“. . . if my bubbles be too small for you, Blow bigger then your own. . . “

`bubblesYesterday’s newscasts included notice that the novelist Gabriel Garcia Marquez had died. He was 87.

He was but 18 years older than I. That’s on my mind because I’ve been talking to advisers about how to use the pittance I have put away for retirement, and I hope that, if I live to be 87, my money doesn’t end before I do. I’m sure his didn’t.

I distinctly remember Dean Anne Minton of Bunker Hill Community College telling me I MUST read Marquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera. I tried. The closest I ever came to finishing it was meeting Edith Grossman, the translator, at the Center for Translation Studies at the University of Texas at Dallas a couple of years later when I was a graduate student there and took a course in translation

The copy I tried to read disappeared from my library at the great book giveaway I had a couple of years ago. As a faculty member at SMU, I can get an online copy. I will see if I can finish reading it.

This has been a week of much contemplation of what my life might have been. So many accomplishments such as reading Love in the Time of Cholera have simply slipped through my fingers that I am grieved by what I have not done. I know, I know, everyone my age experiences that discomfiture. If one does not have regrets, one is probably living in some sort of la-la-land.

I am not a concert organist (although I have given concerts), I have not written the great American novel (although I have two unfinished on 3 ½ inch floppy disks I can’t open), I am not a poet (although there’s plenty of what might be some stretch of imagination be called poetry on this computer), I am retiring not from a full professorship but from a 15-year fulltime lectureship, and in these golden years I am going to have to go looking for the gold to support myself..

There’s a whole lot of coulda shoulda woulda mighta in my life. Of course, if I had the ability to do any of those things, I probably would have, so I have no need to complain. I simply don’t have the brains or talent to have accomplished any more than I have.`love in the time of cholera

That’s not true. I’m pretty sure. Or is it? I’m confused. I’m unsure. I don’t know. My scores on the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills and the SAT and the GRE all indicated that I would be more than marginally successful. I do have a PhD after all (proof of only one thing—the ability and willingness to jump through more hoops than the average citizen).

It’s no secret—or great discovery on my part—that hardly anyone who is 69 has no regrets. For example, I assume what is intended when PBS announces at the end of programs supported by the Carnegie Foundation, established by Andre Carnegie to do “real and permanent good,” that we’re supposed to think, “Isn’t that wonderful. He used all of his money to do Good and he can’t have any regrets.” It’s easy to give all of your money to do Good. Even you and I can do that with our pittances. His money is doing Good because in life he was a ruthless “robber baron” bastard for whom we should have little respect. Carnegie was able to assuage his conscience from “regrets” by thinking at the time of his death that his “Good” would live after him. I don’t mean that to be harshly judgmental, but a morality tale.

I’ve known a few people who lived to be 69 or 70 who seemed to have no regrets. I’m not going to make a catalog of them here. They were (are) all people for whom I have the highest regard, not for what they have done, but, more often, for what they have not done.

They are people who have managed not “To praise the very thing that [they deplore]” (E.A. Robinson). I could write a sentimental tribute to poverty, obedience, love, kindness, and so on. But I don’t need to. Anyone who reads this can fill in those blanks.

I’m not even going to write a sermonette about humility and graciousness and caring-for-one’s-fellow-man. I don’t need to do that, either. Except for a few people who are so far gone in self-centeredness they hardly seem to live on the same planet as the rest of us, we all give lip service to the sentiment expressed in the Bible, “He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8, NRSV). Would anyone who reads anything I write say they are against justice, kindness, and humility? I don’t want to associate with such a person.

Real and Permanent Good?

Real and Permanent Good?

I don’t know what I might have done with my life if I had not been an active alcoholic until I was 46, or if I didn’t have lots of other quirky obsessions that take up my time. Or if I didn’t have two little oddities in the way my brain works (not my mind—it has many more than two). Or if I were not simply lazy at the core. That’s probably why I didn’t read Love in the Time of Cholera when Anne gave it to me. Pure laziness, or obsessing about some other dumb thing.

No one else I know will admit to me that they can simply sit for an hour and do nothing—not watch TV, not play electronic games, not read, not—not anything. I can. Because I’m lazy?

What those people whom I respect can (could) do was to do nothing creatively and with a purpose. Somehow those people have (or had) a quality of simply being.

I’m not even sure what I mean by that.

“Dear Friends,” by Edwin Arlington Robinson
Dear friends, reproach me not for what I do,
Nor counsel me, nor pity me; nor say
That I am wearing half my life away
For bubble-work that only fools pursue.
And if my bubbles be too small for you,
Blow bigger then your own: the games we play
To fill the frittered minutes of a day,
Good glasses are to read the spirit through.  

And whoso reads may get him some shrewd skill;
And some unprofitable scorn resign,
To praise the very thing that he deplores;
So, friends (dear friends), remember, if you will,
The shame I win for singing is all mine,
The gold I miss for dreaming is all yours.

My summer reading list –ADD YOURS, PLEASE!

girl_with_dragon_tattoo_bookAmazon Books has listed The Psychology of the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo: Understanding Lisbeth Salander and Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy, in which, apparently, “19 psychologists and psychiatrists attempt to do what even expert investigator Mikael Blomkvist could not: understand Lisbeth Salander.”

Any story, IMHO, that needs 19 psychologists and psychiatrists to understand it probably isn’t worth reading.  That does not include Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and the other two stories in the trilogy. Anyone who wants to bother finding out what 19 psychologists and psychiatrists have to say about Lisbeth Salander is welcome to waste her time, but it certainly is not necessary. I just finished the second book, The Girl Who Played with Fire.

Here’s what I (with an almost PhD in esthetic studies) have to say about the novels: they are great yarns! Steig Larsson did not bother with all the “literary” techniques, the niceties that make a “great novel” by the standards of academic literaturists (I can make up a word if I want to), but—my goodness!—he can tell a story. I am grateful to Larsson, may he rest in peace, for helping me find out once again how much fun it can be to read a novel.

For the last ten or so years, I have not been able to read novels because I haven’t been able to concentrate long enough to get through one. And now I’ve read all but the last 15 pages of two and will begin the third in the trilogy, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest today.  I’ve been told by more than one friend that it’s not as good as the first two of the trilogy, but I was told that about the second compared with the first—and I’ve found it not true. But what do I know.  (There are other reasons for my inability to read—a problem with sleep, for one. I won’t go into those little issues here.)

So I fully expect to keep reading for fun this summer. The 19 psychiatrists can spoil their own fun if they want to, but they are not going to spoil mine.

I know when my ability to read a novel ended: in 1999 when the members of my (second, never-to-be-finished) PhD committee gave me a list of about 30 novels I needed to read (in one summer) in order to take my qualifying exams. I read them. I passed the exams. And I quit the program.

In 1985 I taught a course in World Literature at Salem State College in Massachusetts. It was pretty strange, I will admit. I was an adjunct music teacher drafted to teach Freshman English because that department was desperate and they read my in-progress dissertation and decided I wrote well enough to teach writing (!?!). Then they decided I could teach World Literature (on what basis, I do not know).  I’d say I didn’t “teach” the students much. Together we read a Greek tragedy, Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler, some short stories by Flannery O’Connor, E.M. Forster’s Howard’s End, and Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot. Not a bad list. If I were to teach such a course now, at least some of the stuff by dead white men would be replaced.

He dared to write "epilepsy"

He dared to write “epilepsy”

I have read much of the “standard” literature – you know, the “Canon.”  But my reading for the last ten years or so has been mostly non-fiction, mostly academic articles, mostly really boring (if not irrelevant) attempts by scholars to understand/explain this-that-or-the-other.

So thanks to Steig Larsson, my summer reading list is taking shape.

  • It will begin with The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest.

I already have on my Nook/Kindle/iPad:

  • William Gibson’s Neuromancer (I’ve never read it),
  • Gloria Naylor’s The Women of Brewster Place,
  • Louise Erdrich’s The Master Butchers (which I’ve started twice but not finished), and
  • Walker Percy’s The Moviegoer.

I also have a paper copy of

  • the recent translation of The Idiot, by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky which is authentic enough to translate the word “epilepsy” as “epilepsy” instead of the vague, meaningless words that translators have always used.

I may even add more murder mysteries if I can find some good ones.

I’d like to know what other folks are reading these days.

My first summer reading venue

My first summer reading venue

PLEASE!  LEAVE A COMMENT WITH YOUR SUMMER READING LIST.

Note: If you listen to NPR or PBS, you’ve no doubt heard they are supported by the Carnegie Foundation, endowed by Andrew Carnegie “to do real and permanent good.” The Scottsbluff, NE, public library (left) is one of many the Carnegie Foundation built across the country,