What is it about solitude that is so enhanced by a glass of red wine, a slice of melted cheese, some really good bread, dipped lightly in olive oil and vinegar? Something about the savouriness of the repast, simple though it is, moves aloneness from loneliness to solitude. The slight shock of the wine on the tongue, the creaminess of the cheese, the slight, undeniable back of your mouth shimmer of fermentation…it all seems appropriate to a late spring afternoon in my eyrie above the busy street.
I am reading a fabulous book while I savour my solitude and my wine. It is “Are you Somebody?” by the brilliant Irish writer, Nuala O’Faolain. It is her autobiography and it rings with truth, poverty, and total lack of self-pity. How I aspire to her graciousness! I aspire to her grasp of the world and her place within it, I envy her her unencumbered life (though I would never return my children, troublesome as they sometimes are), I long for her casual acquaintance with stellar writers through the 60’s and beyond. I most of all aspire to her acceptance of life as it was, gritty and often sad, lonely and yet fascinating, observed through the minute exacting eye of a true artist.
I’m envious. As I read, I think about my own memoir, how very different it would be – my tales of being raised Catholic in the US, of going to nursing school and trying against all odds to fit within that caring mold, my dry and destructive life as a military wife in a military that treated women in a 1950’s way in the 1990’s, my years of pretending to be a caregiver when all I truly want to do is flee to somewhere where I could have flowing white curtains on my boudoir windows and a fluffy featherbed on my mattress, fresh bread just down the street, savoury cheeses and wines within a block, men with impossible names and sultry accents and urgent sexual needs and mouths that kiss with flavours of olives and nicotine and champagne and dark chocolate and deep deep coffee. I long to grow herbs on my wire fire escape and use them to flavour hedonistically wonderful stews made with shabby ingredients that I somehow wrest into deliciousness with the addition of lashings of butter and garlic and wine. I long for red red lipstick and plunging necklines and a body that could bear it instead of my rounded matronly and totally inadequate form. I wish for overhearing the bells and songs of a nearby convent or retreat like the one in Quebec City, where holiness reaches into you through the air without even having to consider the inhalation.
I long to escape the banality of life in Ontario to the special banality of life in Europe, or Halifax, or someplace entirely new. I long for the company of compadres, people who understand without being told. In a writer’s life, I am hopelessly outclassed and hopelessly inexperienced when speaking to real writers – I don’t want to write silly pieces, but rather plumb the depths of human thought and emotion in my writing – yet, I am totally unprepared for such an exploration, having suffered through American High School and then focused on learning nursing, not literature. I’ve taken writing courses, but the inspiration provided by this one book is more than most have ever given me. I feel ignorant, small among my betters, inadequate to even begin the task I have set for myself. Were it not for one writer who taught me once, years ago, I’d never have dared try again – for that, Ms. Christina Decarie, I am truly grateful.
And yet, I have so much to learn!
I’m off to wallow again in the glorious writing of someone who was a master of the art. Please God, let a wee bit of it rub off on me.
Oh – Nuala O’Faolain died in 2008, of cancer. there is a lovely short article about her here.
I am grateful to the reading group at Collected Works (of which I am not yet a member) for steering me to someone I might otherwise never have found.