Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Forging Connections through Letters and Literature

Last night, I had a smidge of reading time, so I took Robert Pirsig's Lila off the shelf.  I read about 10 pages of description of the cold night and the blowsy blonde which triggered the narrator's memories of blondes he had encountered in the past.  When I got to the passage where the male narrator describes her breast being soft like a ripe fruit just a day away from rot, I thought, O.K., there's not enough good Philosophy in the world to make me want to read through all of this crappy writing.

This morning I'm wondering, if it had been a scene between 2 men, would I have reacted the same way?  Probably.  It's clear that the female character has had a hard life and has come to sow havoc in the form of alcohol and sex, and that narrative arc just doesn't interest me much anymore.

I grabbed a book off the shelf that I've been meaning to read since I bought it shortly after it was released in 2014:  Distant Neighbors:  The Selected Letters of Wendell Berry & Gary Snyder.  Reading some of those letters just after reading a few pages of Lila was quite the contrast:  2 men quite serious about their patch of land and the work that the land requires and the work that their artistic vision requires--what a treat!

It was also interesting to read about academic life of a different time, when people still had visiting writer kind of positions--and tenured jobs, often without advanced degrees.  Now we understand the artistry of the two men--and these letters are written in the 70's, when both men have an impressive body of work. 

Still, I felt a bit of the bile of jealousy.  There's a letter where Berry is deciding to give up his academic position because it's just too draining and the university is solely interested in the good publicity that he gives the school.  I know so many academic folks with solid credentials who can only find part-time work and would be thrilled to find a school that would give them full-time work and benefits in exchange for publicity.

In part because of my spouse's adjunct life, we have been having that kind of time period where we feel like we don't really have time to mow the small patch of grass or get the pool chemicals back in sync.  Still, these letters that describe life on the land have such pull on me.  It's interesting to watch these two men discussing ideas of ecology that will shape their work in their later years.

It's also interesting to watch them forge a connection despite living so far away and having very little time to visit in person.  And their letters often apologize for long silence--and yet, they still have a bond.  These days it feels hard to forge a connection with people who live in the same county.  Maybe I should go back to writing letters.

It's good to remember that I feel connected when I'm writing e-mails.  Maybe I can spend some time today writing some e-mails to work my way back to connection.

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