Five decades ago:
I lived in my parents’ house. I had the little room that was once a sleeping porch. I slept with the big Teddy bear I got for my fifth (fourth? sixth?) birthday. At the end of July 1970, I was just over a month out from meeting a girl I shall call A, who was my best friend for the rest of grade school. I wanted to be a writer when I grew up. I liked climbing trees.
Four decades ago:
I lived in my parents’ house. I had a larger room at the back of the house. I slept with my cat, a grumpy orange tabby. Lady Maud was among my best friends, though I probably spent more time talking to another girl in our group, B. I was getting into cycling because my boyfriend was an avid cyclist. I was about a month out from starting college. I wanted to be an archeologist, and was planning a special major that I thought would prepare me for that career.
Three decades ago:
I lived in a studio apartment in Grad School Town, probably the nicest place I’d lived in my life up to that point: it was in the basement of a split-level house, so somewhat dark, but everything was in good repair, and there were nice built-in bookcases and desk that the landlord had built. I had great landlords. I slept with my tabby cat, who had been my boyfriend’s cat until I fed her for long enough, and sometimes with my boyfriend. I liked living alone, and had been doing it for a year, after the boyfriend and I decided not to live together any longer. In a month or so, I would meet two women, C and D, who would become close friends; for the moment, however, my best friends were still Lady Maud, Queen Joan, and Sir David (no point in disguising that name: 80% of the men of my generation are named David, Michael, or Eric/k). I wanted to be an English professor when I finished my graduate work. I hadn’t seen my parents for three years. I swam two or three miles a week in a campus pool, besides walking up and down hills a lot.
Two decades ago:
I lived in my third-floor walk-up condo, with windows on east, south and west giving floods of light, though it got very hot in summer. I slept with the same tabby cat, and sometimes with Sir John. In the summer we more often slept at his place, which had central air conditioning (and a different tabby cat). I spent a lot of time on the phone with C and D, junior professors at schools where they were not very happy. Both of them were ultimately to leave “the profession,” one pre- and one post-tenure. I liked living alone, but hoped to move in with Sir John full-time before too much longer. I was a recently-tenured English professor. Some health problems were interfering with research. I probably visited my parents (both of them) that summer, though I don’t recall exactly when. I swam a couple of miles a week at the YMCA, and also worked out on machines there.
A decade ago:
Sir John and I, now married, lived in our townhouse with five cats (the Shakespearean Heroine, the Scot, the Grammarian, the Tiny Cat [all now deceased], and a very young Basement Cat). I slept with Sir John and whatever cats wanted to join us; sometimes I woke up pinned between the Scot and the Shakespearean Heroine. D had just become an American citizen; the ceremony was one of the last times I would see her, and may be the last time I saw her on her (new) home ground. I had met E a couple of years previously, but we hadn’t yet embarked on the Huge Honking Translation project. I was still an associate professor, at the same school. I was getting back to research, feeling a bit anxious about my position in the field and my ability to work, but I had recently returned from a productive research trip to the UK. I’d also traveled to see my father that summer, my mother having died in the intervening decade. I swam and worked out at a fairly swanky gym.
I live in a split-level house in the suburbs, with three cats (it does remind me, pleasantly, of the house where my grad school apartment was). I sleep with Sir John and Basement Cat, who comes to bed with us so that Glendower can pick at his food overnight. A and I are intermittently back in touch; she teaches third grade in the town where we grew up. Occasionally I hear from C, who is working on yet another master’s degree. I long ago lost touch with B, while D and I deliberately parted company when we ceased to have many shared interests. I am a full professor. Some days, research still seems like a struggle, but I am considerably more confident in my ability to get back to it, and I have published a respectable amount in the past decade. At present a lot of my work time goes into preparing to teach online in the fall. I walk 2-3 miles every morning, and work out with light dumbbells at home; the local pools are closed because of COVID-19.
Looking back in these big swoops of time, it’s curious what shows up and what drops out. I can suppress the six years we spent in the house that was too big, too old, too much work. My entire undergraduate career drops out of the picture, as does my first rented apartment in TT-ville, perhaps appropriately as I tend to forget that I lived there. But all the cats of my life pop up. Day to day, and even year to year, I feel like my life doesn’t change much. I’ve had the same job for going on 30 years. I’ve been with Sir John for more than two decades. I’m something of an exercise addict.
In ten years’ time, though, things do change. At no point did I foresee a pandemic (so I think now: but C says I used to claim we were overdue for one), but twenty years ago I wouldn’t have predicted my 2010 life, either. I haven’t mentioned the people I work(ed) with; colleagues and office staff have changed, though I wouldn’t be able to pinpoint the year for most of them, without the diaries that are still in storage. But they do make a difference. Twenty years ago, my department was much heavier on older men than it is now, and I looked young enough that I had to put a lot of energy into establishing and maintaining my authority in the classroom. Now I can let my grey hair do a lot of the work for me.
Maybe I’ll do another look-back-the-decades in two or three or five years, and see whether looking at different points (college; a sabbatical year; living in the Too Old House) changes my perspective.
What was your life like, ten and twenty years ago? (Or more: I make no assumptions about my readers’ ages.)