Thursday, March 5, 2009

A late beginner

At the age of sixteen, when, under the British education system of the 1960s, I was finally able to end the torture of lessons in mathematics and concentrate on the three things I could do moderately well, it finally began to appear that I might not be quite so dumb after all. Alas, that was a mere chimera. My final years of High School were probably the pinnacle of all my careers, academic and other, and those bright years of appearing to begin to shine were actually a flash in the dark. Far too often in the years that followed, I was led by my heart and not my head. It has been an unmoored kind of life; not exactly drifting aimlessly, but lacking that inner drive and passion that are required for absolute success in any field.

In short, I've had a regular, mediocre kind of life, for the last 15 years working in a public service position in Brooklyn NY, my days full of details and childcare and a relationship falling disastrously apart and wouldacouldashouldas everywhere. My daughter, who appeared marvelously in my life when I was 43, is growing into a fine young woman and, in my unbiased opinion, a great beauty. I have amassed no great wealth, but I am more or less solvent, with an apartment and a car and a couple of sticks of furniture. And now I am thinking about what is to come, perhaps more than I should. There is a fine line between planning for the future and failing to embrace the present. And when the past has become quite long, there is the temptation to wallow in it too.

Here is a little tiny wallow. In the school photograph I am 12 years old, second from the right in the front row, sitting up straight and a bit stiff, actually half blind, my glasses probably clutched on my knees. In the middle is my form mistress and history teacher, Mrs McGee, who spent hours writing on the chalkboard careful accounts of English history for us to copy into our notebooks. That was long before the mistaken detection of sparks of brilliance.

After spinning out my education to unheard of lengths, I finally got a proper job with a pension and just about enough money to live on at the age of forty-one. The fact is, though, that I'd really rather not spend too many more years tracing my repetitive little loops across the asphalt of New York City. I dream of grass and trees, of country houses, of England. I dream and dream, and sometimes, as I tramp up the four flights of stairs to my apartment, it seems as if this is all there is, and I should stop dreaming and just make the best of it.


  1. The English schoolgirl picture is absolutely priceless! And having known you for awhile, I don't think the flash of brilliance was just a flash after all. One does not, after all, have to be publicly brilliant to be brilliant. As for dreaming, I do think there is something to be said for appreciating every moment. I spent far too many years waiting for tomorrow. And you do have a lot there that many would envy: financial independence, a lovely daughter (it's not just your view -- she is lovely!), two perfect dogs (sort of) and you don't have to worry about someone leaving the cap off the toothpaste. And, speaking from experience, sometimes the country ain't all it's cracked up to be. Keep blogging -- I subscribed!

  2. I'm in my early 20s but already begin to feel I'm a late beginner. Seems hard to get a job and I can't see how my middle-age life is gonna be...


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Anglo-Brooklyn by Joy Holland is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.