James Joyce

the week in review

The past week has been very good but quite uneventful.    I see absolutely no reason whatsoever to be even the least bit afraid to relive it, but there’s no reason to be insatiably interested in going back to it either.   I’m simply enjoying all the nice summer heat.    I only got a slight headache one day so I could most certainly do without that.    Bridget and Sam are constantly playing music full blast unfortunately on their stereos, and he even plays his guitar too loud.   That’s always a major problem during the course of any week around here anyway.    Perhaps I should have gone to the beach, right down the street, a bit more frequently.   Sam said that he’ll never been able to get over the fact that I’ve lived so close to water-Long Island’s canals and South Bay, and the Susquehanna River in northeastern Pennsylvania-ever since I was  twelve years old and I haven’t been absolutely constantly at the beach.    I’m most certainly quite happy, of course, that the past week has brought with it no major trouble for me.    The minor annoyances have been harmless and I haven’t been in any trouble.    I’ve been trying yet again to figure out James Joyce’s “Ulysses” because Bloomsday was a few days ago.     Although I should really like to see many weeks that are quite similar to this past week, there’s absolutely no reason whatsoever to zero in on this one specifically.







my cousin vinnie

Recently I made plans to visit my cousin Vinnie, a policeman in North Carolina.     We’ve always most certainly been quite a colorful combination of characters since we were kids.    An old girlfriend of his once said, decades ago, that he and I speak another language entirely.

Last Saturday morning Steve drove me to La Guardia Airport in Flushing so I could get onto the 10:40 a.m. US Airways non stop flight to Raleigh.   If all had gone according to the way it was planned out my time in the airport would have been relatively short and even somewhat enjoyable.   The flight should have only taken about an hour and thirty five minutes.

Upon arriving at my terminal though, I got some very bad news.    The woman behind the counter at my gate insisted that my flight would have to be delayed for at least six hours due to technical difficulties beyond anyone’s control.    Everyone knows how restless and frustrated I get when I’m subjected to this kind of ordeal.    Of course, thanks to my life’s being the nut house that it is, neither my primitive cell phone nor my digital camera is working either so I can’t even take advantage of them to pass the time.

After my having calmed down a bit, and come up with the presence of mind to accept my sorry lot, I pulled my trusty copy of James Joyce’s “Ulysses” out of my bag and began yet another pointless attempt at reading it.   Bloomsday is coming up in the middle of this month, I reasoned, so the very least I could possibly do, having always been such a total bookworm, is to take advantage of the occasion to try my hand yet again at plowing through a day in the life of Leopold Bloom, Joyce’s protagonist.   My mind inevitably wandered as  I dwelled on the fact that Joyce and Virginia Woolf were both born in 1882 and died in 1941, and that both Woolf’s “Mrs. Dalloway” and Joyce’s “Ulysses” are set on a single day in the middle of June.   “Ulysses” is set in 1904, on the day during which Joyce and Nora Barnacle first met.   “Mrs. Dalloway” is set in 1923.

Eventually I needed a change of pace so I walked slowly to the nearest concession stand and got a small cup of cappuccino.   Having always been quite a compulsive clock watcher I alternated incessantly between sipping my drink and keeping track of the time.   Outside the windows I could see Citi Field and Flushing Meadow Park.    Being at La Guardia always reminds me of when I was a kid in Jackson Heights, when being so close to Flushing Meadow and Shea Stadium was a perfectly normal reality of my life.

By the time I finished my drink an entire whopping hour and a half had passed since first I showed up.     My mind continues wandering inevitably.    I have a flashback to the autumn of 1981 when I went to North Tonawanda to visit relatives, including Vinnie, for Thanksgiving.   Jazz singer and musician Cab “Hi De Ho” Calloway was on the plane.    One of the nice things about international airports is that one never knows who will show up.    Even though I didn’t get a chance to see anyone famous this time around, I was surrounded, as always under those circumstances,  by quite an eclectically garbed assortment of characters from all over the world.

Of course, I kept on trying to remind myself, this would have been quite an exceptionally interesting self-contained world of its own with everything going for it, if only I could have come here under nicer circumstances.    The fact that I was stranded, though, was really starting to get me crazy.    I couldn’t even take some nice pictures or call somebody.    At least if I could have done something like that I could have felt a bit more comfortable.   Unfortunately when I’m nervous and frustrated I become quite visibly tense and conspicuous.   I can imagine what other people there must have thought of me.    I know it would have been quite an interesting surprise for Vinnie if I could have made the trip.   By the time my six hours was up, though, I was so annoyed I left the airport and came back to Long  Beach.








i did not understand

There was  a time, a couple of years ago, when I was confronted with a decision about whether to read Flannery O’Connor’s “Wise Blood”, with only about three hundred and thirty five pages, double spaced, and very easy to read, or James Joyce’s “Ulysses”, that has well over seven hundred pages of fine print, single spaced and has always been quite a nightmarishly torturous experience for both my eyes and my nerves.   I’ve always enjoyed both O’Connor’s and Joyce’s writing but his requires much more of a strain on my patience and attention span.   O’Connor’s writing has much more of a point blank kind of property to it.   She writes in plain legitimate English, in a manner and style which people can understand, about all sorts of things, characters and circumstances which are easily recognizable.   Joyce’s, though, is quite another world.   I honestly can’t say I have any idea whatsoever what is going on in his “Finnegan’s Wake” or “Ulysses”.    I can most certainly handle “Dubliners” quite well.   All the short stories in there are written in plain legitimate English.   Stories such as “Araby”, “Eveline” and “The Dead” are quite easy compared to those two big novels of his.   Technically neither is officially a novel but that’s a bit difficult to explain.   All I know is that on June 16, 1904 Joyce first met Nora Barnacle.  It’s the day on which “Ulysses” is set.   That day has forever been immortalized by his followers as Bloomsday, after the main character Stephen Bloom.    Ah well, somewhat silly fellow that I’ve always been I once sat down for a while and presumed to attempt to read it.   On my first day I even plowed my way through  more than  seventy pages of it.   Not surprisingly I woke up the next day with an unbearably bad migraine to show for all my troubles.    Joyce was a modernist and a terribly seriously dysfunctional fellow.   Quite a few years ago I read Richard Ellmann’s biography of him.   Since then I’ve always considered him quite toward the daft side.    I’ve always heard that no one can expect to get away with merely reading “Ulysses” without the help of quite a lot of source materials.   It contains all sort of ancient classical references and bizarre wordplay.   To put it as mildly as possible it’s quite an ominous task, not for the squeamish.    Anyway to this very day I never have gotten through all of it.   Amazingly his two big books have quite a seriously intense fan club.   I can understand why people would enjoy attempting to read them.   What I can’t possibly even try to figure out, though, is how anyone in his right mind can possibly even so much as presume to think of expecting to get away with messing with them.Ulysses by James Joyce

My ability to remain patient throughout an attempt to undergo a long and arduous task has always been more than somewhat less than I should like it to be.    This kind of a chore really puts one of my most significant weaknesses to quite a nasty test.    For someone like me, to make even so much as an attempt to read one of these books is to take quite a chance.


dear sir or madame would you read my book?

Ever since I was still only a little kid, I’ve always been quite the compulsive bookworm.    When my parents, Mary Anne and I used to go back and forth to northeastern Pennsylvania regularly to visit relatives, I spent each entire trip reading billboards and other signs along the way.   I can still remember being quite mesmerized over what Cutty Sark could possibly have meant.    Whenever I ate or drank something I paid quite an inordinate amount of attention to abbreviations like oz. and lb. on the labels.    In school I developed quite a reputation for having won virtually every spelling bee in Queens and Suffolk County.    I was the kind of kid whom my teachers, on standardized tests, always gave credit for having been around five years above the average reading level for my age range.    I can remember having read, at St. Gabriel’s and the local East Elmhurst Public Library, books and stories like “The Five Chinese Brothers”, “Skeeter Chariot High In the Sky” and the collected works of Dr. Seuss.   I first heard of Edward Lear at St. Gabriel’s, when I read his “There Was an Old Man With a Beard..” poem.    In the sixth grade, Brother Thomas made my classmates and me read, among other literary works, Steven Crane’s “The Red Badge of Courage”, and Edward Arlington Robinson’s “Richard Corey” and “Miniver Cheevey”.     Throughout my days at St. John the Baptist Diocesan High School and Farmingdale College, I was exposed to F. Scott Fitzgerald, William Shakespeare, Keats, Yeats, Blake, Joyce and countless other writers.    The Beatles, and other singers and bands from their era,  have always been my musical favorites.    The songs of the 1960’s reflect quite a lot of classic literary influence.   Joan Baez’ “So We’ll Go No More A-Roving” is based on Byron’s poem.    Yoko Ono’s “Who Has Seen the Wind” is based on Christina Rossetti’s poem.   The Beatles’ “I Am the Walrus” and Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit” come right out of Lewis Carroll.   I’ve heard that  Pete Seeger’s “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?”  was derived from an old medieval or Elizabethan poem.    As with my taste in show business and pop culture, I tend to be a bit of a literary snob.    The majority of the writers who really interest me are from the distant past.  Because of my pathological aversion to change-I’m ever the stick in the mud-my reaction to someone’s “We need another Emily Dickinson or Robert Frost” would be quite a resounding “Whatever good would that do? We already have the real Emily Dickinson and Robert Frost”.   When someone else has nothing to do he may eat, read the sports page. or watch television.   When I have nothing to do I read the collected works of the Brownings, Brontes or Shelleys, or some other classic author.    Right now I’m reading Jane Austen’s “Mansfield Park”.    I have to be careful though.   Once I tried to read  seventy five pages James Joyce’s  “Ulysses” over the course of a day.   I got an unbearable migraine that lasted for three days.     I always have to laugh when I’m in a book store and see books by and about everyone from Tim Conway to Suzanne Somers.    I enjoy all kinds of reading material, ranging from biography to poems, novels, philosophy and theology.   Because of my having always been smitten with the humanities, people often take it for granted that I majored in theology and philosophy in school.    As a lay Carmelite I really have to keep up with developments in Sanjuanist and Teresian theology.     Sometimes I feel as if I don’t fit in very well with a lot of the people I’m expected to associate with but you never know when my interest in classic literature can come in quite handy.    On New Year’s Eve Steve an I went to a party in the neighborhood.    Although everyone else there, unlike me, was married with children and enjoyed sports,  I ended up getting into a really interesting conversation, with a guy named Kirk, about the collected works of Flannery O’Connor.    Not many people could have kept up with someone who wanted to talk about her.