Robert (gurdonark) wrote,

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at age eight I read the entire world

When I started school, my family got the World Book Encyclopedia. There were 20someodd volumes, nearly one for each letter of the alphabet. From almost the time that I learned to read, these books were some of my best friends. The pages with the articles on the Civil War and the pages with the articles on the two world wars were crinkled, from times when I set the book down with the pages open during a bath, and then the water spilled onto the book. I loved that feeling that the whole world, more or less, was in those books, and one could open up the encyclopedia to any page at random and find out some historical fact one never dreamed existed. They say we learn from history how never to repeat it, or some such, but I always find that books of history are like African violets, quite ornamental if you don't overwater the leaves. There are so many wonderful facts, glittering from the pages like honey on home-made bread. I sometimes think that life has too many facts, and would benefit from a bit more digesting. If we could only abridge all the things we know into manageable volumes, things would be so much simpler. It's like that song about how "it's a gift to be simple", only, when you think about it, the little gaelic air to which that song is sung is not really a simple song at all--it's got all these lilts in it that require a bit of focus to sing. If it were all sung in a single note, it would be a bit more chant-like, but it would more clearly illustrate that it's a gift to be simple. Lately I imagine learning to play the recorder, so that I could play simple little notes in simple little airs. But how many airs would I learn before I had burned out on it? More pragmatically, why not just play the kazoo, because it requires no further education, and while I could only learn "Red River Valley", "Born Free" and "Greensleeves" and such on the recorder, on the kazoo I can play the searing guitar solo in "Adventures in a Yorkshire Landscape", the jazzy break in "Time Out of Mind" and do a particularly soulful, if duly obnoxious, "Letter to Hermione". Although I long for simplicity, I think that what I really mean is that I want my life to be effortless, and don't really mind if it is effortlessly complex. When I was 14, I built a replica of the stained class window in the cathedral of Chartres from cellophane and construction paper, as a geometry class assignment. When I first stood inside the Chartres Cathedral, it looked nothing like my stained glass replica, but it still felt like a long-forgotten friend. But as much as I admired this place, I want my own cathedrals to be built of paper, quick devotions, easy to make, easy to dismantle.

Today I spent time on the telephone with two college friends, and sent an e mail to a third college friend. It is hard to imagine that I am now over 20 years out of college. It is even harder to imagine that it was 35 years ago that I was reading the World Book, learning about Mussolini and Antietam, between trips outdoors to throw footballs, pick and eat pecans, and try to catch mosquito fish from the huge community drainage ditch, with tiny minnow nets taped onto broomsticks. Sometimes I am in a thrift store and I'll see a set of World Book or The Book of Knowledge or Collier's or even an old Encyclopedia Brittanica. I'm always tempted to get a set, although now a set of books would just be too many pages and too many facts. Even a simple telephone call is filled with facts and associations--people I've known, things I've felt, emotions I've shared, things I've forgotten. Even the spaces during a call--those interval-of-time spaces, are pregnant with meanings, filled with history. Sometimes I want to pull the volume G, read the entry for Gurdonark, and try to memorize both paragraphs. Then I'll set it up as a song, play it on my kazoo, and no doubt annoy the heck out of any listeners who are melodically inclined. But maybe if my life were recast as a brief song, I'd treat the melody with a bit more respect, and get busy adding to the tune.

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