When a graduate student nearby complained that he had to help out with the firewood, I laughed at him. I thought it might be the best study he had done all day. He was irate. Arguments about inspiration pour forth with such certitude on both sides that they tumble upon each other like distant echoes. Seems to me once upon a time I got a rise out of the unfairness I perceived knotted up in life. I remember a grandson did not qualify for pre-school because his family did not meet the financial requirement. They made too much money or too little, unclear to me which. But somebody somehow came to a more reasonable state of mind. Hard for me to tell what difference it made. There was a hubbub. The child seems to have trouble focusing, his pre-school teacher said, he is here, there and everywhere. His problem sounded only too close. I/O again. When is too little? When is too much? Was she criticizing? It seemed to me a strange criticism of a four year old boy.
What an ego I must have! An especially vivid dream can take up my day; the snow storm we are having in the foothills this day can amuse me for hours as I gaze out my window watching the snow swirl lovely, deadly white. A fresh brewed Starbucks dark made in my new coffee pump is a steaming friend. Shakespeare, James Joyce, Yeats? I would if I must, but I am no longer a student of them or anybody else. Oh, I am just watching the snow. I remember what I studied in school. Why would our teacher insist on the importance of a poem by Yeats? Were not there important economic phenomenon that should take up our thoughts day and night? There were the battles of history, the illusions of the lives of great men. They told me I should draw my inspiration from the 3rd century BC in Athens. Or I must walk in the footsteps of Descartes if I want to get anywhere. But at that time I was taking long walks on the back roads and in the big woods in Maine along the Canadian border. Everybody had advice. If you want to become a philosopher you must make the great philosophers of the past your home. But my ego would have its way. I made the big woods my home, whether it would make me a philosopher or not. Now I hear that if you want to become a great poet, you must make the great poets of the past your home. But my home is here in the foothills of Maine, and it is snowing out, and my coffee is strong and hot. The storm will pass tomorrow. The poems of Yeats will still be on my bookshelf to take or leave. Books will be always; this present Maine winter will not be again for some little while, I hope. Did you imagine my mother was a great philosopher? She advised: give until it hurts, and then give some more. Think about that for awhile, you fool, as the snow swirls beyond the window. She was nothing special. She loved her husband and her children and would rather die than part with them; she worked outside the house and she worked inside the house; she sewed, she cooked, she went to church on Sunday. Why should my inspiration not come as much from her as Joyce or Socrates?
My grandson's pre-school teacher said everything I needed to know. I think it wasn't a criticism as much as a simple statement of fact. He liked to play with the toys as much as he liked to draw as much as he liked to make paper mache models as much as he liked to find out what everybody else was doing as much as he liked to get into mischief. Oh my, says I, how will he get anyplace in this world? He must learn to add and subtract. What about a serviceable skill to make money with? I guess all that is necessary. I know intelligent people who absolutely insist on the straight and narrow. One becomes skilled at what one does by doing it. That means, apparently, that you don't do anything else. And since that is discipline, that is a virtue. When I asked my grandson what he wanted to DO, he gave me a funny, blank stare.
There is such a thing as trying too hard. How many good Christians have I known who think it is a waste of time to read anything but The Bible, and in so doing they get The Bible embarrassingly wrong because they have no thoughts to argue with in balance. Athletes are always warning against trying too hard. It leads to frustration, emotional malfunction. Lord knows, inspiration is rare enough that to limit one's outlook to such a point that there are hardly any directions for it to come from must lead to disaster. When a grown up my grandson had kids. They make him happy. I don't know what he will accomplish in his life. It hasn't come near to ending yet. I know that he will expend a good time with anybody. He will never mumble thee or thou very often or bow and bend a knee. He tends to cling to the straight and narrow for his children's sake; he fears jail more than he fears God; and he seems disinclined to judgment: he is too harried, tested by the shortness of time for it. He works big hours to get the big paycheck. Non-political? I guess so. Why should a man who's broke all the time worry about what government he lives under? Why should that concept be so hard to get?
Me? I have I/O. I like to read. I like the UNIX Manual Pages almost as much as I like Gray's "Elegy". I like the plays of Shakespeare, not to put too big a point on it because I'd sit there reading the names in the phone book. But I like to chop wood, too; and I like to work in my garden and walk in the woods with my dog and work in the barn amongst my goats, and there are lots of other things I like too. What good this will do me, I don't know. Whether I'll ever have wisdom or what stands for what might be wisdom, I don't know. It seems to me I should have a few things to be sure of by now. I haven't lived my life deaf, dumb and blind. I have plenty to do. Something must come of it. But what?
Let me clear up a little the dullness of the above paragraph. Greeting cards don't interest me, nor the comics nor the papers—you'd think a well edited, informative newspaper would set me up fine for a Sunday afternoon but that has never happened. I have never been the least bit interested in the little pamphlets of prospectuses I keep getting in the mail from my retirement fund, though Lord knows how hard I have tried. No! It must be a book! I crave a certain style, though I'm not sure what I mean by that. The sentences must originate from the mysteries of skill; I crave lucent deftness, phrases that make sense, that organize on a meaning and do not drag on. I guess what I crave is an all-knowing power. The sentences must leave proof of having been there not for an academic minute, not for the time of a "study", but for a lifetime. And then the author must pour this lifetime into a predetermined shape in such a way that the authenticity of it is undeniable, whether it is a novel, a poem, an essay, a story. One book published in 2011 by Henry Holt that I enjoyed reading is Midnight Rising by Tony Horwitz. The book is about John Brown and his band of ruffians. Spending an afternoon in the presence of a well turned sentence or two is a pleasure whatever the subject matter or wherever I might run across it. I got plenty of input from this book and I am patiently awaiting the output to come.
I still love books for my basic I/O. Midnight Rising was a NEW book, a gift from my wife on my birthday in 2012. But I buy them one after another used from Amazon and Abe Books. So I could go on at length for there are others than Midnight Rising. But I am also happy to find a faithful, well-fashioned recounting from a blog on the Internet. Also, I loaded System 7 on my Mac so I could get The Britannica, and also downloads of books from various sources seemed to come easier and in better shape. But still there is nothing like a book whether new or used with a strong spine for keeping me up to all hours.
I still remember my happiness when I found on the make shift shelves of a grimy Maine flea market a rugged copy of The Complete Shakespeare. All the better that it was in places dog's eared and thumbed, and a vague water damage about the edges. After bargaining I gave a dollar for it. For awhile I read in it considerable. If you are in the mood you can take in a play by Shakespeare in an evening. Better still to find something NEW! I am a citizen of the new arrivals stacks in the nearby public libraries. It is part of my I/O. I can sit there for hours, a detective at his office looking for fresh evidence to an unsolved case. Go to the UNIX manual pages for a bridge over the troubled waters. After awhile, as in any study you will come out with answers and a serviceable skill besides.
I guess it should be no secret that when it comes to forms I am partial to the essay and the short story. I have fond hopes for the blog because I believe that soon—and maybe now—the internet will be the only place on earth where you will find pockets of truth and serious thought. In these shorter, self-contained works there is not a minute to waste, not a minute to digress. In my younger days my ego was the only ego that interested me. I am still to this day an egoist. If I can dig up as if from nowhere a serviceable notion I am happy. But also now, as I have become older, I wouldn't dare say more mature, and too familiar with my own ego to the point of boredom, might I become interested in Hemingway's ego or Eliot's or any one ego of ten-thousand others? Or better still figure out a way to visit two egos at once. That's why I ask of all egos please keep it short, clear, succinct so that I can attend to the one while switching over to the other, get that one ego quick because numerous others are in place down the line, and I will try to do the same. And I have learned to forgive men's small crises, from which unfortunate statements pop out, in order to look at the larger view.
One of my all time favorite writers is Charles Lamb (b: Feb. 10, 1775, d: Dec. 27, 1834), who is most famous in present times as the essayist Elia. Elia writes: "...I dedicate no inconsiderable portion of my time to other people's thoughts. I dream away my life in others' speculations. I love to lose myself in other men's minds." I have never suspected in Elia an inconsiderate or harsh view. Once in another man's mind, he'd be as kindly as if it were his own. Hemingway castigated himself when he noticed in his days and works too much of his time being spent thinking about HIS writing. There was a time to write, and that was output, but otherwise his eyes were set on what was in front of him, the here and now, the input whatever it may happen to be at the time. Perhaps this time could be by some happenstance inspiring.
I hold with my grandson in pre-school that you must be here there and everywhere to know the truth about what is going on. And why cut down on the horizon for an improved grade to please a teacher or a grandfather? But all these things are matters of time and the choices one must make. I think I could have lived quite well without Comus or Paradise Lost or even Hamlet, but I doubt I could have lived without long walks in the Maine woods. Or this storm now in front of me. They say that at this moment it is hassling the entire state of Maine. Who would doubt how much we have in common?