28 March 2008
24 March 2008
Expectations are the devil of enjoyment. They appear in the mind as elegantly as a profound idea, but their arrival is much less welcomed. The same manner in which the first line of a poem slips into your creativity, expectations slither casually into your consciousness before the awaited event is cooked into existence. You cannot control their presence or absence. Expectations damn you as the devil damns you; they are the snake in the garden of glee, the voice on the shoulder of surprise, the touch of disappointment.
I had not been damned with expectations before listening to John Barth speak. Nothing was compelling me to ponder the myriad of possible ways he could look or things he could say. I did not know his age, nor any revealing characteristics about his life. Within the grasp of my knowledge were only mere suggestions from reading Giles Goat Boy that could have been used to summon a premeditated conception of the man. But I did not summon. I went in white-slated, with a lack of imagination and I was blessed with a raw encounter with John Barth.
At nearly eighty years of age his mind was still alive and his speech no less lively. I admired and envied him for his immense vocabulary. I pined for his wisdom. I longed to be old and I do not think he yearned to be young again. In his presence I felt shameful of my age; so sophomoric, lacking so many qualities he must have acquired over the years. The complexity of his speech complemented the density of his novels. He spoke of a ‘writer’s metabolism’ as if writers were biologically different than the rest of the human race; in fact, I’m sure he believed they were. When he mentioned his encounters with other great writers, I felt driven to have lived his life. His literary wisdom resonated through the last line he spoke, “All trees are oak trees, except for pine trees.” His conclusion left me pondering how such a complex writer could be such a simple man.