Monday, October 05, 2009


I wonder if my own desultory blogging is just a reflection of overwork & overcommitment, or somehow a symptom of the general online Zeitgeist. Facebook seems to have drawn off most of my "social networking" energies – that is, my impulses to post hasty updates about what I'm having for lunch, or whether I'm happy – and the micro-bursts of Twitter seem to enraptured any number of folks who've in the past devoted themselves to more lengthy ruminations. The upshot of it all for the denizen of this particular desk chair is that my energies seem even more scattered than usual, my attention-span shorter & shorter. I have to make a particular & sustained effort to bolt myself down to write a paragraph or two here, & the effort is commensurately greater for writing the half-dozen lengthy & serious pieces I've committed myself to over the next few months.

I worry of course about aging & the mind. Not a class meeting goes by these days but I have some fleeting attack of aphasia, inability to remember the word "commensurate" or "ambidextrous" or "syllabus." (My GP told me my vitamin B12 levels were a bit on the low side, by the way, so I've been trying to pop a supplement occasionally – or trying to remember to...) One of those milestone birthdays rolled around this past weekend, which brought it all home: I realized that only if I'm extremely lucky in the decades to come can I look back on this year as "nel mezzo" etc. I'm definitely on the downward slope.

What does that mean? If, as I think Hayden White argues, the essence of narrative lies in an act of retrospective judgment, then I suppose I'm worried about the final judgment on this particular life-story. What have I done? A handful of decent essays; an overlong & painfully mannered scholarly monograph, read with care by the 200 other people in the world interested in its subject; a not-bad literary biography, reviewed with enthusiasm in some quarters & vile disdain in at least one; a slim volume of poems, almost all of which I look back upon as sheerest juvenilia; a stack of newer poems – much better to my eyes, but still painfully limited – awaiting some seismic shift in my acedia for me to try hawking them about to a publisher.

A fire, I fear, needs to be lit under me.
At any rate, in true bourgeois fashion let me turn away from such bleak ruminations & focus on what in our late capitalist society really makes life worthwhile – consumption: the stuff I got for my birthday! The Library of America Elizabeth Bishop was a welcome addition to the collection, as was the DVD of John Adams's Doctor Atomic. And I was much moved to look over the new Bloodaxe edition of Bunting's Briggflatts, a poem which has rarely been out of my mind over the last two decades. This edition is just plain splendid, luminous, with lots of photos, introductions & afterwords by both Bunting & his editors, a fascinating note on the poem's textual state & composition by Don Share, & best of all, both a CD of BB reading the poem and the DVD of a very fine 37-minute documentary produced by Peter Bell in 1982, two years before Bunting's death. The poet is old, halt, & ruminative, but his voice is as rich & sharp as ever.

Best of all, perhaps – in terms of literal consumption, & in terms of eco-consciousness – was the seltzer maker from the SodaStream folks. Now as a true son of the South, my beverage of choice has always been iced tea: "unsweet" tea, as opposed to the sweet variety. (Yes, Yankee illiterates, that's "unsweet," not "unsweetened.") But at the time of my 2-years'-past kidney stone bout, my urologist, as he told me to radically up my fluid intake, also warned me off tea & coffee – not the caffeine, but the vegetable solids, which he said had been shown to lead to stone formation.

Well, I can't do anything about the coffee: like many of my other vices, it's simply a physiological necessity. But the tea was entirely replaced with seltzer. Soon enough, Daphne decided that she too likes "fizzy water," & we have gotten to the point of going thru maybe 3 gallons of the stuff a week, which means shlepping a lot of two-liter bottles from the grocery, & throwing a lot of them out in the recycling. The SodaStream setup – which isn't particularly cheap, tho I suspect it'll pay for itself sooner rather than later – changes all that. More or less instant seltzer, direct from tap water (or from the Brita bottle).

Oh yes, & in a rare venture to the only decent 2nd-hand bookstore in South Florida outside of the excellent Bookwise in Boca, I found a copy of the rare & elusive The Studio, a 1979 paperback introducing the "fine art" (ie, non comic book art) work of Jeffrey Jones, Barry Windsor-Smith, William Michael Kaluta, & Bernie Wrightson. Seriously good stuff.
Update: Today's letter carrier brought in the last few outriders among promised gifts: the Library of America Hart Crane; Ian Brinton's collection of essays, A Manner of Utterance: The Poetry of J. H. Prynne (this one I'll have to put on a high shelf & promise myself as a reward for finishing the stack of papers due in tomorrow); & a shiny new release from Verso, Gopal Balakrishnan's Antagonistics: Capitalism and Power in an Age of War. (Did I briefly, distantly, know GB back in the day at Cornell?)


Sisyphus said...

Happy Birthday!!!!

Su said...

Happy (belated) birthday!

When I told my doctor that I drank almost a gallon of ice tea (unsweet) every day, she said, "Stop that." I still drink tea, but now I am supplementing with water.

Alan Golding said...

Happy birthday, fellow Libran. Mine was Oct. 4. What a literate birthday you had--Elizabeth Bishop, no less! But you especially will appreciate what I got for myself: the new Richard Thompson boxed set. That and a kickass Howlin' Wolf CD, some Hank Lazer and Kit Robinson, and some embarrassingly juvenile t-shirts from the R & R Hall of Fame. No, smartass, that's Rock & Roll.