Thursday, March 10, 2016


So it's March, one of my traditional Good Months (the other is September.) Next week I will be 58 years old. Now, 58 is a bit of a snag number. It's not quite 60. It's not quite prime. (Next year I'll get a prime, yay!) On the other hand, it isn't one of those numbers you handle all the time, like 56 (which factors out to 2*2*2*7) or 60. No, 58 factors out to 2*29. That should make you shift in your chair a bit. It doesn't really obviously mean anything.

Last year I saw that 57, being 3*19, was inviting me to break my life into three epochs, which I duly did, and thought about. It was interesting. But 2*29 is quite different. Break it into two epochs, and what do you get?

Maybe you get two narratives: one of disaster, and one of recovery?

Or that's how I see it now. At age 29, though, did I understand that I was at the low point of my life? I don't think I did. I had not yet given up on the things that were making me miserable. I was "having trouble writing my dissertation," if writing a total of some fifty pages in two years can be described that way. Actually my good sense was telling me that an academic life would be emotional death for me, but I couldn't bring myself to quit, because I didn't really believe there was anything else out there for me to do. My community was dissolving. I was drinking too much. I was overwhelmed by parenthood.

So to fling the obvious question up, and let it spin, glittering, in the air for a bit: is this actually the second low point of my life?

Well -- no. In some ways obviously no. I like both my jobs: I do good work and I'm well rewarded, in the coin that matters to me. I have plenty of time at my disposal, and I don't persecute myself as I used to.

But there are similarities. At both times, language-learning expanded to take up a huge amount of my disposable time. I love learning languages, for its own sake, but it's an endless repetitive task with an indefinite reward glimmering somewhere beyond the horizon. For someone who likes to get his prep work all done properly before he does the next thing, it can be fatal, because the prep work is never done. "Fluency" even in one language, let alone many, is a will o' the wisp that you could chase for lifetimes. And I don't have lifetimes. With good luck, I have a third of a lifetime.

I've thought my way to this point before. And I concluded, some time last year, that what I was actually going to undertake was making a go of publishing my poems. I had a project all mapped out, which I followed for a little bit, but I didn't pursue it long. And now I recognize that petering-out as the same thing that happened with the dissertation. It's actually the revolt of my good sense. It's not what I ought to be doing. Not, at least, that way. But I should be making, and I should be making with words.

So: leave that for now. Let it steep in the pot for a bit.


Nimble said...

Steeping sounds like a good approach. Maybe even fermenting! I often don't know how I feel about something until I've lived with it for a while.

rbarenblat said...

Sending love your way.