Friday, June 16, 2017

Late Blooming on Bloomsday

Me and My Shadow by Pants 






As is the custom here at Seat of Pants on Bloomsday, I opened Ulysses at a random page this morning and began reading. Page 598 of the 1971 Penguin paperback edition I have had since university finds Joyce having a pop at the concept of 'improving literature'. I've written before about the embarrassingly long time it took me to realise what a marvellous pisstake this book is. I'm all the better for the experience. It is one of the many benefits of ageing - along with not having to go to work and not being expected to achieve anything - that the slowest-dropping pennies frequently give the most satisfaction when they eventually land. You'd be astonished at how long it takes me to fully absorb proverbs sometimes.

Oh right. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. That's not about the numbers is it? I'm always saying that Australians operate the English language as if they'd learned it from a holiday phrase book. I am the very proof!

Now, back to Dublin and an entirely different level of dexterity with English. Leopold Bloom remembers his first poem,

'What lines concluded his first piece of original verse written by him, potential poet, at the age of 11 in 1877 on the occasion of the offering of three prizes of 10/-, 5/- and 2/6 respectively by the Shamrock, a weekly newspaper?

An ambition to squint
At my verses in print
Makes me hope that for these you'll find room.
If you so condescend
Then please place at the end
The name of yours truly, L Bloom.'

As a chronic myopic, I appreciate the notion of squinting at print as well as the delightful rhyme. My own ambition has faded along with my eyesight. The strange thing is that I'm working more diligently and joyously than ever. Are the two things related? I think they are. The liberation from any compulsion to find commercial acceptance has meant that I can do as I please. No deadlines. No constraints. I have all the time in the world and I don't need the money. I have often wondered why it took so long for my various projects to come right. The answer is that it takes as long as it takes and I don't know any other way to do it. What can I say? I'm just not a conformist. In any case, the competitiveness and content-slavery thing has killed forever any dim desire I might once have had to conjoin with the so-called creative industries.

I didn't have the sense to write a publishable novel when I knew people who worked for a very big literary agency in the mid-eighties. Just about anything with dry ink was publishable in London then. Neither did compos mentis fully manifest when I knew folks in the theatrical world and shared a flat with a not-too-shabby orchestral arranger. The musical that came out of me then was deplorable, given that I'd been in love with the form since I was a toddler. It seemed I needed thirty more years of living under my (now-expanding) belt before I could do either of these things properly. And it all started happening when I was as far from the thick of it as it's possible to get without bunking down with a team of huskies and far too old to be even visible. I have to think that there's a reason it's worked out like that. Not 'reason' in the philosophical sense. Reason in the sense that individuals get to play with it too, given an idle moment or nine.

I'm glad in so many ways to have done everything in an odd order. I spent my youth reading, listening, looking, travelling, hanging out, collecting experiences and trying, failing and trying again. Hopefully, failing a little better every time. I worked for wages as infrequently as I could get away with. I saved and got lucky with my very modest investments. And now I have a wealth of material to work through and no one to tell me what to do. I'm no worse off financially than most women my age who've drudge-worked their whole lives, had kids and/or got screwed in a divorce - and I didn't have to do any of the suffering. My house is not worth $2million and I don't have any letters after my name or prizes for my scratchings, warblings or doodlings. None of that is important to me. Well, I guess I would say that now wouldn't I? But it is true. Perhaps I have talked myself around to that point of view. Then again, I've always been a bit of a dilettante. I've never liked it when people go all serious. And yet I do like to work. At my own pace. In my own way. 

I pride myself on being solidly hoi polloi and yet, I find myself at odds with my peer group. They're all going on cruises, and/or playing golf and endlessly meeting for coffee. I love cruises but am no longer capable of credibly jogging around the upper deck for an hour in the moonlight or singing karaoke until 3am and then beating the Germans to a decent deck chair at dawn. In fact, I'm not sure that I could even hold out until nine for my supper these days, much less charm the captain at cocktails or win the belly-dancing competition. (Both of these things have happened. I have photographic evidence.) And I don't know that I would enjoy a cruise if I couldn't do these things. 

I've never played golf and don't want to start and meeting for coffee holds no interest for me whatever. I have to do it occasionally, but I much prefer activity-based human interaction. Once a week I go and play music with my friends Caroline and Bruce. We play for a couple of hours. Caroline has been a great sounding board for my newly rewritten musical. I have been playing her the songs as I've been setting them. Astonishingly, I can still remember how to do this. It's been nearly ten years since I last played the piano. Remarkably, I still know how to do that too. I play no better than I ever did, but no worse either. Mediocrity. Hare and Tortoise. However you want to look at it, it's working.

I've lived life arse-about and, you know what? I didn't even realise I was doing that until relatively recently. I just followed my instincts and set out from wherever I last landed. I did (mostly) follow feminist principles. There were a few years there when I thought I could have a bet both ways, but hey. I had the very good fortune of receiving a free education at a good university, which is where I met James Joyce for the first time and Virginia Woolf and so many other mentors who have stayed with me all these years. How sweet the slowest-dropping penny.

A great (Irish) blog pal of many years standing wrote this week that she doesn't believe in the concept of gender. I'm with her on that. It's a luxury that few of us can afford I know but I, like my friend, have worked hard and gone without to make it so. Opting out of the patriarchy is not without societal sanction. I, for one, believe that those of us who can afford to should set an example. I think I've been doing that all my life. I could have conformed. I knew how to do it but, like Yossarian, I just didn't wanna.

I wonder what I'd be doing now if I didn't have a life's work ahead of me. It feels right. It's my time. I'm not difficult to satisfy and everything I do pleases me at last. The long, slow-burning projects that have been with me forever, most of all. And now, it all seems to make a crazy kind of sense. Like a patchwork quilt. It's all coming together and keeping me warm on cold winter nights. Arthur Miller once said, it's okay to have regrets, as long as they're the right regrets. I'm not sure that I know what the right regrets would be for me. I'd probably have a few, if I thought it through, but then again, they'd most likely fall into the too-few-to-mention basket. I am working on not having any at all. And that means plodding away, every day, blissfully in my own little bubble of irrelevance. Can't say fairer than that.

Try as I might to avoid it, I can't help but feel 'improved' by reading Joyce. Not to mention inspired, encouraged, motivated and exhilarated. I hope he's not turning in his grave at the very thought. And I'm grateful that Ulysses finally found a publisher in the remarkable Sylvia Beach.

A very happy Bloomsday to you all.