When I was in my twenties and newly married, I moved to the mountains, to a little village called Albiez La Villette in the French Alps. My wife was the teacher there. It was a magical five years. It was the time in my life that defined who I am. I feel lost whenever I wander away from the person I became in that place – which is most of the time.
I realise that people don’t have fixed identities. We change throughout our lives. I do believe though, that some places and/or events can anchor us better to an idea of what we want to be. I suppose the idea of an English poet living in the mountains is grand. I used to walk the mountain paths pushing my baby daughter in an orange pram. I had long hair and a bushy beard. I must have looked like a domesticated yeti.
That seems like a long time ago. Life has been great since then so I don’t see those five years as some kind of golden age. I suffered a nervous breakdown while I was there. I’m not clinging to the past. I just like what I became in Albiez. I was a person who saw beauty and meaning in everything and every moment. All the poems I submitted to magazines during that period were rejected – I have a pile of rejection slips as a souvenir. But I wasn’t bothered. Writing what I felt and saw was more important than publication. Of course, I have always wanted to be read, all authors want to be read, that’s why they write.
I wrote my first novel in Albiez too. I still have it, in a drawer. It’s a pile of typed paper with faded notes scribbled everywhere and corrections stapled to the main storyline. It’s a mess. It’ll never be published because it’ll never work as a novel. The two main characters in the novel, Agnes and Tom also define who I am. They are a part of who I was. I believe that my current feelings of being out-of-place is due to a sense of being overwhelmed by human social stories. The power of the mountains reduces the significance of human narratives. Agnes knew this which is why she wanted to run away from the ‘voice of the city.’
Maybe what I’m saying in this short meditation on my life as a domesticated yeti, is that I’m not actually inspired by the ever-changing, ephemeral narratives of human society – I never have been. On the other hand, I am inspired by the awesomeness of nature. Living in the mountains felt natural to me, as if I belonged there. My poetry and novel recognised the humbled position of humankind against the immensity of the wonder of existence. We are very small creatures. Planes, ships, rockets, nuclear bombs and walking on the moon doesn’t make us any bigger, not if we forget that for millions of years, nature managed quite easily without us.
I discovered Chopin and Beethoven during my time in Albiez. Maybe human narrative ought to be in the form of music – without words. Not that words are bad (I’m a writer after all.) The dysfunction of any narrative is with the storyteller. This much I know.