Thursday, October 31, 2013


These past few weeks have become valuable to you in ways you'd never have suspected, all because of the bureaucratic need to plan for courses to be offered in 2014.  Because of your areas of interest, most of the courses, by their inherent nature, will involve books you've read many more times than once, including some you refer to for one reason or another with some regularity.

Thinking about which books to assign is of a piece with asking yourself who among your friends are you going to invite to classes as a guest speaker, to open up and lay bare secrets, prejudices, attitudes, and feelings.

After the courses are designed, submitted, chosen, set in the academic equivalent of cement, the first round of concern arrives.  To be a proper guide, you must break the trail for the students, but given all you have had to learn and have come to learn because of your students, you realize the effect the need to stay out ahead, asking intriguing and probing questions uppermost in your mind.

Thus your awareness that a dear old pal, someone almost up to the level of your two dearest, Barnaby Conrad, and Digby Wolfe.  This of course is your old pal from mythology, the King of Corinth, one Sisyphus.

Depending on where you begin telling his story, he was not a man for whom it was easy to root.  But after Zeus rendered an eternal punishment upon him, and you began to see the consequences of that punishment, he began to grow in your list of memorable characters, individuals who transcend ordinary dramatic fate.  Because of some early jobs you've had in your lifetime, you found great ease in identifying with the sense of eternal boredom to which Sisyphus was subjected.  

However mendacious, greedy, and disrespectful he was, depending on which myth you consulted to delve his background, you couldn't help a growing sense of relationship.  This was borne home even more after you'd imagined individuals you for some reason or another disliked in his place, portraying him in the cosmic movies, only to discover this personal revenge fantasy of yours was pulling the rug from under your attitude by causing you to sympathize with the Sisyphus surrogates.

In time, you even began to imagine these individuals learning from their punishment, petitioning Zeus for forgiveness, even to the point of wishing to go forth for eternity, doing things for the benefit of humanity.  Under these circumstances, how easy it became to see Zeus' intransigence as the greater cosmic uproar, even applying your own Marxist theories about the oppression of the working classes by those in power.

How easy it was, after a time, to see King Sisyphus at his humiliating task, become a metaphor for your own experiences with learning.  The matter struck home this evening during the exchange of a few messages this evening related to how many times you need to write a thing to get it's attention, cause it in some way to fit the container you have fit for it.

Of course that was one of the first things that had to go.  You came to understand that you had better experiences with allowing ideas to tell you which form they wished to assume.  You could relate to this from even the briefest experiences you'd had with attempting to fit the idea of you as an individual into a doctor or lawyer or engineer container, none of which you were suited for.

Even though accident played an important role in your arrival at the things you do with any measure of ease and effect, there often danced about you the specter of greater accident, where you were promoted beyond what you wished to do, causing you once again to identify with Bad King Sisyphus when you hankered more toward Good King Wenceslaus or even better, a person who spent much of his time writing things, then finding ways to edit the nonsense and boredom out of them.

Sometimes, recasting a project reminded you of Sisyphus.  You experienced again the sense of pushing a rock of words up to some summit of expectation.  For a few moments, you had the opportunity to remove the puerile, the boring, the nonsensical before sending the rock in a rolling careen of its own momentum.  Often enough in such moments, the things you removed caused the rock to disappear, leaving you bewildered, desperate for something to substitute.

You've reread Albert Camus' essay on the myth of Sisyphus often enough to gain a handhold on the argument that Sisyphus had finally found his work, was enjoying the work and the ways he was able to come at it.

Many of your friends are more prolific than you, in turn more serious and funny than you to the point where you have accepted the need to remove even these qualities as something within your control.

At one stage in your coming to terms with who you are, what you do, and how you accomplish it, you were led to believe you would experience degrees of success, whatever that might mean, and satisfaction, whatever that might mean, after you had written a million words.

By any accounts, you have published more than a million words yet you are still alert for signs of success, satisfaction, or ability.  Not long ago, you wrote a letter of recommendation for a nineteen-year-old student, seeking permission to transfer to the college within the university where you teach.  The letter, addressed to the dean, said of the student that you wished you'd had her handle on craft when you'd been her age.  That seemed to require for a time a qualifier.  If you'd had her handle on craft at her age, by now, you'd be doing something quite remarkable.  What, for instance?  You shall never know.  What you do know is that having however precarious a handle at age nineteen you had, it got you here.

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