GRADUATE STUDENT

I left my idealism somewhere

Back in early manhood, apprenticeship

For getting by only.

My knees hurt

Not like they did before, to pay the bills

Walking behind a power-mower

All day

 

Isn’t it ironic that Wordsworth will sing of

Quarry workers singing as he

Wanders in his daffodils

Whitman praises the common laborer

As he loiters in the grass

 

The privations, the deprivations

The catalog of things to do without

Logged into my bitterness–

Formerly an occupation–I try not to be bitter.

 

I read Hemingway to buoy my spirits–

His Catholic poverty in Paris,

His un-Christian feeling of superiority

To the vague wealthy.  I guess I feel superior

 

Or try to feel superior to buoy my spirits.

The indignities,

The fear as I lie to a bill-collector,

slough subordination,

Try to feel above it all.

While the town keeps me down.

 

To dignify the working class—

Which I am now and a grad student

And the town keeps me down—

Your sore knees

Must speak more than their pain—

The bills that demand their “dignity”

The landed idle

Still demand my money

As they loiter

 

Though,

In the end

I will have to forget

The laborious pain

Of achieving a place of less pain.

Pain where?

 

Will I be able to forget adulthood?

When eternity speaks its demands.

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Reflections about Money

For 3/4 of my adult life I’ve lived in poverty.  My impoverished life, though, was of my own making.  I was chasing a goal–education–and that was why I ended up poor.

I resented my poverty quite a bit, when I was in school.  I didn’t see why poverty was a necessary condition for education.  The English department at my university had a motto, “Going for broke!”  Back then, I spoke with a young woman once, and asked her if she were considering Ph.D. studies.  She said that she wasn’t.  When I asked her why, she replied, “I don’t want to spend the next 8 years of my life in poverty.”  However, pursuing the goal of higher education made my poverty bearable.  I had a higher purpose; it transcended the pecuniary world.  I tried to make myself feel better by thinking about Hemingway, and his poverty in Paris while he was learning to write.  Nobody likes poverty; but when one likes a calling more than money, one accepts one’s condition.

Now I have a comfortable income.  That has been for 12 years out of my 40 adult years.  I am still getting used to the feeling of having enough money, in fact more than I need.  But I am still pursuing a higher purpose, though, with my money.  I am recording a disk of my original music.  And that is draining a considerable amount of my income.  Some might consider this an extravagance, in that I’m not a professional musician and I’m not in a band.  But even as higher education is not always a money-making endeavor, but a meaningful pursuit, so music is not always a money-making endeavor, but art is a meaningful pursuit.  And without the CD project, I don’t know what I would do with the several thousands I am investing in this enterprise.  And for me, the purpose of money is to be used–not just possessed.

Most people secure gainful employment at a young age and spend most of their lives financially set.  I think self-image for many depends on money.  Sociologists have given us status labels.  They made up the categories, “upper-class; middle-class; lower-class.”  In doing so, they told us how we were to think of ourselves.  I try not to measure my self-worth by money.  But when I was an impoverished student, always riding in the back-seat of someone else’s car, not being able to buy “nice things,” not being able to take a girl out on a date, I felt worthless.  This, despite my higher calling, higher education.  My brother, a rich engineer, told me, “It’s only money.”  That didn’t help.  Now that I’m in a good financial place, I don’t think about money at all, don’t measure myself by money.

Growing up, my generation disdained money.  The rock music of my time sung songs against materialism and money (Pink Floyd wrote a song with that for a title).  We talked about love and peace; looked to get back to Nature.  Perhaps that’s why I didn’t pursue money in my life, but went for more spiritual acquisitions.  I made my bed and I’m happy to sleep in it.  Everybody makes their own bed.  They must sleep in it, and hopefully they are happy to, as I am.

Entertainment Value in Literary Classics

Let’s agree that there are classics of literature.

I’ve just started reading the Russian classic, Fathers and Sons, by Ivan Turgenev.  I didn’t know what to expect when I bought it.  I was surprised with what I found in the first pages.  It was spellbinding!  I really enjoyed reading this classic!

I have had the idea, like a lot of people, that classics of literature are boring and dense and you have to plod through them.  And that’s true of some.  But not many.

Can it be that classics are classics because they are entertaining?  Another way to phrase this is to say that classics are entertaining because they are written well.  The artful style of telling a good tale is what makes the classic entertaining.

I first noticed this with Hemingway.  I discovered Hemingway in graduate school, at the age of 27.  I still remember sitting in the student lounge late at night reading, For Whom the Bell Tolls.  I couldn’t put it down.  At the time I was reading Hemingway, he was considered great literature.  In fact, Hemingway did win the Nobel Prize for literature, and a Pulitzer Prize.  Today, some scholars are debating Hemingway’s literary standing because in an age of feminism, his work is too macho.  But his innovation with language, I believe, will secure his place in the literary pantheon regardless of whether he is too macho or not.

I notice an analogous entertainment value in the works of Tom Wolfe.  His works are artistically plotted, and riveting to read.  It’s always risky to try to discern the artistic value of contemporary writers, but I think that he may well be considered a major author of our time.  He is most certainly a popular and successful writer.  But I believe that his works will be considered classics after this age passes into history.

In fact, I find Shakespeare equally entertaining.  If it isn’t the pace of the psychology, Shakespeare is an entertainer.  A sword fight will break out after a heavy scene, or when psychology becomes too overwhelming.  I don’t need to say anything about Shakespeare’s union of sense and sound.  If we lived in Elizabethan England, Shakespeare’s language wouldn’t be hard to read or hear in a performance.  With footnotes, contemporary readers can follow the story and discover the delights that the Bard offers.

Great literature delights.  Maybe that’s why such literature is considered great.  Much could be said about why literature delights–accuracy to the human situation, plot tensions that we feel . . . But that is material for another blog.  This one is about the entertainment value that great literature possesses, that makes literature great.

Fame

Fame and success are not always meted out in a person’s lifetime.  Some great artist were relatively obscure in their own lives, and did not know that they would be important later, after their demise.  All they knew was that their work didn’t catch on.  And they were unknown–and that, for their whole lives.  They didn’t make it.

William Blake was known to some of the Romantic poets, but achieved no real fame.  Shelley wrote these verses about his own life,

Alas! I have nor hope nor health,

Nor peace within nor calm around,

Nor that content surpassing wealth

The sage in meditation found,

And walked with inward glory crowned—

Nor fame, nor power, nor love, nor leisure.

Others I see whom these surround—

Smiling they live, and call life pleasure;

To me that cup has been dealt in another measure.

F. Scott Fitzgerald had fame and money, but failed to find critical acceptance as an artist.  His greatest novel, The Great Gatsby, didn’t sell much and went out of print in a few years.  Fitzgerald died thinking himself a failure.

Now we study Blake, Shelley, and Fitzgerald in literature classes, and all these writers are considered great.  Every high school student in the United States reads The Great Gatsby.

Hemingway and T.S. Eliot had fame all through their lives, and the respect of the artistic community.  Hemingway also had wealth.  Intellectual fashion is now debating whether they are still as great as they used to be, but I suspect the laurel wreath will not be taken away in the end.

But Shelley and Fitzgerald had respect among the community of artists in their day.  Coleridge and Wordsworth knew and respected Shelley.  And Hemingway was Fitzgerald’s close friend.  Even in Hemingway’s scathing stories about Fitzgerald in A Moveable Feast, Hemingway praises Fitzgerald as a great artist.

Fame may not be the best measure of a person’s worth.  Respect from one’s peers, self-respect, believing in oneself, and the joy of creation alone are not fame, but are abiding satisfactions in lieu of fame.  While an artist wants recognition, it is satisfying to enjoy one’s own creations privately, while perhaps also enjoying favorable reception from a few who matter.