Thursday, September 16, 2010

Peace--Separate and Otherwise

Today is the birthday of John Knowles, author of A Separate Peace. Does anybody read this book anymore? It's a vivid book memory for me. When I was in 8th grade, my family moved to Charlottesville, Virginia in the middle of a school year. The Quest class (a Philosophy, Ethics, Great Thoughts blend of a class, as I recall) was reading the book, and I arrived on the day that they discussed the climax, the death of Phineas. I couldn't wait to read the book. I couldn't believe that a friend could do something as monstrous as jounce his best friend from a tree.

Ah, youth. Now I know that the ones who love you are the ones who know the surest way to break your heart. Now I know that love and hate live in the same neighborhood; it's indifference that lives in a different time zone, a distant zip code. Now I've had a glimpse of all the different emotional currents that can swirl around in one person.

I reread the book when I was in my early 30's, and not surprisingly, I didn't find it as compelling. It was like visiting a childhood friend with whom you don't have much in common: fun for an afternoon once a year, but nothing you'd want to do every day.

When I first read the book, I only had a shadowy idea of what a prep school was. I'd never met anyone who went to prep school, or any other kind of boarding school. My parents were solidly middle class, and we lived in smaller Southern cities. Back in those days, a middle class salary didn't buy you a prep school education. Perhaps private school, if your parents scrimped, but not prep school.

Today is also the birthday of Henry Louis Gates, Jr., one of the more interesting scholars of the last part of the twentieth century (and on into this century, of course). His work on early African-American writers helped transform how many of us view American Literature. I was intrigued to see that he got his start in a community college.

It's also the anniversary of the day that the Mayflower set sail.

If I was in a novel-writing phase of my life, I'd try to figure out a way to weave these strands together: blue bloods and African-Americans and early beginnings and persecuted Pilgrims and Mayflower Compacts. Maybe I should ponder poetry possibilities. Nah, I've got too many poetry ideas that I haven't developed yet.

Last night, I wrote a poem for the first time since September 4. In my small amount of spare time, I've been working on a short story, which means I haven't been working on poems. But as long as I'm working on some kind of writing, I'm happy and at peace.

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