Thursday, November 5, 2009

Prose Shakespeares and Life at Work

I thought I might post a photo today. When I went out very early for a run, I gasped in surprise. There was the beautiful full moon, in a silvery blue sky, with a huge ring around it. The ring was so big that I wasn't sure I'd be able to capture it on film (but it's a digital camera--what's the term for that? capture in pixels?).

By the time I got back, the ring was gone, so we'll never know. However, the experience reminds me of one of the things I've missed as my exercise has shifted to spin class--the outside experience. I spend so much time cooped up in an office.

As I made my morning smoothie, I listened to a news story about a local person who is accused of stealing millions from the social service agency where he worked. At first I was outraged about the fact that he worked for a social service agency, and he stole all that money that was designed to help people. I know that I don't have all the facts, like what kind of social service. But still, if he had been arrested for stealing from a big Wall Street firm, would I feel better? Stealing is stealing after all.

Then I started to think about the logistics of the theft. He probably didn't just take all that money in one chunk. Does the theft start small? How small? Does the thief intend to pay it all back some day?

I found myself thinking, maybe he just took office supplies. Then I laughed at myself--how much would one have to cart away to steal a million in office supplies?

I turned my attention to The Washington Post, where I read a great book review of a new Dickens biography. I had forgotten how prolific Dickens was and how young he was when he died--58. Reviewer Michael Dirda says, "Many modern readers, I think, rather neglect Dickens, disdaining him as melodramatic and sentimental. Instead, we revere Jane Austen for her subtle wit or turn to Henry James for his delicate analyses of human motivation. But Dickens really is our prose Shakespeare. For proof, try almost any of his novels or just watch a DVD of the Royal Shakespeare Company or the BBC dramatizations of Nicholas Nickleby, Oliver Twist or David Copperfield."

I will always have a soft spot for Oliver Twist, since it was part of my dissertation. But I also love Hard Times--what wonderful names in that novel. Bleak House is my short hand term for any monumental task that I attempt again and again and never quite slog through.

And now, for my long day at work. I've been thinking about the Iranian hostages, since yesterday was the 30th anniversary of the takeover of the American embassy in Tehran. I remember exactly where we were when we heard the news. In 1979, I was in the 9th grade. My family had spent the week-end with another family at the Outer Banks, and we were in the final hours of that get-away. We were gathered in the living room and the TV was on, but no one was paying much attention. Suddenly, my father turned up the volume and asked for quiet. We watched the breaking news report. I remember thinking that those crazy people would never get away with this, and at the same time, wondering how it would all be resolved.

In later years, as I've worked in a variety of places with a vast assortment of people, I've returned to the thought of those hostages, taken and held in their place of work. I can't imagine spending over a year in captivity with most of my colleagues. I'm lucky in that I like most of them well enough to spend a working day with them. But to be cooped up with them day in and day out?

I've been toying with a poem that uses images of hostage taking and the modern workplace. After all, these days it's usually the job itself that holds us hostage. Let's see what happens . . .


Shefali Shah Choksi said...

i LOVE dickens! and if one is looking for explanations for rings around the full moon, motivation for theft, and being held hostage by jobs, he SHOULD be a primary source!
or do i mean shakespeare?
what say?

Dale said...

I love Dickens too, more and more as time goes on. I've left off reading Henry James, and Austen I may reread every once in a while with moderate pleasure: but Dickens becomes more intense and satisfying every time I read him. Shakespeare's a very good comparison -- such infinite invention and enthusiasm, so unhampered by good taste. (And like Shakespeare so uninterested in matters of the spirit; but you can't have everything.)