After difficulty trying too hard to write a scintillating blog, I took a break and clawed out from under my rock. Then I resumed a backyard edging project between our patio and yard. Staring at the stone retaining wall, I recalled “Snake,” a poem by D. H. Lawrence. The narrator encounters a reptile slithering from his earth-wall. Eventually the narrator throws a pitcher at the creature and suffers remorse over his mindless pettiness. This territory is all familiar to me, especially the human vilification of my close relative; nevertheless I do feel blessed that humans have never reviled me as they have the snake. I’m not a venomous threat after all. Perhaps I am just cuter.
As I shoved my dull edging tool into the hard clay where grass had encroached on concrete paving brick, basket-woven, three abreast. I soon felt the same old tug to drop what I was doing at the moment in favor of something different. Boredom, the sin Kierkegaard clarified for me, was creeping upon me. I thought of other things I might be doing, especially the writing I’d left in my cellar cave; and yet truly there was no better break than digging around in the shrubbery bed — or more productive. Boredom had plagued my career for years, a lingering, chronic childish habit. I paused and switched to scraping the thin layer of sod from the bricks. I paused again and looked along the line that was beginning to redefine patio, wall and graveled shrubbery bed. My yard work pursued an end. I saw the ultimate end which would give me pleasure in the end — having unearthed the gray pavers that traced a serpentine path across the yard. Red-blooming Japanese quince once more contrasted with gray brick and brown sandstone in the wall. In my mind’s eye I could see the final result and that sufficed. There was really nothing else I wanted to do more. When I paid attention to a vision of attainment, I started enjoying myself. Besides, patience is an effort, not a state.
From this and the snake my thoughts meandered to something Dad always told me. “Don’t force things, son.” My father, the electrical engineer, had infinite patience. Oh, he could display quite impressive anger, but Dad perfectly controlled details as in his beautiful cursive script and block printing. I saw a sheet of his formulas once — a masterpiece. What Dad had in mind, being the engineer and a tinkerer too, was simply knowing that if you tear something apart, the parts including replacements will fit again. I had recently dismantled an old four-cycle engine. It lay in parts for months until I finally trashed it. “Well, Dad, I’d have welcomed a little help, you know. I might even have become an engineer. Who knows?”
I never practiced hour after hour at pitching a basefall or swinging a bat. Even the most casual observer knows I couldn’t dribble a basketball and chew gum at the same time. I loved to march, though, and pumping a bike up Appalachian hills. Time has marched on into my late, late blooming.
What I practiced best was reading, writing and rumination. Folks always liked my letters and some even answered. Careerwise I made a mistake though — just one, you know. I believed that having an interest in writing and thinking would one day make me a university professor with all its tenured prestige. How we do cherish our face book! Ah, but I ignored the prophecy of the Oracle at ETS (Educational Testing Service). I ignored the profound truth of my insufficient quantitative retention. I thought I could just hold my pencil tighter. The LSAT also corroborated this curse from the gods. “Force or no force, Dad, sometimes things make a hard fit.”
So I forced things. In spite of many good alternatives like the college of education or journalism I enrolled in a less discriminating PhD school. Unfortunately I didn’t know that my maternal grandfather had started a newspaper. Knowing that might have squelched a Fifties shibboleth that journalists are a bunch of pinko liberals. Grandfather was a Democrat, however. In any case he or David Brooks could have been my hero as well as anyone else — not to imply their quantitative retention was deficient. I was not an early steward of my own gut feelings — too, too influenced by the “right” thing to do and a bag of outmoded Victorian precepts.
And how late can a man bloom? I’ll keep you posted. You see, the books and my buddies in those books at Nameless U are still my friends and counselors. Semper Fi. In the end and notwithstanding the Oracle at ETS, I have discovered how rewarding it can be to create something, perhaps a seminar paper, an event, a program, even a garden pathway — if not original then at least innovative for a particular place and time. And that in a sketchy way is how an English major, grad school dropout and PR man found his way — nothing like ballyhoo, a good event and a good poem, eh? Eventually I discovered that my masters from Idaho State and insightful Professor Larry Rice, had given me all the research skills I needed. After all, as John Barth’s Goat-Boy discovered. “The university is a collection of books.” Nothing has ever interfered with my love of books.