Be careful what you wish for, they say. And whoever they may be, they have a point.
While in ‘real’ life we may never find ourselves wishing a sausage onto the end of our nose, then having to waste a wish to get it off again, we are subject always to one immutable rule – change is never easy.
All change is a blend of what we’d planned and hoped for with simple blind occurrence. Changes that seem to us wholly good may lead to disappointment or even despair. Changes that fall like thunder on our unsuspecting heads turn out not to be the total end of all things good, though they may bring pain and sorrow that change us forever.
Thus do I find myself almost at the end of writing and publishing ‘The Dry Well’, and finding the experience wholly ambivalent. Partly because it means a good deal of work very much less congenial than its writing was. Partly because, for the time being, it marks a climactic in the development and publishing of the Skorn series. There remain several stories that can be worked up to make a collection, and some novel drafts conceived before Alistair McGechie and I discovered Skorn, but for the moment I feel there’s a natural break coming on Skorn.
Equally unsimple is the situation regarding my tremblingly fragile possibility of turning into a PhD student. Here I have been since 1984 wishing that I had done a Doctorate in the first place instead of an MPhil – which was pretty well as heavy on work, I think – and now a kindly response from a Professor has made the possibility less fantastic. I may be able to have what I’ve wished for. Already ideas are chasing themselves around inside my head, tripping over each other, quarreling, wiping each other out and insisting they’re better than the rest. Very exciting! But part of me wants to draw the bedclothes over my head and forget the whole thing. If it can become real, it will be an enormous change. Help, CHANGE!
All of this relates, I know, to my terrible loss in 2013. Ever since Andrew was taken from me, I have struggled with the sheer weight of things that I have seen and experienced, that he has not. I feel them all building up in my memory and can’t help anticipating a day when I will be able to tell him about them, can’t get over expecting him to come home and want to know what I’ve been doing.
To undertake a degree – if I prove capable of that – would be the single biggest thing of this kind since his death. Maybe that’s a main source of my procrastination?
But I know he would want me to do whatever feels right for me in my changed life. And would explain to me gently that going on to something new is not in any way equivalent to leaving him behind. Not that that makes it easy.
Reading about the life of Edward Thomas lately, I rediscovered Robert Frost’s poem about choices and decisions – I will quote it below. My situation differs from that of the narrator here, in that the road I most want to travel has actually been barred against me. But it sums up a lot of how I feel now.
The Road Not Taken
BY ROBERT FROST
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.