I don’t know if there’s an ideal number of people for a conversation, debate or any other form of interpersonal communication. For me the deciding factor in a perfect conversation is the subject matter. Only a very short time ago I was involved in an exceptionally interesting conversation with my sister and three friends of hers, that involved topics ranging from literature to history. We ended up referring to people like Jane Austen, and presidential assassins Booth, Guiteau, Czolgosz and Oswald. That’s the kind of conversation that can really keep my undivided attention, whether it’s only in a small group, or in a classroom with more than three dozen people. Perhaps it wouldn’t be a very good idea to have an overwhelmingly large group because it would be too difficult to keep track of all that’s going on and to give everyone present a fair chance to participate. As long as all present are interested in the topic or topics of conversation, the number can vary. Of course I quite often enjoy a good interior monologue too. The cast of characters who populate my imagination can keep me company especially well.
If I could somehow get my hands on a new time machine, that comes in two models, one for the past and one for the future, and I were forced to choose only one, I should absolutely have to pick the one that visits earlier times. For as far back as I can remember I’ve always been quite smitten with the past. Each individual seems to have some kind of excessive interest in either the past or future, as far as I can tell. Maybe it’s a part of mankind’s curse, to want to retreat to some supposed Garden of Eden of yore, or to some purported eschatological Heaven on earth in the future. Neither of these viewpoints is the least bit legitimate. Having always read very many biographies over the years, I have become insatiably curious about what it must have been like to have been alive during the days of Plato, Aristotle and Socrates, Medieval times and the Renaissance, or Jane Austen’s Regency period in England. Of course, I’ve always been so notoriously curious about the first decade of my own lifetime, the 1960’s. Knowing me I should get quite a kick out of being able to meet all the key figures or that era, especially the Beatles, during their prime. One of my favorite movies of recent years is Woody Allen’s “Midnight In Paris”. In it the protagonist gets to visit both the Jazz Age and La Belle Epoque, and to meet key figures from each era. That would be perfect for me. One thing I’ve noticed about this kind of thing is that virtually no one ever seems to want to go back to a bygone era just to see what the past in general was like. Everyone wants it to be quite a profoundly significant experience, during which he can either meet famous people or live through distinctive milestones. Perhaps someday I shall meet Doug Phillips and Tony Newman from “The Time Tunnel” and they could give me some tips about what to expect.
I’d say that I enjoy both fiction and non-fiction about the same, though for different reasons. Right now I’m reading Longfellow’s poem, “Evangeline” and Jane Austen’s novel, “Sense and Sensibility”. I’m also reading “The Story Of A Soul” by St. Therese of Lisieux. I’ve always been interested in novels and poems because they allow me to travel to other places and time frames. I can permit my imagination to get entirely out of control. A well written novel or poem also can teach interesting lessons about human nature. Dostoyevsky’s “The Brothers Karamazov” and Evelyn Waugh’s “Brideshead Revisited” are exceptionally good examples of this. One problem with Dostoyevsky, though, is that he tends to be exceptionally didactic. Reading something of his always makes me feel as if it’s written in the form of a thinly disguised theology and philosophy lecture.I’ve always enjoyed seeing how many different symbols I can see in various works of literature. Two of the most famous examples of symbolism in classic western literature are a bookworm character, who reads a story within the story, a convention begun by Cervantes in “Don Quijote”, and travel, begun by St. Augustine of Hippo in his “Confessions”. Among works of non-fiction, I especially enjoy biographies, and classic works of theology and philosophy. By now I’ve read very many biographies of a wide variety of famous people, including writers, politicians, musicians and saints. Although I only have thirteen credits in philosophy, and no college credits in theology, I’ve always had quite a voracious interest in those fields. As a lay Carmelite I’ve read all the Carmelite classics I’ve been able to find. Since I really like to get involved in a good debate about the culture war, reading these kinds of things keeps me well informed.
I can’t think of any specific incident in either a movie, song or other artistic medium that has ever made me cry the least bit significantly. The really weird thing, though, is that I quite often start getting extremely close to crying for absolutely no reason whatsoever, at random times during these kinds of circumstances. It makes absolutely no sense considering that it’s not necessarily at a point in the story line where anything of any significance has transpired. I have been known to cry during the part of Longfellow’s “Evangeline” when Benedict Bellefontaine is depicted as the wealthiest farmer of Grand-Pre’, as well as at the time Mr. Willoughby rescued Marianne Dashwood upon her having fallen down a hill in Jane Austen’s “Sense and Sensibility”. My crying appears neither to be a favorable reaction to good things, nor an expression of regret at the travails of the protagonists. As with all my other eccentric quirks, I should very easily assume that it’s just an obnoxious nervous habit, or perhaps a silly impulse. It’s good to cry every once in a while. I most certainly wish, though, that I could explain why it happens to me in such obnoxious ways. Having just listened to Blue Swede’s “Hooked On A Feeling”, the one withe the “ooga chaga’s”, I’m now so very choked up.
I’ve always been quite a literary snob. Although I realize that every pop cultural figure, ranging from Joan Collins’s sister Jackie to Suzanne Sommers, and people from the casts of television shows like “Friends”, thinks he’s a writer, I inevitably restrict my reading material to the works of people like Dostoyevsky and Jane Austen, Flannery O’Connor and Walker Percy, and all the other highbrow literary figures. Were I ever confronted with a literary fairy, who could give me the ability to become either an obscure novelist, whose work would be admired and studied by a small cult following for generations yet to come, or a popular paperback author whose works could provide immediate enjoyment to millions in the short term, I should choose to be a serious author. There’s nothing wrong with writing harmless fluff with no literary merit. I’ve simply always admired important literature and wished that I were capable of writing something truly profound and noteworthy. I don’t like having to be bothered with keeping up with trends, though several trends, throughout the past few generations, have most certainly caught my attention quite favorably. Great literature, like all the other disciplines in the humanities department, deals with human nature and a good author has to have the ability to have a lot of insight into history, psychology, philosophy and all other disciplines. If I were ever lucky enough to be a serious writer, I should make sure I should steer clear of all liberal ideas. Story telling is extremely important and the conservative voice has to be heard. That’s why I’ve always liked both music and literature. Politics, history, economics and other disciplines have their place in society but people tend to be more prone toward accepting ideas by way of the narrative approach rather than didactic. I should think that maybe I could be a serious intelligent alternative to the kind of pablum that comes from writers like J. K. Rowling. Even if my work would be admired and studied by only few people, as the object of a cult following, I should be quite happy with that, as long as I could write exceptionally good literature. That would be especially appropriate for someone like me, considering that I’ve always been quite a distinctive character who can be counted on to appeal only to people with seriously offbeat tastes and ideas anyway. I’ve always enjoyed Emily Dickinson’s idea, that one should “Tell all the truth but tell it slant.” Symbolism, an important ingredient in all literature, plays quite an exceptionally large role in my world. Since I’ve never felt particularly comfortable in the company of strangers, I should have to be the kind of writer who would remain aloof from his readership. Frequent interviews and constant attention would be quite a burden for me to have to contend with. If anyone is interested in finding out about the other worlds that come from my imagination, though, he’d better most certainly beware of all the twists and turns they contain. Some of them can be awfully seriously disturbing.
Of course if I were ever to have the absolutely ultimate party, I should have to invite Beatles John Winston Lennon and James Paul McCartney to represent my favorite band. It would be only right to make them sit next to each other. Their combined intelligence and creativity as well as wit, humor and imagination would be bound inevitably to provide one and all with quite a fine time. If I allow them to sit right next to Lewis Carroll, that would really make for such an interesting collection of insights. Everyone knows how intensely significant an influence Carroll always was on the 1960’s musical world. The threesome could take us on all sorts of misadventures throughout both Pepperland and Wonderland. Woody Allen would be quite an exceptionally interesting guest too. He and I are both neurotic bespectacled native New Yorkers. We also share an interest in dwelling upon mankind’s much bigger, more significant questions about the ultimate meaning of life and death. We most certainly don’t have any of the same answers, though, unfortunately. Perhaps I should be more comfortable in the company of the typical character Allen played in his movies than with the real Allen. Each of the characters he played is quite a perpetually befuddled eternal square stranded in a world that’s utterly over his head. There’s a side of me that’s very much like that. An accomplished jazz clarinetist, he, along with Lennon and McCartney, could provide quite a show. In order to ensure that there will be women in attendance I could invite Emily Dickinson, Jane Austen and Flannery O’Connor. Austen could give our festivities a bit of a sense of propriety and a dose of what life was like during England’s Regency period. She was known for her having been supposedly quite stuffy but I’ll bet she could really cut a rug. The Misses Dickinson and O’Connor, by explaining to us all exactly what was going on in their perpetually lopsided literary works, could give us all sorts of insights into human nature. Dickinson was quite the dysfunctional recluse, and O’Connor a strict orthodox Catholic, but I should assume each of them could swing from the occasional chandelier or two every once in a while too. The last name on my guest list would be Robert F. Kennedy, brother of the thirty fifth president. R.F.K. has the distinction of being the most interesting of all the famous people I’ve met in person. I met him at his last St. Patrick’s Day Parade, a few months before he died. I was only in the third grade then. Kennedy also was quite charming, witty, intelligent and articulate. He could explain just exactly what it is about the Kennedy mystique that has always kept people so enraptured throughout the course of the past few generations. A consummate politician and statesman, he could also be an effective moderator among the others.
If there’s one thing in this world that I’ve been smitten with permanently, from the very first second, it’s book stores. For as long as I can remember I’ve always been quite a compulsive bookworm. I can’t remember my very first specific trip to a book store but I’ve always thoroughly enjoyed that environment. When I was still living in Lindenhurst, I frequently went to the Barnes and Noble at one of the local shopping centers on Sunrise Highway in Massapequa, and the Borders at a shopping center on Route 11o in Farmingdale. Then when I lived in Wyoming, I spent a lot of time at one of the Barnes and Nobles in Wilkes Barre too. The one in the Hub was much easier to get to than the one on Main Street. I ended up absolutely desperately needing a discount card for each store because of my having always compulsively bought books there. Unfortunately Borders went bankrupt and closed down a few years ago. I’ve always considered it the best of book stores. It’s especially nice to know that each book stores now has a little concession stand in it where a customer can relax and get coffee or something to eat. The only catch is that they always seem to be Starbucks, a company I’ve never liked. For quite a while at the Wilkes Barre Barnes and Noble I went there, usually on Sundays, to check out their video department so I can get some interesting DVD’s. Besides that, though, I made sure I also got very many books. Having majored in literature, in college, I really like to make sure I pay very close attention when I go to a book store, in order to try to find any really interesting things to read. It’s hard to find obscure things in just any book store, even the very best of them. Borders always seemed to have the best selection of obscure reading material. One weekend, a few months ago, Mary Anne, Steve and I spent a couple of days in Manhattan. On the first day Mary Anne and Joel were at a meeting for quite a while. In order to keep busy I went to the nearby Barnes and Noble that’s affiliated with New York University. Because it’s a college book store I was quite favorably impressed with their selection. If I ever lived closer to there, I’d be at that store constantly. I’m also on the mailing lists of a few Catholic book publishers. That’s another way for me to keep aware of all sorts of obscure writers. Because of my educational discipline, and my interest in Catholicism and western culture, I have all sorts of interests and always try to find the collected works of quite a wide varieties of authors. It’s hard to track them down, though, in the average book store. Lately I often read things online. Right now I’m re reading Jane Austen’s “Mansfield Park” on a literature site. In a way it’s just as good as reading a real book but it’s just not the same. There’s nothing so interesting as being able to visit a real book store and to buy a real 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.