Friday, April 22, 2011

The Henry James Subject

I'm in the middle of What Maisie Knew. Finally I've realized what the James subject really is. It's invariably the difference between what is really going on and what a person of limited consciousness thinks is going on--whether that person is a very young girl, a complete egotist, an overexcited governess, or just any American.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Fire in the Sky

Both Timothy Ferris, in Seeing in the Dark and Bob Berman, in his 1995 Secrets of the Night Sky mention the fireball that was visible from nine states the evening of October 9, 1992. Ferris gets the year wrong: he has it as 1993. I remember because Matt and I saw it and I wrote about it in my travel journal; I was visiting Matt in Oberlin when he was working for the Elyria paper the year after he graduated. He was covering a high school game in Wellington. I went with him, and we sat in the only bleachers on the field, facing east. The whole crowd saw the fireball, which hung in the sky for at least fifteen seconds. Was that the beginning of my skywatching? I remember Kathy and I looked at Comet Kohoutek from the Jackson Street house in Tucson in 1976. Early in our time in the Blood River house (we still had the Chevy Malibu that we took from Tucson to New Orleans and then brought to Murray) we all watched a total eclipse of the moon from our driveway—some of us sitting on the hood of the Malibu—so it must have been a spring or summer night. I remember imaging a partial solar eclipse with two cards in the stairwell of Faculty Hall some years ago. So when did this interest begin? I don’t remember wishing I had a good telescope, and even after Kathy gave me the Meade for my birthday in ’99 it took months before I even tried seriously to use it. These thoughts I was turning over on the last day of January in 2003, when I had become seriously interested in amateur astronomy, and had just bought my fourth telescope. The next day at nine in the morning the first space shuttle, Columbia, burned up in reentry from the 107th shuttle mission, its 28th.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Without a Script

I have a recurring dream that I have been rehearsing for a minor part in a play and just before the curtain rises on opening night I am told that I must play a different, much larger role, but I do not know the words or the cues. The last time I had the dream there was a new, even more frightening twist: the play was a musical. I can’t sing a lick, so I would have been anxious even if I had known the songs or my lines, but of course I knew neither. I thought for a while when I was a young teacher that the dream was about stage fright, about getting up in front of people every day who were expecting me to perform. But I have come to realize that the dream is about not having a script for the really important performance that is life. Joan Didion confirmed this for me when she wrote in The White Album: “my entire education, everything I had ever been told or had told myself, insisted that the production was never meant to be improvised: I was supposed to have a script, and had mislaid it.”