By Glen Roven
I first met Willard Spiegelman in Los Angeles when he accompanied me on my many interminable drives from Santa Monica to my workplaces in Hollywood. He wasn’t there bodily, however he actually was a presence: his voice, narrating the Poetry Course from the Instructing Firm — all 30-odd hours of it — was my fixed companion for a month.
I had seen the advertisements for the Instructing Firm’s Faculty Programs in newspapers and magazines, however I didn’t really hear one till I noticed them for mortgage on the Beverly Hills Library and checked them out. I began with the wonderful music programs given by Professor Robert Greenberg, and after I realized “How to Listen to and Understand Great Music,” and all in regards to the lives of Mozart, Wagner, Shostakovich, and Tchaikovsky, I checked out “How to Read and Understand Poetry” taught by Spiegelman (which I see is not accessible of their catalogue — pity!)
I’d all the time cherished my poetry programs in class, however there was one thing about Spiegelman’s enthusiasm that particularly captured me. He spent a half hour on A. R Ammons’ “Beautiful Woman,” a poem that consists of the 9 phrases “The spring / in / her step / has / turned to / fall;” as an alternative of the standard chronological poetry syllabus, Spiegelman bounced round, grouping poems collectively, even when the poets had been born centuries aside, analyzing Whitman in the identical breath as Donne, William Carlos Williams in the identical breath as Keats. I additionally cherished his decisions of poems and poets to debate: a lot had been acquainted to me, some of my absolute favorites freshly analyzed, however there have been quite a few poems and poets I had by no means heard. All of this made my commuting within the Los Angeles visitors, the place individuals get so annoyed they really shoot one another — dare I say it — my favourite half of the day.
So after I learn Spiegelman had come out with a set of essays, Seven Pleasures: Essays on Atypical Happiness, I instantly clicked “buy.” Fairly actually, it wasn’t simply his poetry course — regardless of having labored at it for a lot of, a few years, “ordinary happiness seemed” to have eluded me. Possibly he may assist. The $19.95 was actually lots cheaper than the $250 an hour I paid my shrink. Spiegelman’s high seven picks for happiness in his guide are studying, strolling, wanting, dancing, listening, swimming, and writing, actions accessible to even essentially the most neurotic of the neurotics (i.e., me and my colleagues in present enterprise).
“Happiness,” he writes, “has received less respect and less serious attention than melancholy.” On this great assortment, he gently however firmly guided the reader on the best way to expertise happiness with out Lexapro, Wellbutrin, or perhaps a nice deal of cash.
I can’t say that this guide really banished my melancholic humors, however I actually had a good time studying it. And each time I stroll round a brand new metropolis, and I journey an incredible deal, I always assume of Mr. Spiegelman and his directions.
I believe the factor I most loved about that guide is that Spiegelman is a not a self-help guru, however an erudite school professor. I shortly understood his authority got here from a lifetime of expertise, a lifetime of educating and coping with college students, and a lifetime of precise dwelling. And he really looks like a “happy” particular person. I’m unsure I do know any writers I can say are comfortable.
Given the truth that his era was “the last children born before the ubiquity of television,” I assumed Spiegelman was a minimum of my age, and together with his newest publication, the deliciously titled, Senior Moments Wanting Again, Wanting Forward, I spotted he was, of course, “getting on.” I can assume of nobody higher to assist me modify to getting older than the person who (tried to) train me to be comfortable.
Whereas not as didactic as Seven Pleasures, this pleasant guide of essays displays on his six many years of educating and writing via private tales of a “senior citizen who has reached his biblical allotment of three score years and ten,” protecting cities he’s lived in, cities he’s visited, books he’s learn and re-read, and the anticipation and inevitable disappointment of a school reunion. A summation of recollections, it makes the unconventional argument that growing old can really be a pleasure.
At all times erudite, Spiegelman peppers his work with quotes from Plato, Amy Clampitt (whose letters he edited), Elizabeth Bishop, Robert Lowell, Frank O’Hara, Horace, Roland Barthes, E.B. White, Cynthia Ozick, Elizabeth Hardwick, Samuel Johnson, Joseph Mitchell, Immanuel Kant, Willa Cather, William Maxwell, Alice Munro, John Cheever, William Trevor, Shirley Hazzard, and plenty of extra: this can be a guide for the properly knowledgeable.
Speigelman’s mom, he writes, “recognized no difference between the Normandy invasion and a trip to the supermarket.” In Dallas, the automotive rental girl who finds he’s arrived to show English says, “Yew’ve cum down heah to teach us English? Whah, yew don’t even talk lahk us!” The Dallas climate: “As the days shorten, as first the nights and then the days themselves begin to cool, the human spirit emerges from hiding. We start to breathe, and to think, again, following the summer’s oppressive languor.” Spiegelman writes his prose with the present of a poet, or a minimum of a poetry professor, and with comedian timing: “A great twentieth-century intellectual once said, ‘I read poetry because it saves time.’ That was Marilyn Monroe.”
It skips all of the clichés about growing old: no physician’s workplace, growing old dad and mom, kids who by no means name, limbs and organs that not perform. It’s not that guide.
Maybe my favourite part was when he visited the Cloisters in Manhattan to listen to the sound set up by the Canadian artist Janet Cardiff:
In 2001, Cardiff made a recording at Salisbury Cathedral of Thomas Tallis’s mid-sixteenth-century polyphonic motet Spem in alium for forty voices. She lined the partitions with curtains and blankets to manage the sound and to deaden the area. Nineteen further kids augmented the forty called-for singers. All fifty-nine musicians wore lavaliere microphones hooked up to cables that ran to a truck outdoors Then, combining some of the kids’s elements, she diminished the audio tracks to forty. […] On the Cloisters’ Fuentidueña Chapel, a limestone Spanish apse from the twelfth century, the work was “performed” repeatedly all through the day over a three-month interval. This was the primary time the Cloisters had hosted any up to date artwork, though the essence of the Tallis polyphonic piece is hardly trendy. The complete expertise mixed the previous and the brand new. It was really neither previous nor new. As a substitute it supplied a style of eternity.
I really feel Senior Moments provides up the identical.