Josna Rege

287. Anywhere, anywhere

In 1950s, Books, Childhood, Family, Nature, reading, reflections, seasons, Stories, travel on October 25, 2014 at 4:07 pm
Spring Morning (illustration: E. H. Shepard)

Spring Morning (illustration: E. H. Shepard)

Some years ago Mum told me that one day, driving down a road not far from home, she suddenly realized that she didn’t know where she was. This must have been about the time when she first began to notice that something was wrong. It wasn’t very long before this and other signs of disorientation in time and place gave the rest of the family cause for concern, too, and we began to take steps to make sure that Mum didn’t go out in the car alone. But every time I drive down that road I too have a moment of wondering where I am; I think it is because that particular stretch of road could in fact be anywhere.

photo 2

It is in an area of farmland between our town and the next, with cornfields on either side and wide open sky in all directions as far as the eye can see; no other markers of place except for the tell-tale turning of the leaves in the Fall, and unusual for New England in being a long, perfectly straight stretch of road with no twists and turns or ups and downs, and no houses. Only corn, which, in the late summer has grown as high as an elephant’s eye, leads one to believe that one is in Oklahoma, Kansas, or just about anywhere in the American Midwest. So after my initial panic, I take a deep breath, relax into that timeless moment, and drive on, trusting in the road itself, and knowing that soon, all too soon, I will be back on track, fully re-oriented, and saddled once again with my long list of errands and uncompleted tasks.

Increasingly, every moment of the day is another check mark on the To-Do List. Even on our days off, perhaps especially on our days off, that list seems to be never-ending. A person is seen as unmotivated if she or he does not have clearly defined goals and, in our fast-paced society, being self-directed, “in the driver’s seat,” is considered a necessity, even a virtue. But how much are we really in control when we are at the wheel? More often, we seem to be harnessed and driven by pressures and goals set elsewhere and by others.

When I was five, my Uncle Ted gave me a blue hardcover copy of A.A. Milne’s When We Were Very Young, one of the few books that I have managed to carry around the world with me and still hold and treasure. It has long-since lost its dust-jacket, some of its pages are torn, and the young me dared to color in E. H. Shepard’s classic illustrations. But battered as it is, it is still wonderfully intact. Whatever its condition, the poems in it have become part of me, and give recourse and expression to moods that overtake me as much as an adult as they did when I was very young. One of my favorites is Spring Morning, in which the child, wondering where he is going, knows deep down, that he, certainly, does not know; and furthermore, that it matters not one whit. The world is alive and full of wonder, and she can float through it like a cloud on invisible currents, safe and free. If we all knew this, then we need not panic when we are suddenly overtaken by that strong sense that we don’t know where we are or where we are going. We don’t.

photo

Note on punctuation: In many of the versions of this poem I found on the internet, the punctuation was wrong. A.A. Milne wrote, “Anywhere, anywhere. I don’t know. “ Note the period after the second ‘anywhere,’ and the italicized ‘I’: both are essential to the reading of that line, which comes at the end of the first verse and again at the very last.

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  1. Lovely cussin Josna and in keeping with your mum’s upcoming birthday. Big hugs and love xxx

    • Thank you, dear cussin. Your beautiful card came yesterday, with all the little birds in it, and Mum likes it. Yours is the first birthday card to arrive (as well as the first Christmas card–another lovely one). Hugs back to you, J xxx

  2. I don’t know either.

  3. There are some who do well charting their path and sticking to it. I have never felt tethered to a plan for very long, and often wonder where i am going. Thinking ‘anywhere, anywhere.’ can be taken as a plaintive cry of desperation, but For me it’s more positive – as the magic of knowing you will end up somewhere, and it will be a good ‘anywhere’ if you keep a positive attitude.

    • I agree entirely, Sammy. Even if at times I may feel as if I’m at sea, in this piece I’m seeing “Anywhere, anywhere.” as the affirmation it is in the poem, knowing that one does not and cannot know and trusting in the rightness of the journey, rather than being afraid of not having a set destination.

  4. Hi Josna
    I have just been singing along to ‘Oh What a Beautiful Morning’ and gazing at the ‘eye-high’ corn on this, rather bleak, UK morning.
    I too found the ‘anywhere, anywhere’ to be poignant & a sign that the writer might be attempting an escape into purity. The punctuation, in a poetic world so small, is critical I agree.
    The imaginative, and characterful, world of a teacher has been reduced to a set of banal rules!
    Thanks for yr nice comments btw. I should imagine Ralph is going ‘beep, beep, beep’ over the ragwort plucking!
    E

    • To the redoubtable Evangeline,
      Grateful for your visit to my humble blog. Your comments made me look bak at the story and reconsider, both what I had read (the little Milne poem) and what I had said (since I seem to have given the impression that my world had been reduced to “a set of banal rules”).
      Regarding the first, the little boy whom Milne is ventriloquizing (himself as a child, his own son–the model for Christopher Robin, who, we later found out, had an extremely troubled relationship with his father?) does seem to want to have time that isn’t regimented, time to wander free. I wonder if that’s motivated by an attempted “escape into purity”? Perhaps for the nostalgic adult, and not so much for the child?
      As for my life, overshadowed by the never-ending To Do list: I don’t think that that’s necessarily or particularly a teacher’s condition, just the ridiculous pace of contemporary life. On that level I was just complaining (or whinging, as you say in the U.K.). On another level, I was suggesting that none of us really knows where we’re going, no matter how goal-oriented or driven we were, and that perhaps it would do us some good to just accept that, rather than trying to fight it.
      But yes, I sometime wonder whether my repeated return to the books of my childhood is a mark of my own escapism…
      Thanks as always, for your visit and comments. J

  5. Beautiful post Josna. I know and have felt that experience you speak of. I have felt it most in the Namib desert in Namibia; acres and acres of space and broad expanses of “anywhere” and “nowhere.” I know I can easily become addicted to experiences like that. I kind of enjoy the feeling of being lost in vast expanses. Maybe I’m losing it. 🙂

    “As high as an elephant’s eye.” So good to hear that again.

    • Thank you, Don. I just wrote you a long reply and when I pressed the Update button it disappeared. I wanted to say that when you describe the desert I see it through your painterly eye; and when you describe the “feeling of being lost in vast expanses,” I don’t think in the least that you’re losing it; far from it, I think you’re losing a self-centered perspective, and replacing it, if only for a short time, with the whole universe. J

  6. I love your Note on Punctuation at the end! That stuff really IS important.

    I have the same book (of course), and now feel compelled to check to see if it still has its dust jacket. I think it does.

    I love the feeling of being a little lost and not knowing exactly where I’ll be next. Too much is disorienting, but just enough is exciting. I’ve also had that sense of being on a completely familiar road and forgetting for a moment where I am. Speaking of which — I think I’ll go out. : )

    • We’re fellow-punctuation freaks, Sarah. Someone has to pay attention to this stuff. Don’t think it means we’re pedants, just that we care about clarity, precision, and meaning.
      Love how many times we have discovered that we share experiences, including favorite books.
      And yes, it’s fun, even enlightening, to feel disoriented for a short time, but not so much fun if it goes on for any length of time.

  7. Lovely, Josna! Still in the midst of the endless moving-related projects, I can’t wait to be in time and space that ‘don’t matter.’ Because, of course, ‘anywhere’ matters most.

    • Karen, from seeing the furniture of your life literally fall into place again (and beautifully, as always), I realize that one has to have some order in one’s environment in order to find the calm center from which to let go and allow oneself to be just anywhere–at once everywhere and nowhere. Thank you. J

  8. That’s a lovely piece – I’ve been wondering where the time goes to …. if I take time to read blogs or just futher about then there’s no time for a walk …. and going for a walk seems to steal time from something else – the list seems not that long, but the days off are crammed with other people’s stuff. Thanks for the timely reminder Josna that the road will take us there eventually.
    Way back months ago you wrote about a tea set and I hope you don’t mind but it prompted me to show you mine – it was meant to go up ages ago but the few days have turned in to months …. Anyway it’s up now Josna 🙂
    Fil

    • Thanks so much for your comments, Fil, and good to talk after a while–I have been remiss in not reciprocally visiting fellow-bloggers enough. You’re so right that “the days off are filled with other people’s stuff.” Somehow when I hear what I wrote reflected back though someone else’s understanding I get a whole new insight into it. “The road will take us there eventually”: thank you.
      I’d love to see your tea set; but I’ve just been trying to find it, to no avail. Would you mind posting the URL of the page where you have posted it? Cheers, J

  9. Hi Josna
    Thanks for your comment on my last post ‘What is a Follower?’ I did have a slight feeling of unease when writing – a very partial and inadequate – biographical summary of yourself as blog writer. I thought, ‘Oh dear. J will pick me up on this for not being sufficiently thorough and exact.’ And you did!
    Back to the ‘banal rules.’ I think I was thinking of the UK’s increasingly determined tendencies to circumscribe – and strangle – the individual talents of its teachers. I don’t feel that it’s possible, or desirable, to legislate for a school’s/teacher’s level of success – high grades in exams – in the published tables.
    There was a news item over here recently about ‘Winnie’ the original bear. I should have been paying more attention but, apparently, Christopher Robin used to visit this bear (donated by its former soldier ‘owner’) in a London zoo. I think the bear might have been called Winifred.
    Best
    E

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