Elizabeth II, at Manteo, NC, on Roanoke Island.
I don’t know how I suddenly started updating again. Does that mean that I am not working on my other projects? Probably. There is not enough time in the world to negotiate priorities versus necessities, unfortunately. Hopefully this will become a pattern, but not at expense of my classes or fiction.
The title of this post comes from the song “Pompeii,” by Bastille, a song that has for the past three days set up camp right in the middle of my consciousness. The full quote goes as such:
But if you close your eyes,
does it almost feel like
nothing changed at all?
And if you close your eyes,
does it almost feel like
you’ve been here before?
The song describes the destruction of Pompeii from the point of view of its residents, who live in luxury until they are consumed by ash and preserved by it even as they are destroyed. There is a sense of tragedy and inevitability to it, even though the music itself, setting the lyrics aside, is almost uplifting. (The album is excellent, by the way. Intelligent pop music littered with mythology, both the kind from antiquity and our more contemporary pop culture mythos.)
I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, how the world seems almost hollow, like the universe is a great set of lungs that we, frantic air molecules that we are, rush to fill. Some days, like the one on which I took the picture above, seem so full that I don’t even notice it, content to experience everything around and inside me. On others, like today, those experiences echo, like distant footsteps in a desolate hallway.
It’s like this: My family vacationed in the Outer Banks two weeks ago. It is sort of a family tradition, broken for two years by employment difficulties. This year we brought my uncle with us, and he had never been there before. We decided to bring him to Manteo, to see the living museum (actors in period costumes, demonstrations, learning activities) and the town, which is full of things like art studios and antique shops. The day before we attended, I was describing what was actually there. Manteo is on the island of Roanoke, where the original “lost” colony was. I mentioned as interesting trivia a theory that the colony was never really lost in any sinister way, despite the romanticization it receives, but that generations later, there were written English accounts of members of the local Croaton tribe with recessive traits that would not have occurred had there not been intermarriage with white people. He kind of stared at me, so, fishing around for recessive traits likely to draw attention to mixed ancestry, I said, “uh, you know, like, blue or grey eyes? blonde? red hair? That kind of thing.”
This visual caught like a brush fire. His eyes bright, he immediately exclaimed, “Red-headed indians!” and for the rest of the week, he didn’t stop talking about it. “Is this where the red-headed indians were?” And now, on a quiet, rainy Friday, it captures me as well. I can feel the shades of myself wandering through Manteo, crouching in a hut twisting fibers into twine and exploring modeled military encampments. And just as I did that day, I can feel the anonymous shades of the Roanoke colony, with an ocean and three years between them and necessary supplies and their homeland, caught between starvation and marriage into a new, foreign, and to them pagan way of life. I wonder if they left one by one or all at once, and who carved their destination into that tree? Did they expect anyone to follow? Living in Hatteras with the tribe, did they wonder about their town, their home, or did they abandon it wholeheartedly, throwing themselves into whatever new traditions and routines they found with their new family and friends?
In 2005, I visited Italy with my high school choir. On the second to last day of our trip, we stopped in Pompeii and toured. They have standing structures to explore, ruins in the ground, frames of homes that barely survived. And they have plaster casts of the hollows they found in excavation, where people had crouched together in corners, waiting to be buried in volcanic ash, clinging to their knees and one another. When you see it, they are impossible to imagine and yet so easy. They huddled together and waited for death with company, but when the inundation came they each, ultimately, were buried alone. The casts are all individuals, after all. Some of the homes were found with tables still set, abandoned in a rush in the middle of regular life. I wonder if their ghosts would fear death, if they inhabit the earth like how they died, or if they walk the preserved streets, sit down and finish abandoned dinners, go back to work or play, or if they crouch in that cave, entombed and afraid.
On empty days like this one, I always feel like the earth under me has this great weight of history. I imagine that all time exists at once, and that the same earth under me is being trod by hunters and colonists, that Manteo is still full of a new colony, still being abandoned by anonymous faces, that Pompeii is still a resort town for Romans, still living and marrying and socializing, even as they flee from the doom of everything they know, only to be excavated centuries later into a strange and new world. Maybe this is why I write. Maybe it’s the only way to cope with this feeling, the echoes and possibility of everything that happens.
For the curious, this is the song I was talking about: