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?)