While I was living for those 7 years in my parents’ basement, I took evening classes off and on at the local state college. I had heard that, if you could get an MA, you could teach in community college, so that’s what I was aiming for in the long run. I took a class on Henry James because my favorite teacher in college had lectured on The Ambassadors, and while I had just the weekend before read the book (or tried to), the book she lectured on didn’t seem like the book I had read at all.
That wasn’t the first time that had happened. Sometimes I thought maybe they were just pulling this stuff out of a hat. In my attempt to read all of the 101 greatest books of the western world, I had set myself to getting through James Joyce’s Ulysses the summer before I went off to college. I could not make heads or tails of that thing. Some parts were interesting. For example, the main character, Bloom, at one point fries up a kidney. That was interesting because I didn’t know people ate kidneys or even that they were eatable for that matter.
When I heard a lecture on the book in my first year of college, I thought maybe the Professor was on acid (some of them were on acid) because I swear and be damned if I could figure out how Bloom walking up the steps of the Dublin Library was passing through the straits of Scylla’s and Crebedis. I guess it might have helped had I read the Odyssey, but I hadn’t at that point.
I figured Joyce must have written the book for your worst kind of English major, the kind who thinks they are smart because they know what something “really means.” Who else would read such a thing? Like that poem, the Waste Land, that had like 5 foreign languages in it including Sanskrit. I couldn’t see any reason for writing this stuff unless you were trying to prove how smart you were or to make other people feel stupid.
But The Ambassadors was different. Stuff wasn’t hidden in it; I just hadn’t got it. Also, at UCLA, my good buddy, who was drafted later and became catatonic, had made an observation about The Ambassadors in one of the classes, and the fucking Professor had gone out of his way to insult the guy. I could still see him blushing. So I signed up for a class on James at the State college to rectify my ignorance and to get some sort of metaphysical revenge on the guy who insulted my buddy.
I took my one and only ever incomplete for that class. I don’t know why but I wasn’t working for a while and while I wasn’t I read that damn book over and over, and drew like diagrams and charts and all sorts of visual aids to figure out what this guy was going on about. Finally, I turned in like a 50 page paper and the Professor said, should I wish to get an MA he would happy to work with me since I had already written most of a dissertation.
Life is just fucking contingency like Sartre says. There’s this, then that, and so on. Fate has nothing to do with it. When you are walking through shit, you are just walking through shit, and there’s no hidden meaning to it.