Summer Vacation Day 4
Be aware. This is my semi-annual ‘nerdy’ post.
Halfway through beach week, I am at a zenith of both nostalgia and melancholy. Are these inevitable by products of the beach for everyone, or is it just me? Perhaps one contributing factor is that our vacations with my in-laws are at the same beach where I vacationed several times as a teen. My family wasn’t much of a beach family, so I usually accompanied a friend and we spent the week preening, taking long walks on the beach, and scouting for boys. Even though my beach vacations now have practically nothing in common with those from (oh let it not be almost 20 years ago!) my teen years, for some reason, be it the leisure or the location, I often end up wallowing in nostalgia, thinking of that teen girl, desperate for a tan or a boyfriend, both of which seemed ever elusive.
The blessed irony is that, though my husband’s family has also come here since he was a teen as well, we never met. Nothing could make me more thankful than the fact that J has no memory of such a wildly insecure and annoying girl, prancing repeatedly in front of him, flipping her hair and laughing affectedly. We would not have liked each other then. Actually, perhaps he did see me and ran the other direction (or was forced to look away because he was blinded by the whiteness of my pastey bright skin.)
But back to the present day, I just returned from a sunset bike ride by myself, hearing the purr of the tires on the sand and the intermittent hip-hop music coming from the SUV of a teen on the prowl. Summertime, beach memories, and a little wistfulness have blended to create the blogging cocktail that I know my Low Ryder readers really appreciate: literary analysis. I won’t force you to stress your brain too much, but I would like to answer a question posed by one of the great characters of poetry, J Alfred Prufrock. “Do I dare to eat a peach?”
(Some of you may be new to The Low Ryder; therefore, you highly doubt that I can maintain your interest while analyzing any poetry, much less Eliot and his discussion of a paralyzingly self-conscious middle aged man. Moreover, you suspect that the thread I will use to tie Prufrock to my teen summers at the beach is so thin as to break momentarily. I make no promises, but I say “Let us go then you and I” . . .)
Be prepared for an onslaught of allusions to Prufrock.
Back in the olden days, after I was a teenager, but before I was a blogger, I used to be a teacher. I taught Eliot’s poem “The Lovesong of J. Alfred Profrock,” to my 11th graders, but it was a challenge and I struggled to communicate its relevance to my high-school students. Despite the love of all things morbid and self-conscious, many teens don’t get how any middle aged man could be like them.
If you have not read this poem, of course, I recommend that you do and I have am including this link for your convenience.
But, to be brief, the poem is kind of an internal monologue between a man named Prufrock and his inner demons arguing whether “it would be worth it” for him to attempt to venture out into real society and, as he has many times before, try to find true love and connection or stay home texting and blogging his life away. (I made up the part about blogging and texting, but he is wondering if he can find genuine love even though he has repeately failed at it.) He ultimately despairs because he thinks everyone will be mean, critical, and excluding, so he gives up. It is heartwrenching. Plus it is full of beach imagery, so perhaps this is why it came up in my mental cocktail.
Well, (back to the olden days of Teacher-me) I finally figured out how to get my students to understand the poem. It came upon me once while I was eating a peach. See, near the end of the poem, just when he’s really drummed up the melancholy and has gotten his pity party quite going he says, “Do I dare to eat a peach?”
I’ll be honest. It seems out of place. But that’s Eliot and modernism for ya. For a while, I kind of avoided analyzing the phrase with my students because I worried it was some kind of sexual innuendo that teen kids would not be able to handle. Which, maybe it is that too, but, have you ever just eaten a really ripe peach in front of someone? It is embarrassing. It is juicy and dripply and slurpy and slightly gross.
If it had been peach season, which it never is during the school year, I would have taken ripe peaches in for my whole class and made them eat them. I thought maybe getting them into the succulent, messy, sensual act of publicly slurping down a peach might dive them right into Profrock’s fears. But thankfully, it was enough just to ask them why Prufrock was hesitant to “dare to eat a peach.”
Long pause of course. (Of course, they dare not be wrong.) Eventually one brave soul ventured an answer. And then another. And then another wanted to talk about the part of the poem where a woman responds to Prufrock saying, “That is not what I meant at all. That is not it, at all.” Clearly, he misunderstood her and, in her response, she is giving him the brush off.
And voila. It all came clear. Suddenly, they all realized that, just like them, just like all of us, Prufrock is afraid to be perceived as a fool, afraid to be misunderstood, unliked, and undesired. The whole poem began to click and even started to relate. All because of the peach.
(I have to stop and apologize for reliving my glory days of teaching in blog form. Perhaps you will forgive me if you a.)have learned one new thing about Prufrock or b.) are just relieved that I’m not reliving the glory days of couponing.)
WHAT, pray tell, does this have to do with teenage me, the beach, or, for crying out loud, PEACHES?!?
Well, aren’t we all just a bit afraid to eat a peach? (metaphorically) My problem now, biking down the beach, paranoid about my tanlessness, is not dissimilar from the paranoia that propelled me to boy-crazy frenzy when I was a teenager. (Though tonight, I sprinted out of the house the moment the kids were in bed and realized too late that I had multiple food stains on my tank whereas, as a teen, hours would have been spent achieving just the right blend of perfect-grunge-I-did-not-try-to-look-this-awesome-I-just-do-naturally.)
Yes. I will answer for you. Yes, you are afraid to eat a peach. But you shouldn’t be. In fact, in the past few years, reflecting upon this poem and my love of peaches, I have made it a point to eat a lot of peaches whenever they are in season. I also make it a point to eat them whole, not cutting them or skinning them. That would just ruin the experience and take away the thrill of delicious bravery that I experience, slurping peach nectar in the face of self-consciousness.
Tonight, I will stand on the end of the dock and eat my peach and wait for mermaids to come sing to me. And if they don’t, I will know it is simply because they are too intimidated by me and my peach eating and my poetry analysis.