In early 2021, I started a draft blog post for the end of the year, in which I’d note down all the culture that had come out during the past twelve months that stood out to me: films that I loved, TV series that surprised me, books that I hated so much that they somehow defined 2021 for me.
I started that draft, and then I never touched it again. And here we are.
When I was born, my mother and father were 33 and 28 respectively. In my earliest memories they are in their mid- or late 30s. By the time my personality started to become what I recognise, more or less, as the person I am now, they were approaching 60. As a child, I knew my parents as middle-aged people with middle-aged concerns. As a young adult, I saw them moving towards retirement age.
When my mother died, on this day twelve years ago, I was 34. Technically, I knew my mother when she was the age I am now, but I was a different person then. I don’t really know who she was at the time, what she felt. I know that she wasn’t particularly happy. I rarely knew her to be happy. I don’t know whether she was happy as a child.
Sometimes I feel I can barely say that I knew my mother.
The painter’s job is clear: she must paint a version of the young woman that her potential suitor in Milan will treat like the 18th century version of Tinder, except for ‘swipe right’, read ‘marry the young woman you have never met in person, and she doesn’t have a choice in the matter’. The painter’s job is less that of producing enduring art than it is to advertise a product to be sold: the young woman is a commodity and the painter is there to make her into the most alluring commodity possible. Except, in the process of observing the young woman, the painter begins to desire her. The young woman is no longer an object of art, she is the subject of the painter’s longing. But if the painter fails to complete the portrait that will lead to her losing the woman she has fallen for, someone else will be called in to paint the young woman instead. They will lose one another either way – but, in painting the young woman, she can show her for what she truly is. For the painter, loving her subject finally entails the act of relinquishing her.
And there goes another year and the ever more sci-fi sounding 2020 is just around the corner. We’ve had some good laughs, we cried, we watched the TV in terror, then disillusionment and then resignation, name-checking Kübler-Ross along the way – but that was just politics. In terms of media, 2019 hasn’t been a bad year at all, has it?