Thursday, March 19, 2009

Distraction and Concentration

I feel as if I am holding down three jobs. Not only teaching and writing, but also bookselling. Since last October, I have been networking on Facebook, in order to promote my new book of poems Equal to the Earth (to be released in April). This means making new friends, inviting them to join my book blog, answering emails. I've also been Twittering, to see if I can create some buzz that way. During term time. I wake up at four to get it all done. 

Not everything feels like work. There is the pleasure of conversation, in one case, real, and not virtual, conversation. There is also the pleasure of imagining lives so different from mine, whether they be modeling in Italy or hiking north of Galilee. Though I started out resenting the work of bookselling, I am beginning to enjoy the sense of control I have over the whole enterprise. This was brought home to me on Monday when a friend who also has a book coming out from a small press told me that there has been no communication from her publisher, let alone the kind of consultation I enjoy with Roxanne. 

This week of Spring Break has given me time to prepare for my Virtual Book and Birthday Party. I relearned how to use the Audacity software to record my readings. Not being tech-savvy, I recorded my readings without stopping or editing, and so you will hear them warts and all. Then I had to learn how to upload an audio file on Blogger. In order to do so, I had to find a free hosting site, and finally settled on 

This morning I tried uploading my MP3 files on Facebook but the application did not work and I gave it up. While struggling with Facebook, I became distracted by Google Sites, and spent a good two hours setting up a personal website. I am of course making the beginner's mistake of spreading myself too thin by having too many platforms. But I am amazed that things on the Internet have been made so much easier for a technophobe like me. 


Distraction and concentration. Last night I finished reading the fifth, and final, volume of Leon Edel's biography of Henry James. I started reading Volume One in December, and now it is March. The reading was fitful, most of it done during school breaks and long weekends. Coming to the end of the massive Life, I read "New York 1950-Honolulu 1971." I take the dates to mark the start and the end of the writing of this biography, though the dreaming and conception of such a work presumably began even earlier. So, at least, 21 years to research and write this Life. 

Highly unlikely that those 21 years saw an uniform level of work, an equal intensity of focus. I imagine there were highs and lows, times when the stitch was dropped, times when the cloth bunched up, and times when the purr of the sewing machine was the only sound heard. But the Life showed no sign of those varying times. It flows, seamlessly, a narrative of great grace and penetrating insight. Its triumph is the imposition of form on chronological chaos, the making of a Life out of a life. 

The writing of three mature novels and two works of autobiography, the deaths of family and friends, the worry over one's literary legacy, the body's decay, the ambiguous relations with younger writers, the Great War: these were less events than happenings when they happened, but in Edel's hands, they become events, they acquire proportion, weight and texture, they join up into a beautiful tapestry. Life is not art, but Edel has done what James says art must do: "It is art that makes life, makes interest, makes importance." Edel shows why James's life is interesting and important. 

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