Friday, January 28, 2011
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.