Have you ever read Homer's The Iliad--in one day? I did that Saturday, and in some literary sense I know I am the better for it. Not the one day, but the reading.
I am reading "classics" this week, also last week, and probably next week. And at the same time I'm reading Moll Flanders, by Daniel DeFoe, perhaps more famous for Robinson Crusoe, which I have never read, nor heard of till the first week of this year (along with Moll).
As I was reading Plato, Aristotle, Horace, Longinus, Wollstonecraft last week I fancied up a long post in my mind about the importance of reading the classics. Necessary reading for writers was essentially my thesis, my point. But then I started hating it. And then I got to class, after I had read all obscene amount of pages, and learned from my peers, my contemporaries, that they gave up and didn't read it all. (The horror!!) Then we had an hour long talk about each reading and me, the girl who LOVES to talk and discuss, me, started to get bored, then annoyed, and finally indignant that I was getting out of class at 10pm. I might even dare to say that me, yes me, the girl who LOVES to speak up in class (and has been reprimanded for it--unjustly--my classmates were being stale and not talking) was pissed. I also need to add that I think I might have possibly, if E is right in all his manly wisdom, had a small, teeny-tiny panic attack in class. An hour before she let us out--at 10!!
10 pm does not sit well with me and my student colleagues.
All that dampened my spirits for talking about the classics, because at that point, in a class where I and a grad student (who is taking the graduate equivalent of my undergraduate class) spoke most of the time (along with the professor--whom despite keeping us an hour past the decent hour of learning--I like) and I ended up having nothing else to say about the classics.
And then today I read Plato, The Apology of Socrates. (For another class.)
I could string together a necklace of word pearls of wisdom, knotting the red silk after phrase and phrase and phrase, place a golden clasp at the end of them all, and wear those *few* phrases around my writing neck forever.
Picture me sitting with legs crossed, blanket around my cold shoulders, fan whirling motes at a corner wall in the background, sunlight shining in on me and my colorful bed...writing
(Excuse my exaggeration; I have read over 200 pages in the past 36 hours. That doesn't include the 150-200 pages I read the days before the weekend.)
I really enjoyed reading Plato's defense of Socrates. There were moments when I stopped, underlined, starred, and then said, "Ohh, that's where that comes from."
If you've read Hamlet (for the first time--after high school or whenever most people read it) you'll know what I'm talking about--those moments when you realize where certain sayings, quotes, thoughts come from. Well that was my experience with Plato's Apology--not with On poetics, which I read (and hated) last week.
Here are the pearls I gathered for my writing necklace:
"So I left him, saying to myself, as I went away: Well, although I do not suppose that either of us knows anything really beautiful and good, I am better off than he is,--for he knows nothing, and thinks that he knows; I neither know nor think that I know."
"I found that the men most in repute were all but the most foolish; and that the others less esteemed were really wiser and better."
"Then I knew that not by wisdom do poets write poetry, but by a sort of genius and inspiration; they are like diviners or soothsayers who also say many fine things, but do not understand the meaning of them."
"A man who is good for anything ought not to calculate the chance of living or dying; he ought only to consider whether in doing anything he is doing right or wrong--acting the part of a good man or of a bad."
And here is where it really got good, and I started thinking of you--my lovely blog:
"I will never fear or avoid a possible good rather than a certain evil."
"You, my friend,--a citizen of the great and mighty and wise city of Athens,--are you not ashamed of heaping up the greatest amount of money and honor and reputation, and caring so little about wisdom and truth and the greatest improvement of the soul, which you never regard or heed at all?"
"For I do nothing but go about persuading you all, old and young alike, not to take thought for your persons or your properties, but first and chiefly to care about the greatest improvement of the soul."
"...no evil can happen to a good man, either in life or after death."
Maybe it's just me, but these "quotes" moved me. I'm sure I'm not the only one who has heard that "the man who knows anything knows he knows nothing at all." I've always loved that saying.
But take a look at some of the other quotes...the one on poetry, the one about doing right, the one about fear. Are these not pearls of wisdom, great guidance for those of us who like to think, ponder, wonder about things like inner soul, life & death, good vs. evil?
I've talked about my decision to pursue an MFA in creative writing so much, and though I stand firm in my decision, I have to be honest--I'm scared. Scared of rejection, failure, debt. Is my voice developed enough? Do I know enough? How do I compare with other writers? Will I go into debt for a useless degree? How will it change my life? Will I get accepted--anywhere?
I really can go on, but I rather not. Plato (& Socrates) tells me that it is not good to fear a possible good. And is not that graduate degree a possible good?
For sure it is a certain evil to deny myself that which I love, writing, telling stories. What would be more awful than denying yourself what you love for fear? Living your life with that fear and knowing it got the best of you.
A year ago me and E were hemming & hawing over our decision to go back to school. Him to pursue his MBA and me to finally finish my bachelors. It was such a monumental, engrossing decision. There were spreadsheets, and visits, and informational meetings, and price comparisons, and FAFSA's. I was scared. E just informed me he was not. (But he's never scared about anything.) And look at us, a year later, in the swing of it and all the better for it. I have maintained a 4.0 and he has a 3.8 or 3.9. We are doing it and doing it well. A notch on my confidence belt.
I'm hoping my shared quotes will mean something to one of you. They pushed me a little further past my fear and opened a world of understanding about Socrates for me. I must admit that after reading On Poetics last week, I didn't hold Socrates in high esteem; I didn't care for the way he bashed poets, artist, carpenters.
Moving past fear feels delicious. Even though somewhere up under my skin, perhaps under my arms or legs, it swims and festers trying to work its way to my brain, heart. But I fight the good fight. I tell myself that I will and can do that which now seems so far and impossible.
Tell yourself the same thing.