One Thousand Words or So

Should We Hold on Loosely?

I just chatted with Luke. He’s been watching the Olympics. It’s that time again, isn’t it?

My cold, thus far, is pretty mild. The sore throat has been replaced with some hoarseness (I now have my Marge Simpson voice), a bit of a cough, and a slightly runny nose. I stayed home from church. Andi napped while I started in on Anne of the Island. I reread the first two books in L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables series last year, and I’m hoping to get through the rest this year.

I went to bed early last night and finished A Gentleman in Moscow. It was an excellent story. Back in December, when I was Christmas shopping at Barnes & Noble, I found the title in with the staff recommendations. Bridget’s boss had chosen it as hers, and I bought two copies: one for myself and one for a friend. She read it right after Christmas and tells me she loved, loved, loved it.

I did some art journaling and got some photos logged onto my memory card. I have not touched the poem I started writing—was it last week, or even further back in time? How long ago was it that I wrote about Eugene Vodolazkin’s post titled “The Age of Concentration”? He discusses time in that one, which seems appropriate in light of his novel, Laurus. One of his main characters has the gift of foresight and tries to discern when the world will end. The concept of time throughout the novel is fluid. Although the story of Laurus’s life takes place in the Middle Ages (fifteenth century, I believe), we get glimpses of people and situations in other eras, such as the 1970s. I remember in at least one section, the narrator describes the action using modern slang. It’s an interesting device, although it left me scratching my head when I first encountered it. I finally came to understand that it was just one more way of emphasizing a nonlinear concept of time.

There are talks of time in A Gentleman in Moscow (along with some interesting notions about temperature). One way in which the Count resigns himself to lifetime imprisonment is by not paying too much attention to clocks, although there does come a point at which seconds take on renewed importance.

I just reread a poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins and realized that he, too, plays with the concept of time. Here’s “To R.B.”:

The fine delight that fathers thought; the strong
Spur, live and lancing like the blowpipe flame,
Breathes once and, quenchèd faster than it came,
Leaves yet the mind a mother of immortal song.

Nine months she then, nay years, nine years she long
Within her wears, bears, cares and combs the same:
The widow of an insight lost she lives, with aim
Now known and hand at work now never wrong.

Sweet fire the sire of muse, my soul needs this;
I want the one rapture of an inspiration.
O then if in my lagging lines you miss

The roll, the rise, the carol, the creation,
My winter world, that scarcely breathes that bliss
Now, yields you, with some sighs, our explanation.

In the past, I’ve generally focused on the lines, “Sweet fire the sire of muse, my soul needs this; /
I want the one rapture of an inspiration.” Now, however, I’m looking at these: “Nine months she then, nay years, nine years she long / Within her wears, bears, cares and combs the same:” If I’m not mistaken, the speaker of the poem is talking about inspiration and its tendency to not stick around long enough. He’s saying that it could take nine months for an insight to bear fruit, then changes his mind and changes the “months” to “years.”

I still have bits and bobs of novels and stories I started writing decades ago, and I keep them around because I have faith that I’ll someday parlay them into something another human may be interested in reading—maybe even between the covers of a book. Who knows?

This leads me to a passage in Vodlozakin’s post at First Things, “The New Middle Ages.” Vodolazkin, remember, is a philologist and scholar of the Middle Ages. In this essay, he touches upon the differences between the medieval concept of time and a modern concept. More than that, though, the essay is about differences in texts: how they were written, how they were read. In short, medieval texts deal with fragments, copying of previous works, and a different view of cause and effect. Scribes copying works often changed parts, and in general, the author’s name was unimportant. Vodolazkin explains:

All of these particularities reflect a non-artistic perception of the written word. The concept of artistry in its fullest form is characteristic only of the modern mindset. It is inseparable from the modern idea of progress, under which some artistic achievements are replacing others. An ingenious writer bears the culture forward toward new truths, rather than a humble scribe recalling it to old ones. Despite the presence of elements of artistry—repetition, wordplay, and the like—the aesthetic qualities of medieval texts were not dwelled upon.

When I worked for The Denver Catholic Register, Sadie one day took a call from a woman who had just started painting. Hoping to use her newfound talent to lead others to God, she asked if a reporter would interview her and write a story. A few days later, I drove out to her very modest, subsidized apartment and listened to her fascinating and rather tragic history. A victim of domestic abuse, she had suffered head injuries and at least one stroke. My story led to a few donations so she could buy art supplies, and it led to a long-term friendship. Years after I had quit my job at the paper and was living in Maine, I created a website for her and her art. It was a difficult endeavor, mostly because she was extremely afraid that someone would steal her work. I imagine that when you have as little as she, what you do have becomes that much more important, but even at the time, the experience led me to question why we hold so tightly to that which we call “ours.”

Towards the end of his essay, Vodolazkin writes of postmodernism’s approach to borrowing work from others and how it can be construed as plagiarism. He gives me more to think about, but first and foremost, T.S. Eliot comes to me, as he was a master of allusion.

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