weatherboard house nearby. The things our parents endured when we were babies and small children to house us and themselves seems extraordinary to me now.

Tear down those walls, Wadjella, I'm all for it, metaphorically speaking as well.

Thanks.

Elisabeth said...

I'm glad to meet another eternal optimist, Cuby poet. We could form a collective. As for all those memories of yours having to be thinned out over the number of house you've lived in, I imagine you could form composites of them in your memory/imagination.

It's also interesting that you write about poetry allowing for less of a clear cut ending. It's true I think but I had not considered this idea before. I must reconsider.

Thanks, Cuby Poet.

Elisabeth said...

There's an experiment I once read about, Jim, where the researchers wanted to look at the differences between two groups of people: those who considered themselves lucky and those who did not. They gathered the two groups randomly by invitation on the basis of these two self ascribed qualities: those who were optimistic and considered themselves lucky and fortunate as opposed to those who considered themselves unlucky, namely those who tended toward greater negativity in their states of mind.

The researchers then set both groups a number of tasks, including one which involved each person trawling through the identical newspaper and counting up the number of photos that appeared in said newspaper.

The researchers then calculated the average length of time taken by each person to complete this task. The positive, optimistic group were found to take something like 30 seconds, while the other more negative group took something like ten to fifteen minutes. I can't remember exact figures but it's not the point.

The point is and the reason offered for the differential in time taken to find and count up the exact number of those photos was that when you turned over the first page of the newspaper there was a largish sign that read, 'There are 54 photos in this newspaper'.

It seems that the positive group who were confident and relaxed saw the sign almost immediately. They did not miss the opportunity, whereas the more negative group were so worried about getting the task completed that they overlooked the sign in their haste to count the photos. Which goes to say that an optimistic outlook can be helpful.

I've simplified this experiment, Jim. There were other factors but I think it offers a good metaphor that explains why it can sometimes help not to expect the worst.

I haven't addressed the rest of your comment here, Jim, but I think you get my point. Thanks.

Elisabeth said...

The image of a glass half full, glass half empty is a great way to explain the difference, too, Pat.

How do you see yourself? It feels to me as if you'd be a glass half full type person, from the sunniness of your blog, but I could be wrong.

Thanks, Pat.

Elisabeth said...

Now Philip, you're my first self confessed pessimist here today. Funny, most people are happy to acknowledge being optimists but less likely to confess to pessimism.

I agree with you about Katherine Mansfield's wonderful writing and the absence of clear cut endings. I only mention my concern for endings because too often I have been pulled up for not ending well enough. Maybe it's a sort of closure were looking for, and I know a lot of people hate the idea of closure, whatever that looks like, too.

Thanks, Philip.

Elisabeth said...

I think Chekhov had the right idea, Scott, with those indeterminate endings. If only I could be as wise as he and land on them, indeterminate and all.

I've been to classes where we were taught the 'rules' of short story writing, including the need to reach some sort of epiphany by the end. I tend to avoid all rules. I go by gut feel and instinct, but I know when an ending feels right and when not, at least for me.

In another writing class I once attended we played a sort of game with already published short stories where we decided to end the story in advance of the author's decision to end the story. It became clear to me through this process that the ending of a story can seem arbitrary.

So often we judge these things after the event. I wonder if writers are as knowledgeable about what works at the time as we like to think. I include myself here.

I enjoy the idea of you and your 'femme' hanging out in your house till you both drop. That's the best way I imagine, but sadly it doesn't always happen.

Thanks, Scott.

Elisabeth said...

I suppose there is a level of optimism involved in accepting the inevitability of change, as you say, Anthony. Thanks.

Elisabeth said...

Rajii, my mum is the eternal optimist. Her optimism borders on denial, so it's easy for her to feel better. Strangely I sometimes almost wish she'd feel worse so that we could at least talk about some of the realities, but that's not her way, at least not these days.

Thanks, Rajii.

Elisabeth said...

Thanks for the JD Salinger, short story suggestion, Kirk. I've yet to read it but I will.

I'm afraid I'm of the school that never knows her ending at the beginning. I'm good at beginnings but I can rarely know where I'm going till I get there.

I know there are others who work in the opposite direction: they know their endings before they can find their beginnings. It's quite variable.

But in the end all we can do is struggle with it.

I found your distinction between optimism and pessimism a bit cryptic, Kirk. I had to read it over and again a few times to get it, but I understand what Vonnegut is talking about, and yes, I agree, pessimism can start and is more likely to start young, even with the burned toast.

Thanks, Kirk.

Elisabeth said...

I suspect that a person can be both and an optimist and a pessimist, simultaneously, Windsmoke, or at least a person can swing from one perspective to the next in a short space of time.

And I'm with you on ending your story. It's probably best to go with your gut instinct. The difficulty for me is that at times my gut instinct deserts me.

Thanks, Windsmoke.

Elisabeth said...

I've written an ending to my thesis, Theanne, that's not the same as an ending to my book, which in some senses is yet to be written, but hopefully one day it will, with a beginning, middle and an end.

It sounds as though you've worked things out well for yourself, your own philosophy of good enough living, Theanne, and that's about the best that anyone can do, I reckon.

I'm not sure about myself yet. But I plod on, still trying to reconcile myself to unresolvable endings.

Thanks.

Elisabeth said...

I'm glad the doughnut analogy worked for you, Marja. And I suppose the sense of home for you must now be very strong given the level of actual threat to your home daily through the earthquakes.

I admire your ability to persevere in the face of that.

Thanks, Marja.

Elisabeth said...

No 2 Wentworth Avenue, Karen, down the end near Canterbury Road. I don't know who lives there now, but it seems to me it's a lovely house, though it was pretty run down when we eleven occupied it till the sixties. However did we fit?

I have a pet theory that most folks develop more of an interest in their ancestry once they hit their forties, until then life in the here and now seems to be most pressing.

My children are interested in the past but not as much as I expect they will be when they are older. They groan every time we pass number 2 Wentworth Avenue. We need to drive out of our way and I ham it up by pointing out my childhood home yet again.

One day they might become more curious, your children too.

What a coincidence that we might have walked similar streets when we were younger.

Thanks, Karen.

Elisabeth said...

The word 'stop' sounds so different from the word 'ending', Steven. And I agree most of us are reluctant to stop whatever it might be, even if it's not good for us.

I'm glad you appreciate therefore the value of the unfinished story. Thanks, Steven.

Elisabeth said...

And did it hurt, Christine, to hear that your parents had sold the family home so abruptly?

I dread doing it to my children, selling the family home that is, though I doubt we'd do it abruptly unless there were an emergency or something.

No, I'd like to have many discussions about it however painful, and to offer the children time to say goodbye to the house/home of their childhoods, that is if they want it. I'd like there to be plenty of time for photos and the like.

Perhaps you could blog about this, too. It's a compelling topic.

Thanks, Christine

Elisabeth said...

'Surrealism and synchronicity', indeed, Isabel.

They talk about six degrees of separation and I think there is some truth to that notion. We proved it today. For all our differences, there are so many more commonalities.

I look forward to writing about our encounter and reading about your version of what to me was a delightful experience and time together. It's likely to stay with me forever.

Thanks, Isabel.

aguja said...

Your final sentence says it all; it is beautifully worded.

Your story will find its ending when you are not looking for it .. and it does not have to 'complete the circle'.
I read abook recently 'How it all Began' by Penelope Lively and the ending left so many possibilities in the mind as to how the story would continue ... I enjoyed that ending.

Nancy said...

There is so much here that I need to read it again. We are downsizing in June, and I think about it constantly! How do you give away a lifetime of things that have meaning for you? How do you decide what to keep, what to give to Goodwill if family doesn't want it? My oldest wants all of her prom dresses kept, but has little space for them, my youngest wants her entire bedroom - with all her books, etc. But who knows where that teaching job will materialize in the Fall? (hopefully!) It is sooo hard, but I know once it is done we will truly be free of too much stuff and can see what is in store for us in this new empty nest life of ours.

Anonymous said...

I grew up in Balwyn, at the foot of Beckett Park, Elisabeth. However, we passed your home on a an almost weekly basis to visit close family friends whose home was on Canterbury Rd at the foot of Wentworth Ave.
So 40 is the age to start looking at the past, is it? Hmmm. I would have said that I have been interested from a much younger age. My mother always laughed that I would ask her to tell me stories about her childhood by saying "Tell me 'bout the olden days, Mum."
PS I won't say anything if our paths cross. I'll just wink at you.
Karen C

juliet said...

I enjoyed reading your musings, Elisabeth. Maybe you could write three different endings? In these days of digital, the reader can then choose - or you could just let them sit, and one of the endings will ring true and insist on being the one.

miruspeg said...

Hello Elizabeth
I have always been an optimist, I see it as a blessing.
I mostly live in the present....in the moment. I have had my fair share of difficult times but don't regret them as they have made me the person I am today.
This is the first time reading your blog and I am sure it won't be the last.
Keep shining new friend.
Peggy xxxxxx

Elisabeth said...

Penelope Lively has a much better sense of narrative structure than I do, Aguja, and you may well be right: the ending for my story will come when I stop looking for it.

Happy new year and thanks, Aguja.

Elisabeth said...

Oh, Nancy, I can't say I envy you, the task ahead, even as I know my turn will most likely come soon, too.

It's extraordinary how pour children think that we can continue to house their precious but not necessarily immediate stuff forevermore until they're ready to take it over or to trash it.

Happy New Year, Nancy. What a new year, but as you say once the deed is done, you might well feel much lighter.

Good luck with the move and thanks.

Elisabeth said...

I'll look out for the wink, Karen, from any passing-by stranger.

Beckett Park, I know well from trips that way with one or other of my daughters. They all went to school in Surrey Hills at one time so we often traipsed through Balwyn to visit friends.

I, too, took an interest in the past in my early years, then lost interest in my twenties until my forties. You might be the exception that proves the rule, Karen, with an ongoing interest from early days. Thanks.

Elisabeth said...

Lovely to see you here, Juliet.

I think you may be right: alternative endings are a possibility, but it's not quite my style. Still it might be worth a try. Experiment or die.

Thanks, juliet.

Elisabeth said...

How wonderful to see you here, Miruspeg. Another optimist I see, despite your hardships. Together we might persevere.

I too look forward to visiting you again. Keep up the optimism and thanks.

R.H. said...

I see the doughnut, I see the hole.

CHOMP!- all gone.

Listen, I don't put words in people's mouths (except sometimes) but you may answer this by saying "Lovely to see you here, Robert."

Or (now that I'm flashing my photo) "Lovely to see you."

Either way, I'm not fussy. Doughnut holes won't make you fat.

Syd said...

We live in a large house now, filled with the antiques and memorabilia of previous generations. It ends with us. There are no relatives to pass these things on to. And because they have been a part of my life for so long, it is a little sad. My hope is that someone will want them and they will become their cherished possessions to build memories on.

Elisabeth said...

'Lovely to see you here, Robert', and please watch out how many doughnuts you eat. They 're not renowned for their healthy properties. That's a jolly profile photo you have there, you and the dog. It alters your image immediately.

Elisabeth said...

Like you, I hope Syd that your treasured possessions become someone else's treasured possessions in the fullness of time and that others can come to value them as you do.

Thanks.

R.H. said...

A realist sees the entire thing, doughnut plus hole.
Syd you can be sure antiques or anything of value will not be trashed. Memorabilia of nothing but sentimental value probably will be trashed and close relatives are the biggest offenders.

Kass said...

These are all subjects that have been rattling around in my head a lot lately: renovation, homes, death, pessimism.

I know I go into renovation mode when I can't manage what's going on in my head. Right now I'm redoing Mom's house, which I inherited after buying out my sisters. It's the house I think of as home and the one I thought my mom was referring to when she'd ask me to get her purse and coat and take her home, but she was wanting to go to her childhood home, which she left in her early twenties. Towards the end, she had a strong motivation to return home. I wonder if making a choice about beliefs somehow affects what really happens after we die.

All we have is the present and as soon as you read this, it's gone.

Elisabeth said...

Sad but true, Robert. One person's memorabilia is another person's trash. Thanks.

Elisabeth said...

The present is gone so quickly, Kass, as you observe. I try to remind myself of this both when things feel good and when they feel bad, just to alert myself again and again about the relentless pace of change.

Thanks, Kass.

Laoch of Chicago said...

Eleanor Roosevelt once said, "The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams."

I hope your future exceeds your dreams.

Red Nomad OZ said...

It's funny - I didn't really think you were writing about death until you chided yourself for so doing! While death being a part of life is a well-trodden cliche, it's not always an ending.

I went through a phase of dreaming about houses - some familiar, some not, always many-roomed. Then a dream-interpreter told me a house in a dream represents the dreamer. Each room is a different aspect of the dreamer's personality. I look forward now to such dreams - they help me keep tabs on my current state of mind!

Russell said...

Enjoyed reading your thoughts.

Many emotions. Well stated. Certainly makes me think about a lot of similar thoughts.

I will stop back again. Thanks for stopping by my blog and leaving a comment.

Take care.

Elisabeth said...

What a wonderful quote from Eleanor Rooseveldt, Laoch and thanks for your glorious wishes. But you know what they say? Be careful of what you dream, it might just come true, and then what?

Elisabeth said...

I think the notion of dream houses as a reflection of aspects of oneself, the dreamer, might well be an excellent and helpful way to think of the dream, Red Nomad. And given the number of different houses in my dreams and their many variations, it also suggests there are many ways to view oneself.

It's so good to see you here. Thanks, Red Nomad.

Elisabeth said...

How wonderful to see you here, too, Russell. I'm glad some of my thoughts resonated for you.

Your profile picture still reminds me so much of my friend, as if you were he. It's uncanny.

Thanks, Russell.

Rubye Jack said...

I dream of houses a lot too, a heck of a lot. And the rooms within. For the most part, I like these dreams but there is always that one room in which I fear to tread.
Nice post Elizabeth.

Zuzana said...

I loved this piece dear Elisabeth. Life is unpredictable, we can never ever know what will happen next. Yes, your mom is right. Even doctors get it wrong, as the will to live and our state of mind and thinking are the most deciding factors on our overall health. We all face the chance of not seeing tomorrow. I say a prayer each day, two times a day, just before I sit behind the wheel of my car, setting out on a 90 minute drive, either to work or home. I know that every day I put myself in an incredible risk.
Thus I know, if I contemplate any of this further and don't stop my train of thoughts, i will be one those people that will never leave the house.;))
Life itself is a risk and we have to choose to be optimists at all times.;)
xoxo

Antares Cryptos said...

This piece resonated since I first read it.
The perception of time and memory is always an interesting topic.
Change is inevitable, but I never saw them as endings, just one thing being replaced by another. Unlike stories life does not permit to neatly tie up everything in the final chapter.