Mr. Frost relates that “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall” and the contrary opinion, “Good fences make good neighbors,” in his poem Mending Wall— it seems to be frost heaves and winter and gravity, the upheavals of winter, weather and cows. He talks not of insidious creepers like ivy or bittersweet vine that grows thick and wild in the wood and with its gorgeous color and taproots digs into stone and cement and tears things apart, instead talks about things seen such as Hunters and unseen like Elves that his more practical neighbor is unlikely to humor.
The poem, on its face, is about their once-a-year meeting and mending of stones that have fallen over the winter from sources known and unknown, how they nearly need magic and have to work hard and closely together to get it all balanced between them again. Frost’s character wonders at the old-fashioned stolidness of his neighbor–
There where it is we do not need the wall:
He is all pine and I am apple orchard.
My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.
He only says, ‘Good fences make good neighbors’.
Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That wants it down.’
before his final reflection:
He moves in darkness as it seems to me~
Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
He will not go behind his father’s saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, “Good fences make good neighbors.”
I used to agree with Frost’s mischief, because wouldn’t you want to be open to people, as open as possible? Now I think more like the neighbor– ironic in a woman who keeps a blog and bares large parts of her life open to stranger as the only real means she has of real self-reflection. And yet. There are things I don’t share, and boundaries I am trying to repair.
I’ve been thinking about energy conservation and boundaries and walls of the personal type, namely those of time spent with family and friends. How much is enough? How much becomes too much? I have always been a person who lives too much in my head, and clearly too much introspection is quite bad for me, but at the same time, I have a tendency to be socially anxious and awkward (when I’m not being hypomanic and therefore incredibly funny and witty and charming and ON, which in itself is a bit of an identity crisis, because I know it’s not my default state, so hey, yeah, no, I’m not really that funny all of the time.) I’ve been feeling much better from my most recent crash and resurgence, but working retail’s exhausting and I’m often subverbal when I come home at the end of the day and I don’t always have two days off in a row. It leaves me one day to myself, often taken up with errands and doctor’s appointments. Spend it with friends? Or take that time to myself?
And if I spend it with friends? I feel guilty, only seeing them for two or three hours, but still– I get tired. Overstimulated, exhausted and all-of-a-sudden-bratty-short-tempered even when I’m with just one person, because it’s a lot of focus to pay all that attention to someone else still at this time– and the fact is, I’m still not quite myself. I’m still rebuilding all my social muscles. It’s good to get out, to see people, to get re-acquainted, to re-make connections, to decide even whether to keep them, because people do change and goodness knows that I am changing each day, but still– I am trying to be careful, to balance those stones on the wall so they don’t fall immediately over.
So yes– there is something in me that doesn’t love a wall, because part of me would love to have all the energy in the world to spend all day with you and more, to laugh and hang out and chat and do whatever you want– but part of me still needs to wall myself in, wall out all your well-meaning questions and needs, because, well– I’m still tired and fragile and I am not yet ready for a whole day of walking the property lines, talking of hunters and elves and agreeing with you that yes, there is nothing there to take offence at, and if even you did have cows, they could roam at will.
Everyday truth, though, is never so simple, and that bittersweet vine is a pain to pull out if your wall’s not carefully tended– even if it is pretty to contemplate as you sit all alone in your hut in the fall, watching it blossom and grow. Leaving it there all on its own ’til the spring will only bring trouble.
Unrelated and yet not: This article in yesterday’s NYT about censoring your own life online.