"These are the days of your life. And the thing to do – is live them." Miranda Sawyer, article in the Observer, 14 August 2011
After several years of struggling to make the time to read when all I wanted to do was knit, I have discovered audio books. Out in the fields, pottering in the kitchen sink, or sitting at my sewing machine: I can have literature running through my head and flowing out of my fingertips, inspiring my everyday activities.
More than once, my mother has cut me off at the knees with a disparaging: "Oh, I suppose you read that in A BOOK, did you? You can't do anything without reading a book!" Nowadays she substitutes "the Internet" as her chosen term of abuse.
My mother has told me that she had never read a "whole book" until I was six years old, when my aunt marched us both to the local library, horrified that there were no stories in my life. For her 91st birthday, I bought my mother a subscription to Listening Books. Although she complains that the narrators are "too posh, with marbles in their mouths" and the stories "too modern and full of language", she is beginning to find some favourite authors (Crime Stories, without sweary words please) and certainly thinks she has a new best friend on the Listening Books helpline (to whom I can only apologise).
In my bereft state of mind, I have drawn solace from Decca Aitkenhead's All at Sea.
I have been mesmerised by memories of summer in the 1970's with The Girls by Emma Cline.
I sought light narrative, but found a poignant exploration of love and grief in The Turning Point by Freya North.
I recalled people, places and things I had forgotten with In Gratitude by Jenny Diski.
I was immersed in the social mores of 1950's Naples listening to My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante.
Right now, I am listening to Villette by Charlotte Bronte. For most of my life I have professed that this is my favourite book of all time. But it must be 30 years since I read it, and it is not at all what I remembered.
If ever there was a template for my adolescent angst, this is it. Now I am having to put the narrative on pause while I interrogate myself: whatever made me think I could navigate my teenage years with such a melodramatic role model as my guide?
And now...? What about now?
Here I am at another crossroads, unsure of where I am headed. I have found a sheltered spot under a tree, spread a metaphorical rug and set out a picnic. I have a selection of tasty treats: knitting, books, music, spinning, cross-stitching, sewing, all to hand. But if I shade my eyes against the sun and squint at the horizon, there are other possibilities out there - new places to explore, people to meet, things to be done.
As a lonely teenager, I used to read articles entitled "How to Make Friends", as if that was the secret to a happy adulthood. I should join clubs, go to evening classes and get invited to parties... but then I met FL and I didn't want Other People. That's a hard habit to break and maybe I don't need to.
This morning I finished reading Out of Time by Miranda Sawyer.
It is a book for those of us who are seeking a jumping- off point for the rest of our lives, when we have become invisible.
When we realise we are never going to be Bowie .
And that he has gone now.
Yes, she makes that reference - she could be my friend!
Unlike other such books, it is written from the perspective of someone who did not subscribe to the mainstream ideals of white weddings and power suits, who now finds herself in mid-life, uncertain of her future direction but hanging on to the things that make her happy.
We can be the women (or men) we always were... but older. Different. And that's OK.
It is not a self-help book, but it is helping me address the peculiar nuances of finding myself middle-aged and alone.
Books, you see. I can't be without them.