When I announced I was getting married, my friend’s mum said ‘I never thought you’d settle down’. That was over eight years ago, when I was 32. Three years later, when I announced I was pregnant, she said ‘Well you’ll have to settle down now’. How she must despair to see that I’m almost 41, with a husband, two children, no premanent job, and am farther away from ‘settling down’ than ever.
To settle down. What does it mean? To me (and I admit that these are my personal prejudices towards the phrase) it suggests the time has come to cast away adventure, novelty, the sowing of wild oats. It’s time to dig in, root down, become mature, take life seriously.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for setting down roots and at times I’m envious of people who are deeply rooted in one place, whose relationships revolve around one place, and who know that place as intimately as they know their own children. That’s what my anthropological research is all about – the deeply rooted embodied knowledge, relationships and identity of people in one town on the west coast of Hudson Bay. And it’s probably why I’m never more than a stone’s throw from my copy of Seamus Heaney’s collected poems.
I have sprung from deep roots in Ireland and those roots will always be part of what I am and what I will become. But I don’t want to settle down. I don’t want to set down roots of my own in a particular place. My friend Anna once suggested that I might have been disrespectful to a Gypsy in a past life and have been cursed to wander rootless in this life. I like that idea!
Refusing to settle down doesn’t mean I don’t take life seriously. I take life very seriously. I realise life is short and I’m privileged to be here. I’m privileged to have been born into a particular life that gave me opportunities to become the person I am today. Why would I throw all that away to settle down? I also take very seriously the two other lives that I am now responsible for. I spend a lot of time thinking about and developing the emotional, social and intellectual education of my daughters. I don’t take not settling down lightly.
I admit Julian and I are taking ‘not settling down’ to extremes, but other people refuse, in other ways, to grow ‘mature’ and sensible and act their age. In The Guardian last Saturday, columnist Oliver Burkeman wrote ‘Too much routine isn’t merely boring; it also contributes to the ubiquitous sense of the years whizzing by as you get older, because so little takes place that’s new and therefore memorable’ (http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/do-something-blog/2014/jan/11/do-something-manifesto-oliver-burkeman).
It doesn’t matter how old you are. You can reach the age of 20 or 40 or 70 and dig in, settle down, become sensible. Or you can refuse. And by refusing to act your age you live, you grow, you become more than you (or maybe anyone else) thought you could be. My friends’ cousin, Richard decided, at 28, that he had to devote his life to learning to salsa dance (there’s a link to his great blog The Dancing Irishman on my blogroll); at 39 my friend Angela began a university degree; at the same age my friend Gavin started trail running and has transformed his life. In her early 50s my mother went back to school and did her Leaving Cert. English. Last year, Sid, an 85-year old, took the same Creative Writing class as me, having decided to take up writing the year before. And last week, Joan Goodall, reader of my blog and mother of one of my great friends, told me that at 91 she learned to snowshoe.
I find such acts of life-affirming exuberance and rebellion against ‘acting your age’ inspirational. And to those who disapprove (they’re out there…I’ve met them), who equate maturity with losing your sense of humour, refusing to play, accepting boredom and passively watching the clock ticking by, I say ‘Grow up’!!