Saturday, July 29, 2006

Youthful Truth-Seeker

It is fun trying to research and write when your printer is on the fritz, UPS did not deliver your shipment of ink and there is nowhere else to buy it within walking distance in quaint-but-inconvenient Liberal College Town, and you realize your friend's Westlaw password (which you have been "borrowing" for the past year while you were out of school and he was getting his J.D./M.P.P.) has expired. It is even more fun when you are trying to get everything polished off enough to enjoy a guilt-free "vacation" next week house-sitting a beautiful house up on a mountain (not kidding, as in, go wayyyyyy up higher than sea level and no way to get down but drive down crazy, Mazda "zoom-zoom"-esque roads and the backyard drops off to a dense forest (stay on the trails) in which children have been lost and rescue teams have been assembled from the mountain-town's 1400 person population). It is fun, realizing that Kinko's closes at 11 pm at 11:30 pm.

Another Unamed Kindly Prof suggests that I "don't stress so much," because "it's all supposed to be fun" and "we law professors have the best job in the world." Clearly, while he teaches Type A neurotic and anxious law students, he has never met one. And while I agree with his assessment of the legal academy, how is that pertinent to me again? You know, since I'm not a law professor and therefore do not have the best job in the world? Because, you know, right now I have no job?

But the advice was kindly meant, and sarcasm aside (lovingly expressed, I assure you), I know him to be right. If I ignore the technical issues and my own insecurities (feasible for the former, laughable for the latter), I have to admit--it has been wonderful fun these past few weeks, living on my own and reading and writing on something I love. It could be worse. Heck, worse was a few months ago, when I was unemployed with no future prospects, living at home and taking care of children (actually, the children were the highlight, but they did remind me that I had nothing else to do). Now I'm in a cool program and writing cool things. Kindly Prof is right: it is supposed to be fun. Even the non-fun things (see above) can't detract too much from this fun-filled employment discrimination law ride I've been on. So I'll try to have fun with it. Even if this paper is not accepted because the schedule is already packed with "real" professors, thus omitting minor LLM student me, at least I'll have a paper to write and submit for publication. Presenting would be really cool (and highly useful for CV and networking)--but ultimately, what matters is the writing and demonstration of scholarly bona fides. So I'll try to remember that. Oh, and not to stress so much.

In the spirit of fun-seeking, to unwind tonight I dipped into my bookshelf and took out a recently purchased volume of Robert Penn Warren's poetry. And I found this to be peculiarly apt in describing young aspiring scholars. Except, you know, for the "half-naked" on the beach thing.

Youthful Truth-Seeker, Half-Naked, At Night, Running Down Beach South of San Francisco

In dark, climbing up. Then down-riding the sand sluice
Beachward from dune-head. Running, feet bare on
Sand wet-packed and star-stung. Phlegm in lungs loose.
Though now tide turning, spume yet prickling air on

My chest, which naked, splits darkness. On the right hand,
Palisades of white-crashing breakers renew and stretch on
Into unmooned drama and distance--To understand
Is impossible now. Flight from what? To what? ANd alone.

Far behind, the glow of the city of men fades slow.
And ahead, white surf and dark dunes in dimnes ar wed,
While Pacificward, leagues afar, fog threatens to grow,
But on yet I run, face up, stars shining above my wet head.

Before they are swaddlesd in grayness, though grayness, perhaps,
Is what waits--after history, logic, philosophy too.
Even the rhythm of lines that bring tears to the heart, and scraps
Of old wisdom that like broken bottles in darkness gleam at you.

What was the world I had lived in? Poetry, orgasm, joke:
And the joke the biggest on me, the laughing despair
Of a truth the heart might speak, but never spoke--
Like the twilit whisper of wings with no shadow on air.

You dream that somewhere, somehow, you may embrace
The world in its fullness and threat, and feel, like Jacob, at last
The merciless grasp of unwordable grace
Which has no truth to tell of future or past--

But only life's instancy, by daylight or night,
While constellations drive, or a warbler whets
His note, or the ice creaks blue in white-night Arctic light,
Or the maniac weeps--over what he always forgets.

So lungs aflame now, sand raw between toes,
And the city grows dim, dimmer still,
And the grind of breath and sand is all one knows
Of the Truth a man flees to, or from, in his angry need to fulfill

What?--On the beach flat I fall by the foam-frayed sea
That now and then brushes an outflung hand, as though
In tentative comfort, yet knowing itself to be
As ignorant as I, and as feckless also.

So I stare at the stars that remain, shut eyes, in dark press an ear
To sand, cold as cement, to apprehend,
Not merely the grinding of shingle and sea-slosh near,
But the groaning miles of depth where light finds its end.

Below all silken soil-slip, all crinkled earth-crust,
Far deeper than ocean, past rock that against rock grieves,
There at the globe's deepest dark and visceral lust,
Can I hear the groan-swish of magma that churns and heaves?

No word? No sign? Or is there a time and place--
Ice-peak or heat-simmered distance--where heart, like eye,
May open? But sleep at last--it has sealed up my face,
And last foam, retreating, creeps from my hand. It will dry.

While fog, star by star, imperially claims the night.
How long till dawn flushes dune-tops, or gilds beach-stones?
I stand up. Stand thinking, I'm one poor damn fool, all right.
Then ask, if years later, I'll drive again forth under stars, on tottering bones.

--Robert Penn Warren, "Being Here, " Poetry 1977-1980

This is not my favorite poem of Warren's (although I like the line "the twilit whisper of wings with no shadow on air"), but I found myself moved by it's message, more so than it's lyrical construction. But I do like Robert Penn Warren's poetry. You probably know him as author of "All the King's Men," an amazing novel inspired by Huey P. Long. Soon to be a movie, incidentally, starring Sean Penn and Kate Winslet. To me, the poetry of James Wright, Robert Lowell, Donald Hall, and Robert Penn Warren are the children of Hart Crane: meditative ruminations on America, often depressing, but often very beautiful too. Confessional and intimate without being only about sex, love, or heartbreak. Often about loss, whether of time, country, or memory.

Who among us can't relate to that.