The Quiet Life
I’m having a hard time keeping track of the days. It’s Saturday, you say? Zut alors! We are managing well in our isolation but it has ruined my sense of time. Every day is the same: I drink tea, work on classes, take a walk, eat, read, sleep, and then start the process all over again. Occasional phone calls or online meetings add some color. It’s all very quiet and stress free and reminds me of something Shirley Jackson wrote in Life Among the Savages:
I cannot think of a preferable way of life, except one without children and without books, going on soundlessly in an apartment hotel where they do the cleaning for you and send up your meals and all you have to do is lie on a couch and — as I say, I cannot think of a preferable way of life…
Frankly, the quiet routine could get a little creepy. If you need some action but also want to learn something, here are a couple of recommendations. I think I’ve blogged about them all before, but there’s nothing wrong with revisiting the greats, right? All of the following are available for fee download at Project Gutenberg. A shoutout to my son, for I got the idea from his Melville Minute column.
- The Iliad (I would recommend the Fagles translation, which is not available from Gutenberg) — one of the most perceptive accounts of war and human nature ever written. Contra DN’s literary take on the epic, to me, the very indecisiveness and changing moods of the characters are what make it such a brilliant portrayal of human experience. In war, as in life more generally, people sometimes feel confident and sometimes they despair; sometimes they love their comrades and sometimes loath them; sometimes they revere the gods and sometimes curse them. Our moods and the decisions we make change with our circumstances. If you haven’t read the Iliad, do! But read it with compassion for its characters and appreciation of the wise poet(s) who made them so real.
- Caesar’s Gallic Wars. I’m teaching this right now and reading it for the umpteenth time. I can’t think of a better way to learn about leadership, strategic thinking, and political acumen than by reading Casesar. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that because he wrote over two-thousand years ago, he isn’t relevant anymore. The man who wrote, “all bad precedents begin as justifiable measures” understood politics. Too bad our current politicians don’t seem to have read their Caesar.
- Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. More than a time-bound condemnation of badly executed colonialism, this work takes on deeper problems of human nature and existence. It recognizes that civilization is but a thin veneer — an illusion that allows us to make sense of our world and believe that we control it. Read it, dissect its many layers, and bask in the Conrad’s lyrical writing.
Well, I think three is enough for now. I apologize for posting another list and no photos, but I haven’t done anything worth writing about.
Stay healthy and don’t let the isolation get you down!