Our life is an apprenticeship to the truth, that around every circle another can be drawn; that there is no end in nature, but every end is a beginning.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Literally Perfect

Because of some sports event in the city, my schools were called off for the afternoon. So, after a fantastic lunch at the restaurant just down the road, I was dropped at my house. One PM. No plans or obligations until Monday morning 8:30 AM, when Snooker would be rolling up on his green and white Honda Wave. I could go for a bike ride or not. I could take a nap or not. I could crack my bottle of Regency brandy and pull a Ray Milland or (mercifully) not. I could open my computer and have my attention get sucked in and fragmented into the New York Times or IMDB or Facebook or the Bangkok Post. I could be ambitious and lesson plan for next week. I could jump on a saawng tao and go meet with Rita and Heata and Jes in the city. I could work out. I could veg out. I could be as industrious and creative, or as lazy and unimaginative as I liked. My choices were, naturally, limited by my pocketbook and my location. I couldn't go skiing as my son Conor did with his school snow day today in Maine. No reason to focus on what I could not do or what I lacked however. I snapped (can one really "snap" a digital photo? Is there a suitably modern word to go with the mechanics of the digital process? Eric?) the photo above seconds ago. I am still in shorts minus a shirt (don't worry ladies, no self portraits will be included). A light breeze blows through the house, keeping it somewhere just about 75 degrees. Humidity is hovering around 44 percent. Tonight will reach somewhere around 55 degrees. The highway construction in front of my house is finally finished, and the pyromaniacs formerly in charge of scheduling daily operations have apparently retreated to other locations or found new fetishes. Perfection.

How churlish it would be to spend even a lightning flash of a moment considering what I did not have or could not do. I didn't.  As I shed my school clothes and settled into the stretch ahead, I tried to remember just how long it had been since I experienced a similar set of circumstances; I guess it would have to be in 1984 when I lived in a small village in Southern France, I a freshly minted college graduate with a degree in English, cocksure, in love with language and fiction, sure I would, at any moment, be swept up and carried on some artistic, historic, relevant tidal wave. The world lay ahead of me at that point. When I wasn't chasing every female in sight, or drinking wine or coffee or smoking Drum cigarettes, or working with the ladies in the kitchen, I was reading. I was reading Henry Miller or the Marquis de Sade (who was exiled to the chateau at the top of our village), I was reading Vonnegut and Petrarch (who wrote his sonnets to Laura nearby). Books were my guide and my shield. Naturally books bled into the wine drinking and coffee drinking and cigarette smoking time as well.  I dreamed of the literary life- in my fantasy our lives would evolve into a page straight out of The Sun Also Rises. There truly existed in Lacoste a sort of fictional sweetness and Mediterranean light that shone down on us all in those ancient stone houses and cafes, some of which witnessed the Romans marching through 2000 years prior. Coincidentally, one of the songs I was most attached to on the French jukeboxes in 1984 was U2's New Years Day; now I read Bono's pieces on the New York Times and I am, as I write this, listening to him sing Beautiful Day. He still gives my heart a lift, his hippie shoulder to the wheel of fixing the world. This time around my solitary hours are different of course. How could they not be? Delightful in a different sort of way- a less fretful sense I might be missing something exciting happening somewhere else, that I might miss the wave. As I have found more open hours, the deep pleasure of fiction has sprouted once more. Perhaps it was teaching in the States, where so rarely does a work of deep and truthful literature reach its intended target. My new gig puts my focus on grammar, vocabulary, and the mouth and tongue motions necessary to produce our word sounds (English! That most unsteady and duplicitous mistress!) and heightens my daily awareness of the strange little inflections necessary to produce meaning; or else it was just the effects of keeping up with an ordinary life of bills and commitments (and that empty expanse of time is so crucial to the process, and so diminished in distracted modern life- when I was a teenager ALL my friends- jock and nerd, bright and dim- read Lord of the Rings in its entirety- we did because we were bored!). Whatever the cause, of late, reading fiction had not been what it was and could be. In this slow and "unimportant" place, reading has made good on its promise I'll be back. The afternoon, or at least 5 hours of it, disappeared into the new novel I picked up at the "World Teach Library",  Roberto Bolano's 893 page tome, 2666.
Dear me. A bona fide literary novel endorsed by the likes of Jonathan Letham and the National Book Critics Circle. Mentioned in the same breath as Gaddis and Pynchon and Marquez, and even Musil and Proust. I had never heard of the Chilean author; I gravitated towards Rushdie's  rock-the-world first  novel, Midnight's Children, but the copy was falling apart so badly I balked at having to keep the loose pages in order, and at the thought some might go missing. 2666 entranced from the first pages. The neighbors no doubt heard me laughing out loud at Bolano's audaciousness and acrobatic daring. Like the perfect Puccini aria, sections of writing stun. How can I be pulled into such intimacy so quickly? How can he toy with character and grammar so lightly and so effectively? How does he regulate the plot so expertly, choreographing such an airy dance between my expectations and his imaginary world? There is the world of dreams, a place we go into each night where boundaries disappear and the world is both absolutely believable and absolutely magical and irrational. And true to South American form, Bolano can make the incredible terrifically credible. Like dreams, a story can do something no video game or movie will be able to- at least if all the pyrotechnics of Inception are any indication, or the 500 million dollar 3D James Cameron spectacle. Sure they were fine, but I wouldn't put up either against the experience of an ordinary dream or a well told/written story. The other night, my good friend Nok, who has worked in the medical field for many years, told me of her encounters with unsettled spirits. In just a few simple stories, told in halting English, taking place in ambulances with dead bodies, in the empty hospital corridors late at night, she created a universe with its own laws and precepts. So it is with fiction, and again I have the time to explore within them. These parallel universes, some so beautiful and genuine, reflect light into my own. If I was a naturalist, like my old friend Sherry, I would be out in the rice paddies finding bugs, enlarging my world view. If  I was a painter like Monica or Chris, I would be translating this light and these sights into a kind of understanding. For myself, I am back with books, curious as to who left Bolano for me to find on the shelf. Was it destiny? Was it my predecessor Valerie? Mysteries and coincidences. Fortunately, when looking for the shape and meaning of these real and imagined worlds get very tough, and I must beat on, against the current but I want to remain fresh, I have my Clear Ocean Gatsby Double Protection.


  1. Haha, do you mean to say that this deodorant magnifies and idealizes the idea of body odor when you haven't worn it for a long time? Oh, and then when you put it on it totally DEMOLISHES any smell whatsoever-- that is until it realizes that odor isn't really all it was cracked up to be and it gets depressed and you cant wear it again for a ew years?

  2. I have long admired folks who can achieve a symbiotic relationship within reading. Yes, there have been episodes of envy, but for the most part I have come to accept there is a certain value to the narcoleptic effects of me picking up a book.

    I sometimes wonder why I enjoy writing and editing.

    Maybe it is a way of keeping a toe in the pool of hope. Hope that someday my eyelids will remain taut long enough to get to that reader’s high you so well articulated.