May 25, 2010

Diaristic Wanderings

Nature abhors a vacuum (as do I when it comes to house-cleaning), so I'll post what follows despite its self-indulgent nature. My excuse is that fellow blogger Dylan has had computer problems for the past week and thus posting to our shared private blog has become a de facto journal entry from an audience point-of-view.

Yesterday was Hilton Head-type weather, the real deal, 80+ degrees with some staying power. Even at 6pm it was toasty enough that I was still seeking umbrella ministrations. The sun had some serious giddy-up and if the other day felt like the first day of June, this felt July-ish.

Having gone to Mass on Saturday I was free to "move about the cabin" all day Sunday, and so I started it with a bit of reading on the back patio, followed by a hike & bike ride to & from the bike path. Read a snippet of "Reading & Writing" by Michael Chabon. Then in the slanting rays of the bookroom I hit the crack-cocaine that is Twitter, which is addicting in part simply because I'm ever seeking the perfect "line-up" to follow, which means looking through the line-ups of those I follow in order to recruit fresh talent. It's my own sort of fantasy league. And I was pleased to see Betty Duffy join the fray if only to express puzzlement over what the fuss is all about.

I remember when I was a kid observing in the book of Acts how the Holy Spirit completely changed the apostles from cowardice to martyrs, and I recall thinking how "it's too bad we don't have the Holy Spirit now like they did then," but that presumes that God is holding back on us, that He doesn't want to give us the really good gift.

But Scripture tells us that if men give their children good things, how much more will our Heavenly Father give us his good Spirit. A fine rebuttal to what the devil whispers to me. And it's been said that God gives those sorts of experiences to those who become martyrs so be careful what you wish for.

Alcohol is made for older people the way sunshine and horseshoes are. It perfectly diagnoses the problem with middle age and beyond, that of boredom and routine, and temporarily alleviates it. It's not made for the young, who have enough excitement in the rush of new friends, new experiences, new feelings. And yet I'm so conservative by temperament that I looked at alcohol as a nouveau remedy of dubious progeny. I looked at alcohol as an unwelcome innovation when it's as old as civilized man (although not always a civilizing influence) and has certain aesthetic qualities. To my 19-year old self, alcohol just got in the way of study and indeed I suspect that's the reason Steven Riddle is a teetotaler. My first reaction to beer was sheer amazement that someone might be drinking it on a Wednesday evening on the Oxford campus. It was impossible that students of such imagined quality and rectitude could drink a beer in the daylight weekday hours. I was so incredibly naive thinking that I was in a land of gentleman scholars, of would-be Thomas Jeffersons (notwithstanding Jefferson's fondness for wine) when, truth be told, there were not a few Jim Belushis.

Two things surprised me about the "real world" of college and work. One was that in college, most didn't work too hard. And the second was that in workaday world, most didn't work too hard. Although I understand better now that one has to pace oneself and you simply can't push yourself for too hard for too long without the train breaking down. Or perhaps that's my own laziness and lack of ambition talking.

I always romantically overestimated my own intelligence in part because my mom overestimated it and in part because I was always on the outer suburbs of genuine talent without ever quite getting reaching the city. I read our local sports columnist and think, "wow. There's a reason he's a professional." Or I hear the SAT scores of a sportswriter, significantly higher than my own, and I think "well maybe I haven't underachieved."

More important than achievement for achievement's sake is what one achieves, and I've always been suspicious of the value of entertainment.

Michael Chabon wrote in Reading and Writing Along the Borderlands:
"Entertainment has a bad name. Serious people learn to mistrust and even to revile it. The word wears spandex, pasties, a leisure suit studded with blinking lights...Intelligent peole must keep a certain distance from its productions. They must handle things that entertain with gloves of irony and postmodern tongs...It's partly the doubtfulness of pleasure that taints the name of entertainment. Pleasure is unreliable and transient. Pleasure is Lucy with the football. Pleasure is easily synthesized, mass-produced, individually wrapped. Its benefits do not endure, and so we come to mistrust them, or our taste for them.

"Yet entertainment - as I define it, pleasure and all - remains the only sure means we have of bridging, or at least feeling as if we have bridged, the gulf of consciousness that separates us from everybody else."
Many writers successfully write potboilers or sports columns, but I've always been too dismissive of the value of those genres. Prententious no doubt, but it has its claims. For a good part of my 20s I thought the only good literature was "good literature" despite the fact that the number of novels I honestly appreciated was slim. I enjoyed a few of Updike's if mostly for prurient reasons. Other particularly memorable novels included Dickens's "Great Expectations" and "David Copperfield" and McInerney's "Bright Lights, Big City". The problem with my goal to write the Great American Novel is that I didn't much like novels and never wrote fiction. *grin* I liked novels mainly derivatively, that is by the esteem with which those writings were held. I glommed on early to the fact that there were fiction writers and non-fiction and fiction writers were the glamorous.

On the other hand, there's no question I was a dreamer and novels are a kind of dream. My appreciation for lyricism and melody over plot and lyric suggests a variety of novelistic purity. I was never dumb enough in math to forsake it, especially given how much more lucrative it is. Math majors do better than English majors 80% of the time and my conservative temperament led me to always play the odds. I still have to laugh over the line Fr. Neuhaus had about someone so disliking of change that they "complained on the second day of creation."


BettyDuffy said...

Enjoyed this.

TS said...

Thanks BD!