Recently, I revisited Annie Dillard’s essay “Sojourner”, a text I read far too young in my sophomore year of high school. As I wrote the article, I realized so many of the texts I read that year resonated with me in a way I was too naive to comprehend (much less vocalize eloquently). It’s become a new project of mine to reflect on why a certain number of these books and essays have stuck with me in the hopes I can better understand not just the pieces themselves, but what part of me they’ve latched onto.
As we speak, I am filling out my application to study abroad in London for the upcoming semester. This destination seemed to be a no-brainer for everyone in my family, as I grew up somewhat of an Anglophile (i.e. I taught myself a shit British accent in 5th grade with the hopes of winning Robert Pattinson’s love, and ended up obsessed with One Direction). But there is also this underlying drive to live and learn in the U.K. that I’ve never shared for fear of being mocked or questioned on things I myself can’t even explain.
A couple of months ago, I tried to put into writing why I wanted to pursue such a specific major. Underneath my decision, like I mentioned, there was this sense of melancholy tying me to the idea of the Beat Generation and the American counterculture. Much in that same way, there is this gnawing sensation that has trapped me in the world of Kazuo Ishiguro’s "Never Let Me Go." Part science fiction and part coming of age novel, the book follows three childhood friends from their time growing up at boarding school through the ends of their short lives. All the while, the world used as a backdrop seems to be muted, yet lush and alive. It is this world, and the things that unfold within it, that are what continuously has pulled me to England.
In the novel, the protagonist Kathy exists in two places: the present and her very active memory. While I was prompted continuously in high school to study the concept of memory and how we recall the things that define us (ironically), what I now see I took away most significantly from the story was its tragic and fatalistic portrayal of morality. Without giving too much away, the world that the characters exist in functions on the basis of their sacrifices to it. It is this concept that triggers the melancholy: the idea, in its most primitive and simple form, that we are all simultaneously existing alone and for the benefit of others.
As dark as this notion is, it does cause even the most optimistic person some pause. Think of it this way: we are all puzzle pieces and while we exist solely as ourselves, we have four different sides that each present or connect in a different way than any of the other four. We are never the same person to ourselves as we are to each other, as we are amongst each other.
And, while it is not always the most prevalent of factors, the world in which all of this unfolds (i.e. our schools, homes, cities, nations) is what cocoons these individual and interpersonal dynamics, and ultimately defines them.To me, maybe naively still, I feel as though England has engulfed this entire concept of interconnected individualism, tragically poetic questions of morality, and melancholic reflection.
So, if I am being fully transparent with both you, Reader, and myself, I want to go to London, not for Robert Pattinson or the Royal Family or the double-decker buses. I want to go to face this melancholy that I’ve defined its environment by and, in a remarkably convoluted way, that I’ve defined myself by.