Today is June 16, and James Joyce fans around the world will be remembering this fateful day in fiction, the one single day on which all the action in the book Ulysses takes place.
Those of us on this side of Modernism forget about how revolutionary this technique was. We forget that many novels used to start on the day a character was born and trudge through a thousand pages depicting that character's life. We forget about how recently we first started using inner monologues as a narrative technique. We forget about how we've only recently begun to understand psychology and use it to explore our characters.
Ulysses is a hard book, the hardest thing I've ever read, yes, harder than Shakespeare, harder than Tristram Shandy. Joyce did pure stream of consciousness, with no sort of architecture to help a reader. After all, if you just tuned into my thoughts, I wouldn't give you background on who these people are in my thoughts. I know, so I don't have to fill in those blanks.
Some day, I must make a pilgrimage to Philadelphia, where the original manuscript is kept. Some day, I must make a pilgrimage to Dublin, where the novel is set.
Of course, I could make a pilgrimage to Books and Books in Miami, where actors will be reading passages of Ulysses and where the Irish pub will be offering specials on food and drink. The first year we lived down here, I read about the event and that trek was our first journey down to Miami. We weren't sure what to expect, but that was the trip where a car pulled up, rolled down the window, and rather than gunshot, we were greeted by a young woman who smiled and said, "Welcome to Miami, sir. Enjoy your stay."
Well, we've stayed a long time. Maybe instead of the trek down to Miami, in the heat and the traffic, I'll simply stay put and have a solitary retreat. Maybe I'll read my favorite passages. Some of them still ring in my head: "Stately, plump Buck Mulligan . . ." I forget the rest of that first sentence.
How many first sentences do you remember? The only other one I can pull up from memory is from Charlotte's Web: "'Where's Pa going with that ax?' asked Fern over breakfast." Oops. I just looked it up. Not quite right (hint: everything after the word Fern is wrong).
Yes, a solitary retreat. Maybe right in my office, where I keep the book now.
I'll try to keep my Bloomsday vibe going throughout the day. When I post a sign on the office door, I'll say, "Happy Bloomsday! James Joyce forever!" It will mystify most people and delight me (yes, my rebellious streak is odd, and as always, not likely to get me into trouble).
And at the end of the day, I'll reflect back and raise an imaginary glass to Molly Bloom. Yes, I said, yes, I said yes. I'll try to say yes more today, in honor of James Joyce and his unlikely life long love affair with Nora Barnacle. I'll try to be open to experiments, realizing that they may lead to revolutions. I'll try to take my writing to places where writers haven't been before. Oh, who am I kidding? That's not my role in this life. My writing is nothing, if not accessible. But there's a place for my writing too.
Today, I'll appreciate what other people can do, what I cannot do, what very few people have ever done as well as James Joyce. I'll think about language and relationships and the rivers that connect us.
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