Essays

It’s a calendared thing

It is a calendared thing
To mark the beginning,
And once again to start
As if there’s an end to it,
And the year is complete
And something new commenced;
As if you might do over,
Or bid farewell and goodbye
To what you have done—
Little or all that it is;
For what you did
Is what you’re doing
And what you’ve done
Is what you’re pursuing.

Sing Auld Lang Syne, my dear
And bid time return, again,
To find the best you’ve lost,
Or forget the things undone—
But resolution is not enough.
It’s what you’re doing,
And not the seasons you’ve rung.
Auld acquaintance will not forget
The hurt you’ve wrought
Or the love you’ve brought
And the weather will not beget
Or better any or all of that,
Unless you change your course.
So, choose your destination!

The Bookseller’s Dilemma

Booksellers are a lot like actors. It is a cliche that actors will too often assume they are capable of the accomplishments of the characters they portray and come to believe that they know what a character actually felt. Booksellers often see themselves as possessing the wisdom that is in the books they sell, whereas they only possess the books. The playacting of children is in many ways a rehearsal for the actions of adults. The empathy felt by the reader will often extend into everyday life. That is the power of books, just as it is the wonder felt by an audience in suspended disbelief watching a portrayal in a movie or on the stage. read more…

The Arrogance

I suppose it is the arrogance that offends me most. Not the stupidity. An individual can be correct and be arrogant and thus offensive. I am usually willing to forgive stupidity because such foolishness comes to me so easily. But stupidity, at least on a case by case basis, can be cured. Arrogance, not so much. It is the arrogant who kill other people on the road as often as themselves, who ruin other peoples lives with politics without care, and who assume knowledge they do not have to crush the creativity of others. And that’s just for starters. The more I think about it, the more instances of arrogance reveal themselves as the crux of most of the bad situations in life. read more…

Neither frangible nor fungible

That some would have you believe your liberties are fragile and must be protected by government, or that you must trade your liberty in one thing to have it in another, is in the very nature of tyrants, despots, and town clerks. Your freedom is your domain, alone. There is no other ruler than yourself. If you choose to trade off some portion of your liberties to another purpose, for instance working in an office for pay, understand that it still exists, however hidden, and is only misplaced. You can no more rid yourself of the responsibility for your freedom than you can willfully stop your breath. Thus, when others assume your rights and act in your name, you must protest, if you can. And if for convenience you remain silent, you betray yourself. You may obey the town clerk to achieve some other purpose, but the freedom you have sacrificed is not extinct—it is simply held in jail by another who holds a gun and that you must obey for the moment in order to survive. read more…

A guest at the feast of memory

What we all must learn, I suppose, or else lose ourselves completely, is that very little in the world is really about us. My experience fifty years ago at Mark Hopkins College in Brattleboro Vermont was peripheral to that time and place—not secondary or marginal or incidental—but a tangent. It changed my life and the lives of others who went there, but each in our own way.

A week ago, as I drove home in the September twilight from the first and only class reunion, I was alone at a feast of memories. It was a rich two hour meal. But very little of that could have been shared, even if the other two fellows who had gathered with me that day had been in the car as well. Yes, only the three of us. read more…

That’s great! Against banality in it’s prime

I should be ashamed of myself, but I will probably use the word carelessly again this very day. But still, I am ashamed of myself for it. There is not an easier word to use for both what is in fact the best and what is simply terrific, or momentarily special, or even unexpectedly good. And this unfortunate lexi-con comes to mind again whenever I have been called to account for the best in literature.

What is ‘Great Literature,’ which is to say, ‘What makes literature great?’ Such written stuff is often alluded to, without excuse, or explanation. Austen, Homer, Bronte, Hemingway, Eliot, Frost, Cather, Joyce, Melville, Byron, Shelly, et al. But the question ought to be asked, if for no other reason than to define the premises and allow you to recognize other works for what they are. That is unless you like being told what to read—in which case there is no point going further here. read more…