Sunday, 18 January 2009


The other day I began thinking about life as a series of interludes, a clever metaphor I thought, something like chapters in a novel. Yes, that’s right. Each of us is our own novel. But hold on. Within minutes, I realized that I was using the term incorrectly.

In actual fact, (I thought, correcting myself), while our life is, let’s allow, like an historical novel, although without the excitement, drama, and, god willing, the dire events that make a novel a riveting runaway bestseller, it is more like a chronological sequence of causal events, many of which are continuous and sustained over a long period of time.

For example, “She was born, educated, got married, lived a married life, had children, raised them, come hell or high water or chicken pox, interspersed, (God knows where she found the time) with a career, grandchildren, retired to a nursing home with visits from offspring, and then she died.” That would be it, and not too much of an exciting “it” at that, if it were not for, you guessed, the interludes.

To assist in clarifying my own thinking, I checked out the definition of my new found word-friend. Here it is:
1 : a usually short simple play or dramatic entertainment
2 : an intervening or interruptive period, space, or event : interval
3 : a musical composition inserted between the parts of a longer composition, a drama, or a religious service

Exactly, I thought, this definition fits my theory perfectly. John Steinbeck’s strategy in his famous novel, Cannery Row, was not only poetic, but also psychological brilliant. While the novel meanders casually through the lives of Mack and the Boys and their relationships with various members of the Salinas Valley community, without anything meaningful really happening, it is the chapter interludes that give the poetry and substance to the novel. So too, I suggest, is the case with many lives.

Let’s take, for instance, the interlude of a holiday. Now that is basic, brief and sometimes forgettable, but it is often the event that a couple or a family will return to again and again, in conversation. Do they narrate the details of breakfast cereal options or the sequence of birthday parties beginning at the age of two? Or even the twelve to thirteen years of schooling prior to work or university. No, it is the intervals between the day-to-day of our lives that sometimes have the greatest impact upon us.

I am not talking about a spa interlude, or a visit to the acupuncturist. I am referring to interludes with heft, those that have an impact on our lives, that give the pauses, and the punctuation. Sometimes they define or change the ongoing chronology of events. At other times they may just be what the purity of the word suggests, an interval, like a dam in the middle of a stream. The water stops temporarily, the natural flow is suspended. But then the pressure of the original momentum itself, breaks through the temporary interruption, and the flow continues. Maybe it’s a protracted illness, a near-death experience, a love affair, a period of sadness, depression even.

A family member went through a heartbreaking event in her late forties, which lasted three years. She now refers to it as her “little set-back”. In fact, once she “emerged” from the noonday demon, as it is referred to, she proceeded to reinvent herself, and to resume the intended chronology of her life with greater vigour and success.

Set-back or set-forward, an interlude can be one or both or more. I took a sabbatical from my teaching career when I turned fifty, (my little version of a mid-life crisis), in order to fulfill a long-time dream to achieve a doctorate degree. It was an interlude that relocated me to another city and consumed me twelve hours a day, for two years. And when it was done, it was done. I was surprised at how relatively insignificant the whole achievement felt. Immediately after, I resumed my teaching career, and my community/home life, as if I had only been gone a weekend. While it is an interlude I recall with pride and pleasure, I think I got a greater rush the summer that I ran a mile, non-stop, down to the end of our country road, something that I had “trained” for all summer with my kids.

So while interludes can be private, individual, shared, painful, joyous, they are identifiable markers in the journey we call our life. Too often I think we look at our lives as a total panorama, full of anecdotes about Uncle Charlie, or the new bike. But for the most part, they become a merged blur.

Perhaps it is worthwhile, as the sunflowers are drying on their stalks, to take one apart, piece by piece and notice the intricacies, the subtleties, the wonder, reflect upon the stages of the journey that make up a single living organism. We might be surprised as to how many (or how few) are in need of discarding and which ones we want to save carefully for replanting in the spring.


The Elliptical Observer said...

As usual, your blog is thoughtful and thought provoking.

I especially like the metaphor of life as a sunflower, where each seed is an interlude, that, while part of a larger unity, is vibrant on its own, ever fertile.

Wisewebwoman said...

I wrote an article on something similar, several years ago Marylou. But more along the lines of the tiny things we remember rather than the great big showpieces (weddings, graduations).
You capture the interludes so perfectly.

Marylou said...

Thank you, WWW. Interesting that you should have written on a similar theme, and from a different approach. I have been thinking, since I posted this, about a number of "repetitions with variation" ...In fact I even discussed with my fellow writer/partner, how "Interludes" could easily become a title for a whole series of articles. So watch for "Interludes, Part Two" at some point.
It is lovely to know that someone else is reading this stuff, other than me and Dave and the dog...
xo, ML...
ps...Is your article somewhere on your blog archives? I would love to read it.

Starzz said...

Love your new pic Marylou.

and another great post..Interludes.
Just wonderful words to think about.


Darlene said...

You show great insight in your observation about interludes. I have never looked at my life that way and yet, after reading your post, I can see that it contained a series of interludes and they are the things I remember now.

Marylou, I have put your blog on my blog roll.

Marylou said...

Thank you, Darlene...I am delighted that the ideas resonated with you...You will notice that you have also become part of my blog list...looking forward to more shared "reflections".