Monday, August 22, 2011

Darling love, your Woodstock bird is always thinking, but do you really expect me to come up with a philosophical study of T. S. Eliot's Four Quartets? There was a time perhaps when I could have done just that, with great dedication. I was an English major in college - actually a double major, English & Philosophy. I took my academic studies very seriously and the coursework was very challenging. So many essays to write in a given week, since usually I took five courses per semester. Very hard to absorb works of literature in a hurry, and I was often frantic, deadline looming and me having barely started a paper. I was constantly pulling all-nighters, typing til dawn, trying to crunch out an essay. I'd put Brahms on my record player, light up a cigarette (after cigarette after cigarette, I'm afraid), pop open a Diet Coke, insert a sheet of blank paper in my Smith Corona. Was it a Selectric? I don't remember. I wasted so much paper. I was a perfectionist. I was partly in a panic all the time because I was quite capable of (and prone to) spending a couple of hours simply trying to hone the first sentence, and the initial paragraph of an essay. Consulting the text, trying to form words in my mind, typing them out letter by letter to see how they looked on the page, backspacing and hitting the white-out key to undo a typo, or to change a word, or whole phrase even, or go straight back to the beginning backspacing in white, undoing what I'd just written, then setting forth again, letter by letter, word by word. But then in the wee hours, after so much concentration on a text, and my thoughts about it, and finally having some aha! moments where opaque meanings suddenly became clear, I was capable of unleashing sentences in quicker smoother succession, a flow having gotten started. And I'd complete the thing, and retype it on fresh paper to make it perfect, and if afterward I had an additional insight or point to make or other emendation, I'd carefully, in ink, in my best handwriting, insert it into the text.

I think of all this now, because one paper I wrote was on Eliot's The Waste Land. My God I struggled to come to any understanding of that poem, as much as I loved it. And a breakthrough at the 11th hour (or beyond) finally came, and I submitted the paper at dawn (and possibly after having gotten an extension, though those were rare & hard to come by at my school, I tended to avoid going that route. A friend of mine, in some of the same courses as me, would request extension after extension, and still miss deadlines, and after a semester she had nothing but incompletes - what a nightmare. I, on the other hand, despite all anxiety and nerves and panic, would manage to squeak through what was required, and though I tended to write last minute - I seemed to need that concentrated effort to come up with anything at all - my efforts were always very conscientious, never slapdash, never at all.

I was far from a model student. I tended to skip class a lot, really, I was quite stupid & arrogant, and felt that my own insights into a text (once I was to arrive at my insights into a text) were far more significant than what a tweed-jacketed professor might have to offer from his ossified notes. I didn't skip every class, far from it - and with certain professors, I never missed a class, hung on his or her every word - but others - yawn, boredom, staring out the romantic casement windows onto foliage blazing in color outside, my stomach growling perhaps, more than ready to pick up my books and return to the dorm and stand on the lunch line and either eat in the airy, lightfilled dining hall, or take my lunch up to my aerie - then! - and take a nap, do some reading, stare with trepidation at a text, etc., etc.

I was a jerk with one professor in particular, who really bored me, and I didn't hesitate to show my completely stupid disdain. If I got overly restless, I'd simply walk out in the middle of a lecture, and it wasn't a large class. It was a fairly small intimate class of maybe twenty or twenty-five, as in an old-fashioned grade school. My leaving was rude & was noticed. Really - honestly, looking back - what was wrong with me? I regret that poor behavior now.

But as much as that professor's lectures bored me, or were at the wrong hour for me, or whatever my inane problem was, nevertheless I took the reading and essay assignments very seriously. So one week I was charged with reading and absorbing "The Waste Land," and was mystified and terrified, and pulled one of my all-nighters in which epiphanies about the poem came, and handed in the typewritten sheaf the following morning - I wouldn't be surprised if right at dawn, so that I could then return to my dorm room, crash to sleep finally, shades drawn, and sleep most of the day - including (reader, can you guess?) through that same professor's class. I was shameless.

But I remember showing up for class, perhaps on purpose, perhaps I knew that he would be handing back the essays. Which he distributed by hand to each young woman in the classroom. And I remember him walking past my desk with what I could see was my essay in his hand, heading to a young woman somewhere behind me - "what a wonderful essay..." And I said, wait a minute - that's mine. And he was so - am I making this up? I don't know now. I think he was a little pissed that this essay that he had loved - had turned out to written by rude trampy insubordinate punk me. His handwritten comments on the cover sheet read (and I paraphrase because I still have the paper, but I'm not about to go digging for it in my box just now) that it was the best in the class, that he wanted to put it up on the English Department bulletin board, and that it was a very original essay, which in his view was saying a lot because he thought it was very difficult to say anything new about it that hadn't been said a million times before. Probably his comment, in his erudite hand, was worded in tweedier cadences. But whatever. Oh yeah - he even wrote (speak memory!) - may I have a copy for the English Department bulletin board? And then wrote, possibly in a different color ink, signifying a future time - "never mind, I've already done so."

Ta da, sweetheart! And are you surprised now that I play violin for tossed coins at train stations for a living?

Love you, sweetheart - I am but a bird, but am a thinking bird


Dearest love, skimming my ancient paper - it's a wonder Professor didn't turn me into MH Services - okay, admittedly out of context, but "... Suidide [sic] requires a certain spiritual strength and vigor that is absent in the security of existence."

Footnote from the Future, 2111: There and then, Selectric-compatible correction tape was expensive. Forensic-literary scholars will doubtless observe that a 'c' typed over an imperfectly erased 'i' will look like a 'd.'

Belle (b. 1959 - ), "The Motif of Fear in 'The Waste Land,'" from concluding paragraph, c. 1980
Moments of fear and of surrender are but transient affirmations of life. We must, in order to continue, reaccommodate ourselves to a world that is perpetually "falling down falling down falling down." Religion, the "peace that passeth understanding" can serve as a formalized palliative that perhaps the pointlessness of existence too, paradoxically, is illusory."



Dear love, this post is so imperfect - though I try - but I'm not about to pull an allnighter over it, unless you, oh dearest love, have something else in mind

very many kisses

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