Tuesday, March 24, 2009

How I learned to love Dostoyevsky

I was even younger. Oh so far away. Southeastern Idaho. I went shopping at a bookstore in Rexburg, Idaho--near Ricks college. I found a book describing books. Brief descriptions and then a set of categories, each complete with an icon. One icon meant a “classic.” The other icon meant something like “mature, challenging.” I was 14 years old, about to be a sophomore at South Fremont High School.

I went through the book, making a list of the books that had both icons--classic plus challenging. And I began to read. One of the first: Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment. Reading that book really did change my life. So weird. So much beyond my life: Mormon, rural, conservative, lower middle class (I didn’t know that then--but we didn’t have any money). I was mesmorized. Loved the book. Went on a Russian jag--in close order. The Brothers Karamazov, Anna Karenina, and a brave but unsuccessful run at War and Peace. I remember knocking at the door the The Red and the Black. Loved Steinbeck. It was such a mixed up amazing world of reading. So much beyond anything I had encountered before in books.

My real life at that point was encountering a radical kind of Mormonism--a crazy teacher who was actually a polygamist. But at the same time I was reading. No one could tell me I couldn’t read a book. It was my private magical world. Lady Chatterly’s lover. . . . . . You get the drift.

Reading was the way I found myself. And Crime and Punishment is at the very place where those paths that lead to who I am begin. . . . .

How I learned to love Dickens

It was long ago and far away. I was a young, thirty-something (oh so long ago and far away). I was on a trip to Seattle with a friend. I succeeded in getting him to move to Seattle, become a tech writer, and eventually get me into the great tech world in the sky. But that is another story.

This story is about Dickens. We got on the train in Salt Lake City, waited for a very long time before the train finally left (I remember it as being in the middle of the night), and we headed toward Seattle. It was a leisurely pace. You could look out the window of the train and see cars buzzing by. And we stopped at every town, I’m sure, between Salt Lake City and Seattle. That means very many, many, many towns. We gave everyone in Utah, Idaho, Oregon, and Washington a chance to climb aboard our train or disembark (I think that’s what you do with a train).

As I said, a leisurely pace. I brought a book along: Charles Dicken’s A Mutual Friend. I settled down to read--a very, very, very big book. I read the first scene. Father and daughter on a boat, a dark filthy Thames, salvaging a body. I had such detailed visual images of the scene. (As I thought about this more, I realized I had watched a very good version of a Mutual Friend on Masterpiece Theatre.) In this case television was my friend. The flashes I saw, the images, almost the smells were so much more intense than my feeble imagination could have allowed.

So I settled into the book. You don’t press toward the ending in a 1000 page novel by Charles Dickens. You settle in, relax, enjoy, listen, let the emerging plot trails intermingle and twist in your head and heart. The train was perfect. I let go, settled in, relaxed. And the book took over, intermingled with the leisurely pace, the stops, the twists. . . . . .

I was hooked. This will always remain one of my most impressive experiences with a book.And an introduction to a writer I love. So many wonderful books to come. But I learned how to read and savor Dickens on a train with our mutual friend.

Thursday, March 19, 2009


My ex retired this past month. My son posted an appreciation of his dad. And he “tagged” me in Facebook on a couple of old photos with his dad and his dad’s family that I've included here.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about growing older. I envy Richard. I too would like to retire. I have all kinds of projects I’d like to address while I still have thought and memory. It’s hard to keep at the day to day grind of work. And I’ve only done this for 10+ years not the 30+ or 40+ of many my age. I followed my bliss for quite a while and still managed to luck out with a real job that set me on the road to real retirement. The economy makes me realize that I may need to cut back. But I don’t have the fantasies I did about old ladies and cat food that I had 10+ years back.

I had a story for my life that was given to me growing up. I followed that story faithfully for some 30+ years of my life. And then I couldn’t quite live that story any longer. And that was very difficult for those around me. I’m sad that I caused pain to people I loved. But I continue to be glad that I began searching for a different story that I could live. I’m still a seeker. Never have settled into one thing. And I feel that sense these days that I should move on. I guess that the economy isn’t quite cooperating.

Looking at these pictures and calling up in my memories these old stories, what always strikes me is that the soul, the heart, it doesn’t really age. For me at least, it still seems young, forward looking, optimisitic. But that heart doesn’t quite match the face in the mirror. The facts of life.

I still think life is good. I’m glad to revisit these memories of a former life. I feel good will and some nostalgia. Even affection and love for so many of the folks I see in these pictures. I also still feel that wasn’t quite my story. I’m glad for the adventure that life has been--and continues to be.