Monday, 18 July 2011

The Art of Change

In a recent post, writer Sarah Duncan wrote about change in fiction: people want to read about it, she argued. Why? Because they "want to know how a character reacts to that moment of change." We have to deal with it in life, and having read about how others do so helps us recalibrate when that happens. We are constantly having to rewrite the ending to our personal story so having lots of examples to draw upon helps us see how to proceed.

On Friday our son, Bob, left home with only the barest notice. I actually didn't know what to do with myself. Usually when something discombobulating happens I phone all my friends and by the time I've told the story a number of times, and been given lots of sympathy, I can at least get on. But, if I'm honest, I felt a bit pathetic this time: Bob's twenty five, he's left home before, we, I, knew he wouldn't be here forever; would anyone see his leaving home as a hitch? So I just posted something about it on my Facebook page and left it at that. This did get me lots of sympathy, and also a couple of emails. One from by best friend in New Zealand, Mark, and the other from my sister, both asking for the details. This allowed me to verbalise and thus get some purchase on the scene; just like writing a story. Here are the edited highlights of my replies, they were almost identical:
here's the story:
On Thursday at supper Stevie said he has to go to Edinburgh next week to see a client, and asked if we wanted to go for the ride.
"Okay." I said.
"I'm going to Edinburgh tomorrow." Bob said.
"Oh are you, any particular reason?" Asked Stevie.
Bob has been going to Edinburgh a fair bit to get a kilt sorted for the wedding of one of his friends.
"Well," he began, and told us about Joe's friend, Chris. He works for a letting agency, and a really nice flat had come up for an unusually reasonable monthly rent.
"So I'm going to look at it." He said.
"With a view to taking it?"
"Well, yeah."
So off he went the next morning and when he came back he dangled a bunch of keys in front of me and smiled.
"Ooh, you took it then?" I said.
"When are you moving in?"
"Now." Big grin. He'd already been out and bought towels and stuff!

Once he'd had a spot of lunch and packed, off he went. Stevie arrived just in time to see him go, though I'm supposing Bob would have hung about for a while had he not.

I cried. Stevie wandered around like a benevolent poltergeist. We went out for supper.

Stevie's fish.

On Saturday I went to clean the attic rooms Bob has been occupying, and found an infestation of moths had eaten my antique kilims. We went to Glasgow to stock up on a few necessaries.

Obviously we stopped for lunch, can you tell what we had?

Yesterday I walked into my workroom and could stand the colour of the mahogany table by the window no longer: a dark reddish brown, like a cancerous stool, it sucks the light out of the place. So I painted it. Farrow and Ball Parma Grey, it's the colour of Kentish skies now.

I realise this is mostly a picture of a melon, but you can get an idea of the paint job.

Bob's like me, we both take a long time to turn things over in our minds, assess all options, process, incubate, whatever you want to call it, but once the period of gestation comes to an end we have to act. We can sit still no longer. He'd been back here for just over a year. I knew he'd be leaving, at some point in the near future, I'd sensed a pattern change. I just wasn't quite ready for the action.

But, thanks to the variety of fictitious scenarios I've read, and seen in plays and films, I had lots of vicarious experience of dealing with change, so haven't chewed off my own limbs in despair. In fact, now the shock has dissipated I'm happier than ever: my son is off on a new adventure (and only an hour's drive away), and I have a table that doesn't piss me off every time I walk in the room. Sarah Duncan, I agree.


angryparsnip said...

Adore anyone who uses the word discombobulating.

Sorry about Bob's quick move but it sounds like he had been thinking bout it for awhile and when the opportunity came took it.
I have one son who can't make any decision with out mulling it over, over and over in his mind till I what to scream !

Bob is just an hour away so it sounds pretty good to me.
My children are a plus 12 hour plane ride and a 8 hour car ride away. No just popping of to see them.

Love love love the color you painted your table. Gray is the best color everyone overlooks. It will change with the light and become much more. Such a great choice for your table.

cheers, parsnip

Annie Boreson said...

Glad Bob is conquering his own world and has found himself some new digs. It always is difficult to say goodbye, especially when the company is so welcome. All my kids are scattered about, but I am happy that they are thriving as I know you are too. Love your post! Very honest.

Jane and Lance Hattatt said...

Hello Eryl:
Such a bittersweet note to this post which we are sure reflects the conflicting emotions you must be feeling. But, this is surely a good outcome.

Your son clearly feels that not only is he ready to strike out on his own but, clearly, has been given the confidence to do this by your support as parents. And, for you, new adventures lie ahead too. Today, painting a table top, tomorrow...who knows?!!

nick said...

Not having any children myself, this isn't a situation I have experience of, but I can imagine seeing your son leave home after he's been a fixture for so many years must be quite a shock to the system. Good that you have plenty of friends to talk it through with and help you digest it.

Jenny Woolf said...

I think change becomes harder as we get older. I never thought it would. I'm glad you're settling into the new patterns. Nice colour for the table, by the way!

Kim Ayres said...

Sudden unexpected narrative shifts - it's like turning the page in a book, and suddenly finding you're at the end when you thought there were at least 3 chapters to go, but the back end of the book is full of acknowledgements, an index and adverts for other books.

All very disconcerting until you can start a new story.

Glad your limbs are not chewed off.

Never seen a fish like Stevie's. Did it look much different when he chose it from the aquarium?

Eryl said...

Parsnip ~ you're right, this notion will have been gaining momentum in Bob's mind for some time, months probably.

Sometimes, when the sun shines on it the table looks quite blue, other times gray. It's just like having the sky in my room!

Annie ~ to know one's children are thriving is definitely one of the best things in the world. I love to see Bob getting on and living his life, but I also love to have him here. It's one of those motherhood paradoxes, I guess.

Jane and Lance ~ indeed, who knows where painting a table can lead. I'm holding out for Paris, at the very least.

Nick ~ I wouldn't say I have lots of friends, but I do seem to have just the right amount.

Jenny ~ I have found the opposite: change is getting easier, I used to hate it with a passion.

Kim ~ I hate that, when a story ends too abruptly and I'm left reading the ads for other books in the hope that they'll morph into the real end.

That said, I know I have a tendency to write stories like that myself.

Starting a new story, that's what I hope I'm doing now. If only one didn't need money to go off on adventures I'd travel the world.

It is a rather odd looking fish, isn't it? Unfortunately we didn't see it before it was plated.

Titus said...

I like a well-told tale, and this was well told. It is funny isn't it - my biggest was when the first of my brothers left home, I didn't think we would ever function as a family again. Not having read so much at that age, I think I nearly did chew a limb off. And it didn't matter that he was going to be fifteen minutes away.
I think my father always took it hard when each of us left home; my mother, however, couldn't quite conceal her delight.
So on the rational side, he's only an hour away, but these things are never rational.

I think you had your main course and pudding on the same plate for lunch, and it was probably Tunisian.

Finally, I was planning changing my hall and stairs colour to grey! You may have found the very one.

savannah said...

xoxoxoxo for you, sugar! ;~)

InsideJourneys said...

Incidentally, a 'kitchen bitch' in Jamaica is a small lamp.

Love this story. Must be bittersweet for you to see Bob go though.

Nice photos,

Eryl said...

Titus ~ How is your brother, by the way? It must be really hard when older siblings start to leave. I was the oldest so the first to go in our house. I still remember how quiet my mother went when I told her I was moving, that Stevie and me had rented a cottage. I thought she was upset because we'd be 'living in sin' but I see differently now.

Tunisian's not far off! Deli Zique mixed salads.

This is a slightly blue-grey, they (Farrow and Ball) also do a lovely greenish one called French Grey, it's the colour of smoke.

Savannah ~ thank you, lady XXXXXXX

Inside Journeys ~ thank you. Bitter sweet describes it perfectly.

I will now have to find a picture of a kitchen bitch. I am small and like to think I can be illuminating at times!

Pat said...

Believe me this is all good.
Only an hour's drive away. You will now have the fun of being adults together. Meeting in town, having each other over for a meal. Lovely!
Make the most of it before he gets wed and you have to share him.

Sarah Duncan said...

Ah, sons leaving home...Mine went, came back for a couple of months, then has gone again. Missing him much more the second time round than the first, perhaps because I hadn't anticipated the change happening so quickly. Bittersweet days.

I've got a F&B Parma Grey floor, and Blackened in my bedroom - lovely restful sky-greys.

Glad the post was useful and you agree with me about change.

Miss Scarlet said...

I enjoyed reading this post - with you taking the role of the lead character dealing with change. I am a sucker for narratives such as this. I am also a sucker for Farrow and Ball paint!

Eryl said...

Pat ~ I know you're right, really I do. I merely need to adjust to not having him around to fix my computer or put up a shelf at the drop of a sock.

I won't think about the possibility of sharing him with a wife just yet!

Sarah ~ I think I do miss mine more each time he goes, too. I noticed this when he was away at uni in Portsmouth: each time he returned for the holidays it was harder to see him off again.

Your bedroom sounds gorgeous.

I think I pretty much agree with everything you say about writing. I'm constantly recommending your blog for good, solid advice.

Scarlet ~ glad you enjoyed it. Farrow and Ball make the best colours, I'm really tempted to paint my desk 'Mouse's Back' now.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Imagine the opposite Eryl. Imagine he clung on at home and got to rely on you to such an extent that you began to resent it. He is obviously an independent chap and also probably has no idea how you feel.

rochambeau said...

Hello Eryl,
Glad you got a cool new table top out of the deal! :-)
You may or may not know that I don't have children, so I don't have the right to have any insight about the loss of a child moving away. Alas, I do remember something my dad told me about change. I was graduating from 8th grade and going into high school. I told my dad I was afraid, that I didn't know if I was going to be able to do it. He said: "It's kind of funny, but once you start high school, and have been there a few weeks, you will feel a new kind of normal". I've tucked this one in my hat and learned that his words have rang true for all the big changes in my life.

I can tell you have already arrived and that Stevie got a good looking plate of fish out of the process!!


Thank you again, inviting me join Pinterest! I know, I know....I'm a slow starter. I need a photo and need to get a move~on~~

Eryl said...

Weaver ~ I can't imagine Bob clinging! We're off to see him tomorrow, which will be great.

Constance ~ I love that: "a new kind of normal," it is a perfect fit for times like this. And you're right, I've already readjusted: this time last week my normal was Bob living here; now my normal is having a son I can go visit in the city.

There's nothing wrong with starting slow, just go about it in the way that best suits you, X

Anonymous said...

Of course!

You want to see how the character deals and survives...

It's simple, but I never thought of that before..

Sarah Duncan said...

Oh, I love it when people agree with everything I say...! Thanks for referring my blog to people, that's v kind.

Carole said...

There is something about the mother-son bond that is hard to define but sometimes it just pounds the sass right out of us.

Talking it over helps us process it so much better than a dark corner in which to pout with no one in sight. Still pouting is occasionally called for.

red-handed said...

He's just living his messy, exciting life. You have a pretty good one, too.

Alesa Warcan said...

It sounds like the plot is developing, and that Bob has gotten his own spinoff. : j
And that you've got a handle of the new developments...
Sometimes sudden plot shifts keep the reader interested, sometimes I just feel like complaining to the author in a Brooklyn accent: "Hey! I wuz enjoyin' dat!" But then sometimes the author takes you somewhere else that's just as good if not better. : p

You have some lovely lovely (because once is not enough!) readers!
And from the way you tell it, a brilliant and loving family (not mention a freshly painted table)! : j

Oh, the empty plate... Not much to go on- did you have beet burgers?

alphawoman said...

I can relate to how you feel. The first time my daughter left home I felt so lonely. I remember when I left home. I think my parents threw a party! The first of six to fly out of the nest. Things are so different now with children staying at home longer.

Jimmy said...

"We have to deal with it in life, and having read about how others do so helps us recalibrate when that happens."

Extremely wise words.

Why are you of all people missing from my seriously dated read list I wonder?

Eryl said...

Denise ~ I'm pretty sure I didn't think of it until university made me.

Sarah ~ you're welcome.

Carole ~ I can't see you as a pouter at all.

Red ~ he is, and it's great. Mine has been slightly messier than I'd have liked this week...

Alesa ~ I'm incredibly fortunate with my readers, and my family, you're right.

Beet-burgers might have to be my next culinary experiment!

Alpha woman ~ you are one of six?! That's a lot of kids to take care of.

Jimmy ~ thank you. Nice to see you, too. I need to put you on my side-bar, too, if I don't do something the second it comes to my attention it doesn't get done.