Saturday, January 14, 2012

Reading Lists and Freezer Compartments

Much of the events of December and January, popping into reality like those imaginative, illustrated children’s books, come through to you as pleasant in ways neither better nor worse than other times of the year. 

You contemplate—but do not indulge—trips to favored places such as the Southwest, the Big Sur Coast, even portions of the high desert.  You do not give into these notions because of your experience with the roads being filled with individuals who have given over to their travel whim.  December and January become social times, reading times, possibly even motion picture times.

Things you particularly dislike about these times are the procession of lists.  Every traditional publication has some sort of list, a trend that the Internet sites have embraced with due diligence and a lack of originality that becomes stark for its presence.  You refer to lists.  

The Ten Most Lists or perhaps The Ten Best Lists, or The Ten No-No Moments of the Past year. Among these lists, The Ten Best Books of the past year, and Ten Books to Anticipate in the Coming Year.

This is all prologue to the polite note in your email in-box, sent by the Administrative Dean of the College where you are scheduled to teach within the University of California, Santa Barbara.  The polite note has been supplemented by verbal exhortations from only the second Dean you have greatly admired in the procession of past Deans in your life.  

This particular Dean would more than likely been amused rather than provoked by your in-class observation that most of the buildings at the university where you once taught were named after crooks.  But, as one of Christopher Marlowe’s characters said in a differing context, That was in another city.

The list of which you write here is a list of books.  You might say the list of books for Course 102:  Writing Narrative:  Discovering the Student’s Individual Voice through the examination and writing of 20th and 21st century fiction and nonfiction.  The “Course 102” part and the “Writing Narrative” part are the College’s nomenclature.  The rest, the Gravamen, you could say, rests on you.

Even as you sipped the wonderful coffee brewed by the Dean, and munched the splendid pastry fresh from the oven at the hands of his wife, you had no trouble rattling off appropriate titles, honest, hard-working titles that you envision having the same metaphoric effect on the students as that mad bomber had on the Federal Building in Oklahoma.  Leslie Fiedler.  George Orwell.  Christopher Hitchens.  Maxine Hong Kingston.  Virginia Woolf, Hannah Arndt.  As the Dean speaks about university politics, you thrown in “Bartleby, the Scrivener,” for good measure.

The course begins to take a finite shape in your mind.  Assignments appear before you.  Lectures tumble as the frozen salmon dinners tumble from your freezer compartment.  That last metaphor is not so far-fetched as one might suppose.  The last time you recall a meal with salmon came when you’d prepared the makings of a tuna salad, the mixing bowl filled with such joys as hardboiled eggs, torn strips of fire-roasted red peppers, tangy relish, and a pistou made from Kalamata olives and mayonnaise.  All it wanted was the tuna.  There was none.  

You were hungry.  You did have a tin of salmon.  You have great respect for salmon, witness the number of frozen salmon dinners.  You in fact add to the number from time to time, thinking how healthy and delicious a salmon entrée will be.  But for reasons of pure whim, you are also “off” salmon, a fact born home only two nights ago when, at your favorite restaurant, you were offered the choice of a Salmon that had only that day begun its morning in the waters of the Northwest or a sea bass recently of the Atlantic.  No contest.  The sea bass won.

This only appears to be digression.  Lists, particularly reading lists, have analog to the salmon dinners in your freezer.  How do you know which reading list you will find relevant in May or June?  How do you plan for such things as moods and passions?  The great probability is of you caught up in a passion paralleling the vector of the class, but with a different cast of triggering incidents and events.

Your only defense here is the equal probability of the Dean knowing this about you.

Okay, “Bartleby” stays.  Love and Death in the American Novel stays.  Woman Warrior stays.  For now.  It just occurred to you that you forgot D. H. fucking Lawrence and Classic Studies in American Literature.

The question now turns to how much room is there among the salmon dinners in the freezer.  It is all metaphor.



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