There was the collectivist period, those years when I wanted a copy of every book on Buddhism I could locate, a full and nearly complete library, sutras and philosophical discourses included.
There was the moment when I realized the absurdity of all that, the attachment to texts to enable me to find the ability to practice non-attachment, and I gave the books away, and finally set off on the path the books only poorly described.
I feel like I ought to be living in Texas again for everything, they say, is bigger in Texas, and you don’t argue with a Texan.
So much in my life is bigger now, a computer monitor that would pass for a moderate sized TV, with font so large a single page fills the screen, and the tablet the size of, but thank God not the weight of, a phone book, (if you are under 30, look it up), to read books and news since libraries don’t carry large print books (look that up too, probably) at least not books of poetry.
But thanks to modern materials science the lenses in my glasses don’t yet look like Mr. Magoo’s (yup, one more thing to look up,) at least not yet.
I will soon enough be in mourning for literature and philosophy for the moment is approaching when they will be lost, or I suppose simply subsumed, swallowed up in a cloud appearing momentarily then gone.
The day is rapidly approaching and if you doubt it for even a moment, go to your local library, if it has not closed, and note the diminishing number of books, replaced by computers, where everything can be found while the power is on, but just try and read there when a candle is the only light.
First, read the syllabus and buy the books we will read. Note that I have carefully selected works for which there are no Cliff Notes or their equivalent, so if you were counting on that consider yourself screwed.
When you write an essay, do not ever, let me emphasize EVER, begin by saying in my opinion, for if I wanted an opinion on a great writer’s work I would as soon stop and ask my multigrain bagel what it thought, although I admit its Everything cousin did have some amazing insights into Hamlet.
Do not bother plagarizing quotes from things you find on the internet, for they will either be wrong or you will have found them by using Google or another search engine and I discovered those when you were still in diapers. And finally if you ask for more time to write a paper, I will give you a strong recommendation to take my friend’s Intermediate Composition class, the one you tried to duck by taking my class instead.
Walking down the helical road, untwisting as you go you discover places you never imaginged visiting, nothing like the path you thought you knew well.
Stop and claim your new heritage, find yourself on an alien map, bury yourself in books of new and ancient history.
Pause here and consider a King of Scotland, knights and lords, in the far distance know that you claim a link to a man so honored that he died by hanging, but was then beheaded and drawn and quartered.
Too late to unswab your cheek, so simply enjoy your ride.
This is what I would tell my sons: “You came from an ancient people, a heritage of poets and tailors, or thieves and blasphemers, of callous men and slaughtered children. I would give you these books, written by God, some have said, although I am doubtful but driven by Erato, without doubt.”
This is what I would tell my sons: “I didn’t go to war — there were so many options and I chose one where my feet would touch only Texas mud, where the only bullets were quickly fired on the rifle range. I wasn’t one of the 56,000. I didn’t come home in a body bag. But I do stop at the Wall each time I visit D.C. and say farewell to those who did.”
This is what I would tell my sons: “You have never known the hunger for a scrap of bread pulled from a dumpster, you have never spent a night on a steam grate hiding under yesterday’s newspapers from the rapidly falling snow. You never stood nervously at the waiting room of a dingy clinic waiting for a young, uncaring doctor to announce that antibiotics would likely clear up the infection but you should avoid any form of sex for a couple of weeks.”
This is what I would tell my sons: “You come from a heritage of poets.”
First published in The Right to Depart, Plain View Press 2008