I wrote the following on Dec 31st, but in the rush to get everything ready–we were going on a cruise–I didn’t have time to post it. We’re back now, and I have a lot I want to write about it, though I’m not sure how much of that will make its way here… (It’s nice not posting here, it’s nice not reading the internet, it’s nice reading books, it’s nice writing in pencil–though I missed my word processor–etc, etc.)
When I read War and Peace (a multi-stage process that took several years) I left markers on the passages that I liked, or agreed with at the time. I would mark other passages now, different kinds of passages, for different reasons, but that doesn’t matter. At the time I thought all of literature a kind of large quilt covered in the kinds of needles that, in cyberpunk fiction, are always used to “jack-in” to the protagonist’s brain. My desire was to find comfort in the words of others and a common humanity that I lacked because I was so lonely. The above metaphor is perhaps an awkward one, because it is both so violent and domestic, but I think both of those concepts are necessary.
I finished War and Peace in 2007, when I was dating Lisa. Looking at the notes from that portion of the novel (actually, I ripped out all of the other ones as I was finishing it) it is easy to see my frame of mind. Here is the last one, which I discovered at random;
After seven years of married life, Pierre had a firm and joyful consciousness that he was not a bad fellow, and he felt this because he saw himself reflected in his wife. In himself he felt all the good and bad mingled together, and obscuring one another. But in his wife he saw only what was really good; everything not quite good was left out. And this result was not reached by the way of logical thought, but by the way of a mysterious, direct reflection of himself.
Typing those words seemed familiar, so I wonder if I’ve done it before. Maybe some of you have already read them, in one of my many “personal realization” posts from that summer (I don’t recommend looking for any of them: those posts were enthusiastic, but also both too naive and too abstract).
If I were a British diarist living in Canada in the early nineteenth century, writing about today I would have said something like:
The wind has dropped, and the ground is wet and fresh, as if it were spring. Thank providence for days like today,* the ones that break up a long and miserable winter, and cause one to remember what is to feel alive! Knowing there can be days like today–and even better ones, later–is enough to keep in good spirits even the most battered and hopeless of God’s creatures during the absolute worst of times!
You have to keep in mind that all of the freethinking Canadian diarists committed suicide.
This winter has dragged. In the story “Therapy”, from Lydia Davis’s collection Break It Down, the protagonist mentions how she is surprised to see leaves sprout on trees in the spring, and later, she remembers that she did not laugh once in an entire winter. My winters are usually like that, and so I’m glad that soon we will no longer be here, in the cold. I am looking forward to feeling the sun hot on my back, and to the formation of vitamin D in my body’s oils.
We are going to Baltimore tomorrow, and from there, to Charleston, Key West, Nassau, and the Little Stirrup island.
(The cruise was cold–one day wasn’t. We ate like kings, but in the routine of retirees. All in all, the experience was a good one.)
(*The next day–the day we left–was the coldest of our Toronto winter. The pavement froze and Lisa crashed her bike on a last minute errand, the accident since forgotten by both of us until just this minute. The cruise was like a nega-zone, where life was not allowed to happen. In that sense it was a vacation. It’s almost worrying looking back and thinking about how used we got to living there, however.**)
(**Lisa says that only I would find that worrying.)