Yesterday we drove south to the beach in the late afternoon to watch the light fade over the water. The boys went in. The water is wonderful, they said. Occasionally, I would glance up from my reading to see their heads bobbing in the waves.
I walked in up to my ankles. To me the water felt cold, even after standing there for a while. I let the waves pull back, unsettling the sand beneath my feet.
I am reading How Should a Person Be? and on the beach, I have no pencil for underlining, so instead, I fold down the corners of the pages I want to return to. “He’s just another man who wants to teach me something,” on p. 17 is the first line that prompts me to such action.
It’s a book about female friendship and art and desire, and “the way we live now,” which is how we have come to describe what is disjointed or fragmented or formally messy.
The idea that lingers with me is about the puer aeternus – eternal child. Through the Jungian analyst “Ann,” she explains that the puer thinks himself too good for the banalities of living, and instead is constantly switching plans, never staying with any one thing or person long enough to be anchored in the quotidian, always changing course when things become difficult.
“It’s their everlasting switching that’s the dangerous thing, not what they choose.” People who live this way tend to think that they are special, that theirs is a destiny greater than that of ordinary people. So while others build a life in which things gain meaning and significance over time, the puer is perpetually searching for a life without failure, without doubt, and in so doing, ends up empty.
Elsewhere, there is the suggestion that perhaps it is not self-improvement that we need, but suffering.
Traffic north is predictably slow as we inch our reluctant way back to the tasks we’ve left undone. I am filled with protest. It is not that I have not suffered, I am thinking, even while knowing this is not the point.