An observant friend taking note of the small pile of ‘books being read or (being attempted) to be read’ saw a copy of Jan Morris’ earlier volume In My Minds Eye A Thought Dairy on my table and thoughtfully produced this book for a Christmas present. So those days between Christmas and New Year were absorbed in these 130 ( more or less) daily entries. They cover from 2018 to early 2019. Jan Morris puts her nonagenarian life and house on the Llyn peninsula in north-west Wales on display. She is candid, fierce, thoughtful, and honest.
Understandably they are wide ranging. She deals with people, neighbours and journalists alongside her family and especially her grandchildren. She tackles bad language, racism, religion, wine, music, regrets and kindness to her Welshness, or Cymreictod, and the British empire.
I love the way she describes (and adds to ) what is described as the “muddled mayhem” of the 21st century. The generative liberation of old age is put to use as she reflects on Donald Trump, Brexit and the British royal family saga over Harry and Meghan.
On Trumps style of politics Morris offers this “He states his political case, whatever it is, boldly and unpretentiously to his own particular audience, and to hell with everyone else. It is an All-American way: America First! Make America Great Again! As one with a sneaking sympathy for patriotism, whatever flag it flies, I respond to this approach as instinctively as any redneck bigot.”
I was moved by her struggle with age. With a little ironic derision she refers to herself as “an aging litterateur” who is “well past [her] sell-by date.” There is both an air of introspection combined with melancholy as she describes the geography of relationships. She reflects on dementia and how that how shapes their shared life, writing that Elizabeth now half lives in the “separate cursed dominion of dementia”. She feels that a strange curtain has fallen between them and their long relationship is ruptured. These lines capture so well the experience of memory loss and its searing effects on relationships in a family.
What is captivating about this book is its beautiful attentiveness to the power of words to shape meaning and make us connect with the ambiguity of living. In these days of pandemic we must have had moments of looking out of our proverbial windows and considering what the sone life is all about – our work, our friendships, we must all, always, our histories, our output. Morris shows us how in this reflexivity we must always be thinking again.
So to the blank pages of a notebook – what would your first entry look like?