Becoming a Classic: A Literary Life Quest

For decades I have haunted bookstores looking for the perfect books to turn me into what I call “a classic”: into the person I wish that I could become.  I’ve searched for fiction, nonfiction, drama, and poetry—new and old, serious and light—to guide me in aging with gusto, reassure me that I am not an outcast in spite of never marrying or having children, reveal the purpose for my being and my writing, explain how to overcome perfectionism and fear of asserting myself, and inspire endless creativity that drowns worry and time-wasting.  I’ve sought books telling me how to visit with my parents on the other side, ensure the health of my brain and body, and achieve fluency in French and Italian.  And I’ve craved books that will show me what life is like for others, help me to understand how people are able to endure enormous hardship, and offer guidance in how to be kinder and less self-centered, foster peace, aid the Earth and Nature, comprehend cruelty, and see the past in the present and the present in the past.

In spite of my addiction to bookstores—at the expense of my budget and feng shui—I have yet to find the ideal books for entirely meeting these goals.  Yet the world is filled with works of wisdom and inspiration.  My error is in imagining—or at least hoping—that any one book will be everything that I, or any readers, desire for it to be.  What every book offers is simply one piece of the truth, as filtered through the author’s insight, understanding, and imagination.

As a reader I’ve long made another serious mistake: I’ve wanted to be awesomely and comprehensively perspicacious in my analysis of every work that carries the aura of literature, wisdom, or scholarship.  This ambition served me fairly well when I was working on my master’s degree in English literature more than half a lifetime ago.  The ambition has not served me well since then because it sets up a wall to be scaled in front of any even modestly challenging or honored book.

And so how am I now going to read books in order to move closer to becoming a classic without expecting any one book to hold complete answers?  And in my quest to become a classic, how can I read and write about books  without acting as if each tome demands talents from me appropriate to a scholarly dissertation?

As I read and write about books from this day forward, I will explore what they have to say to me about my queries and my goals, however grand or limited the volumes’ contributions.  I will allow myself, if I wish, to ignore the authors’ major themes and stylistic tours de force while I examine details that especially speak to me.  And I will read and write about each book as it represents a small part of the human conversation on what life means and how existence is expressed.

A Writers’ Day in Philadelphia

As I walk to my car
I clutch a thermos of caffeine
To quell the sleepless hours;
A robin sings its morning-in-spring melody
In the cool May air,
Clear after yesterday’s clouds;
My friend and I set out for Philadelphia,
Where so much was
And cannot be again.

And yet the city welcomes us;
Driving up Broad Street,
I honor memory’s shrines and sanctuaries,
The scenes and sites
My dearest ones and I well knew
When we were three
And then when we were two.

Now with my lovely friend
We also are a treasured two
Joined for an adventure
Honoring one other,
And the felt but silent cheering
Of those beloved in our hearts.

Jubilee Day

“Glory to God, Glory to God,”
The sisters sing,
And I sing, too,
Putting to music
Words feeling foreign alone.
When I hold my faith,
It is a candle flame
Beneath the blazing star
Of the congregants’ knowing.

I believe in God,
I speak of God
And pray to God:
God is creation,
Is love, is energy,
Is all that is good,
Is part of everyone,
Even when the Godliness
Is charred and buried
In the struggle and dross of living;
I see God’s symbols,
God’s elegance and eloquence;
I pray to my dear ones
Who are with God,
Pray they are with God,
Pray they are themselves,
But who, really, is this God,
And do I truly believe or merely beg
And hope?

And who is Jesus?
Here I have less trouble
For I know him as a man
Who lived the essence
Of his God of goodness within.
But is communion more than reenactment,
A tradition to remind us
Of Christ’s goodness and his sacrifice?
And was the sacrifice He made
More than illustration of his Godly ways?
I do not know
And so have not yet found full faith.

I love to sing the hymns:
They join me with the Universe
And those I love
Who are residing there,
However, wherever
They may live and be.
But even in church and with the congregants,
I am conscious, as so often,
Of my isolation and my oddity;
I would reach out to others
With vigor and self-reliance,
Giving the love I feel or want to feel,
Offering pleasure and courage and strength for their days;
And I do smile and hug and say how I am pleased to see them—
And I am pleased—
But then I curl up inside the awkwardness
Tangling my spirit,
Impeding reaching out
And even reaching in.