Wednesday, October 03, 2007

dark alphabet

The weather, which has been horrendous for the last few days – torrential rains, kid-waking 3am thunderstorms – turned unexpected lovely today, just in time (as of twenty or thirty minutes ago) for me to face my least favorite of anniversaries: my birthday. My ophthalmologist used to tell me that I was his "pediatric patient," given the average 75+ age of his other clients; but there comes a time when only very old people still call you "young man,"and even then with a trace of irony.

I have not entered middle age gracefully, but kicking & screaming against the loss of a youth which was, in retrospect, not really wasted but enjoyed rather copiously. But more & more I hear "time's winged chariot" & all that. I find myself ruefully sympathizing with Woolf's otherwise maddening Mr Ramsay, who, if thought is like a piano keyboard divided into twenty-six alphabetical notes, has reached Q, & is somehow stuck there:
But after Q? What comes next? After Q there are a number of letters the last of which is scarcely visible to mortal eyes, but glimmers red in the distance. Z is only reached once by one man in a generation. Still, if he could reach R it would be something. Here at least was Q. He dug his heels in at Q. Q he was sure of. Q he could demonstrate. If Q then is Q – R – Here he knocked his pipe out, with two or three resonant taps on the handle of the urn, and proceeded. "Then R..." He braced himself. He clenched himself...R is then – what is R?

A shutter, like the leathern eyelid of a lizard, flickered over the intensity of his gaze and obscured the letter R. In that flash of darkness he heard people saying – he was a failure – that R was beyond him. He would never reach R. On to R, once more. R –
So better to leave behind the alphabet of thought, set aside the Phenomenology of Spirit for a day or two, & concentrate on what makes Mrs Ramsay & Mrs Dalloway happy: a successful dinner party. On the menu for this weekend: jasmine rice with saffron, a red lentil dal, palak paneer, and a brazenly spicy vindaloo, washed down with whatever potables the guests bring.
For the other Pete Cosey fans out there – watch yesterday's video, & tell me if the man isn't a deity! – there's a fascinating in-depth interview with public radio station KJZZ here. Well worth 45 minutes of your time.
And a shout out to my oldest friend Th., who has just celebrated his own only slightly less numerous birthday.


E. M. Selinger said...

Im kol zeh, Mark, Happy Birthday!

Close thy Hegel and open thy Bourbon, sez I. The meal sounds delightful, and I wish I could join you--but soon enough we'll get together and chase the middle-aged blues away properly.

Now go plunge right back into Mrs. Dalloway. You know how she loves that.


Josh said...

Wow--not only do I also often think about Mr. Ramsay's sad passage, but I myself just turned the page another year forward. Our birthdays are one day apart!

Do Libras have a special affinity for modernism, one wonders?

S.O.S. said...

Middle age? Oh, posh.
One of my favorite bday cards:
You'll never be as young as you are today.

Happy Birthday, and all that!

Brian said...

You share a birthday with my dad?

Anonymous said...

Though I was a "non-traditional" (read: old) student of yours at Our University, I can say without irony: Enjoy the dinner party, young man!

Ed said...




can Social Securuty be far behind? and that "lifesaving" Medicare?


Amy said...

If you can't reach R, at least go down growling! Happy Birthday!

Ed said...


didn't see/smell the
stuffed kishka (derma)
gadempta poet roast

the "secret" is beating into the brisket flour

befor searing the dead cow in a cast-iron fry pan

and OH, the smells!
I haven't had any meat now in past 12 years..

and, don't really miss it.. or the Holidaze.

Archambeau said...


You are so at R already. Maybe even S. I expect your next book to begin "If S then is S – T – then T...T is then..."

Now, to get back to my new book: "If B then is B..."


T.A. Noonan said...

A little slow on the reaction time on my end--but happy (belated) birthday, anyway.

Pam D. said...

Josh, Libras have a superior aesthetic sensibility in general. Happy belated birthday, professor.