Saturday, January 9, 2010

365: Books by the Bed

I am not gifted with the virtues of Capricorn, the astrological sign we are smack in the middle of. Capricorn is careful and persistent, like a mountain goat picking its way along a steep, narrow path.
Like, at their best...
*quickly looks up Famous Capricorns*
...here we go...
like Louis Pasteur (who quite rightly said, "in the field of observation, chance favors the prepared mind").

[I see Stalin and Nixon were both born when the Sun was in Capricorn too. They demonstrate another classic quality of Capricorn: a lack of humor. Though not normally seen as a virtue, you can see how a goat wouldn't want to collapse in laughter on a mountain ledge.]

I see my lack of steadfastness in the half-assed way I've been pursuing the 365 Days self-portrait project, which I started after my birthday last March. I grew bored and annoyed with it, so I've only done a bit here, a bit there, and I've bent the rules.

But, after all, we do our best when we work with our own virtues, not when we force ourselves to mimic others.
I wish, in fact, I'd bent more of the rules sooner--especially the rule that you must include part of your body in your self-portrait.
Hooey to that, I finally say. It's my project, and I should have been including shots of the books beside my bed all along.
So, here're three day's worth, started on January 9, 2009

Some of the titles, from left to right:
Ode magazine, "for intelligent optimists" (current issue, bought for 25 cents at the library used-books store)

Seriously Funny: The Rebel Comedians of the 1950s and 1960s (includes Elaine May & Mike Nichols)

Murder in Amsterdam: The Death of Theo van Gogh and the Limits of Tolerance (this goes way beyond the level of inquiry my Netherlands book calls for; reading it for my own interest)

Ardent Spirits: Leaving Home, Coming Back, by Reynolds Price. A mildly interesting memoir of RP's time in Oxford in the 1950s, and his first years teaching at Duke and publishing his first novel.

Naive. Super by Erlend Loe, translated from the Norwegian. From Annika, in Sweden. Funny. The hero, a young man going through an existential crisis, likes to write lists. Here's one of them.
This is what I don't have:
-Plans
-Enthusiasm
-A girlfriend
-The sense that things fit together and everything will be all right in the end
-A winning personality
-A watch

9 comments:

momo said...

I have had to gather the pile of crap by the bed and put it with my other piles of crap so I could sort through them and see what unpaid bills or unread books were hiding in them.

When I went to Amsterdam, I looked for mystery novels set there, and I found a few. If you want to borrow them, I'd be happy to bundle them up for you. I also read a historical novel about coffee set there.

Fresca said...

Hey, Momo, maybe you should post a photo of your pile of books too. I want to keep doing this every so often--I love pictures of books.

Thanks for the offer to lend me books. Next time we have coffee, I'll take the one about coffee!

ArtSparker said...

Have been reading an assigned book for a book group which is lyrical in style, the characters all being tediously reprehensible, about to abandon it for a book a friend sent me which looks wonderful called "Night Train to Lisbon". It's....age-related. Cynicism (reflected in the tone of the first book) is a luxury/pastime of the young.

Fresca said...

ARTS: I looked up that book--looks intriguing, partly cause it's about a middle-aged man choosing to pursue a passion (intellectual).

Youthful cynicism---reminds me I watched "The Graduate" recently (directed by Mike Nichols) for the first time in ages. I used to relate to Ben's despair personally, but you're right--at mid-life, the relationship between time and meaning starts to readjust itself: less time, more meaning. (Well, one *hopes* more meaning.)

Margaret said...

It's such sweet comfort to always have a thick stack of good books by your bed. Sadly, my books seem to be always spread about the house in the most ridiculous and unlikely places.

What is this "youthful cynicism" you speak of? I know nothing about that. *cough cough*

Fresca said...

Hey, Margaret!

Was that a real question about youthful cynicism? : )
It must have been, because it got me thinking.

I'm not sure what Art Sparker meant by "cynicism"; but when I was youthful (that is, until my early 40s, actually) my cynicism was a mixture of:

1) big-picture paralysis (like Ben in "The Graduate")
2) alienation from the highly materialistic U.S. culture around me
3) despair at the evil and injustice that we do (e.g. sexism, Darfur, etc.)
4) doubt that I'd ever make sense of the Big Questions (who am I? what is infinity? how to decipher wine labels?)
5) social fears of all sorts, from sex to small talk
6) worry we would destroy the world, by nuclear war or environmental damage

...and a smattering of other very real concerns that added up to dismay with my species.
I still feel that dismay, but gradually I pulled my focus in to what I can do, and what I want to do. That turned out to be participation, even in a small way, in the storytelling tribe--the ones who read and write, talk and listen, think and imagine, and make and look at pictures.

One of the things I love about the Internet is it makes it easier for this scattered tribe to find each other.

The other main thing that shifted was my relationship to time: as I near fifty, I've lightened up a lot: it's all going to be over fairly soon anyway.
As you point out, this is one of Shatner's biggest charms: his ability to manage to, well, to take it light yet give life its due respect too.

Optional question: What does "youthful cynicism" mean to you?

Margaret said...

To me, youthful cynicism usually takes the form of honesty at all costs. What I consider cynicism in myself is simply examining the core, underlying reasons that humans do things, or why things are the way they are. You don't have to invent cynicism, you just have to look for it and you'll find it. By the same token, you can find optimism almost as easily. I suppose cynicism is searching for that thread of falsity in everything, (and usually finding it). I think it is possible to have a light view of cynicism. In other words, you don't have to take your despair, or even your own cynicism seriously. I really don't, which is a sort of heightened cynicism I guess. In youthful cynicism, there's a certain gratification in discovering the ugly side of things, (a gratification which, in itself, is very ugly).

deanna said...

It's fun to see what you're reading. I've been out of the blogging loop for days and now am supposed to be writing a guest post for Relief, so of course reading others' posts became suddenly appealing!

I hope the Netherlands is going okay.

Fresca said...

MARGARET: "A light view of cynicism": I like that phrase!
I also recongnize the gratification of finding ugliness--it can be very seductive. A related feeling is self-righteousness and moral superiority---for me they can be very sticky, hard to shake, and ultimately not very helpful emotions.

Hi, Deanna: Nice to see you in the loop.
I'm late responding--can I blame the Netherlands? : )
Actually, I've mostly just been procrastinating like crazy, but the due-date looms, so I'm getting cracking.