So today is June 16th, which all of you literature nerds (like myself) know as Bloomsday. But for those of you non-English majors, who chose to pursue “real” degrees in “science” (but hey, remember alchemy? That was all you guys), Bloomsday is the celebration of James Joyce’s magnificent novel Ulysses, which takes place on June 16th, 1904.
I’ve had a pretty healthy obsession with Joyce since I first read Dubliner’s my sophomore year of college. But it wasn’t until my senior year that I finally read Ulysses. There was this glorious Ulysses seminar at Cornell, where you would work through the novel slowly over the course of a semester, spending hour-long classes analyzing only a few lines. Well, I didn’t take that. Instead, I opted for a graduate seminar on British Modernism where I had to read Ulysses in about a week, which, needless to say, was less than pleasant. In retrospect, I really made some questionable decisions during my undergraduate career...just look at Moses. Just kidding there, Tiger. Oh whatever, he won't read this. But for those of you who have read Ulysses, just pause for a moment and appreciate how difficult it would be to wade through the Penelope section on a Friday night, smelling of curry and poo-nim sauce (because you had to wait tables earlier that evening), while your boyfriend played flip-cup with his buddies in the next room. Yeah. I can't say as though I would recommend it.
It wasn’t until last summer that I read Ulysses for the second time. Although this experience was certainly less rushed, it was not without its stress. Ulysses was one of the books on my graduate program’s comprehensive exam—so retaining important quotes and having a fairly sound understanding of the sequence of events (which is harder than it sounds) was crucial. I had also volunteered to make a handout for our Ulysses study session. The handout ended up being about twelve pages. You’re welcome, cohort.
And tonight, in our usual decadent fashion, Moses and I are attending a Bloomsday soiree at the Hammer Museum. Normally, one would have to wait in line for such tickets, which are handed out on a first come first serve basis, but we know people. Actually, we know his aunt Linda who knows people. But nevertheless, I plan to spend my evening leisurely sipping wine in the Hammer courtyard and, for the very first time, experiencing the words and nuances of Ulysses without the undercurrent of stress, fatigue, or anxiety. As you can tell, I am really looking forward to it.
I would like to end this post with a cute but somewhat tragic anecdote tangentially related to the topic at hand. Since I was about twelve, I have been working with this particular storyline. It’s seen many variations and incarnations but the basic plotline is this: there are three sisters who are dealing with their father's suicide. Depressing, I know. Apparently, I was a morbid twelve year old. Anyways, when I was sixteen I had what I thought was a truly revolutionary idea: to interweave the lives of these characters with Greek myth. And so, each sister was given a particular myth that shaped her narrative. One chapter was entitled “The Lotus Eater,” which centered on the oldest sister who struggled to cope with her life, emotions, and father’s death and who subsequently chose to suppress/"forget" things (thus the connection with the lotus). Another chapter was called "The Beekeeper" and focused on the memories of the youngest sister who kept a beehive and who tried but ultimately failed to help their father (her narrative was meant to correspond with the myths of Melissa, the nymph). Quite clever for someone who had only just recently acquired her learner’s permit.
|Me at sixteen (for interested parties).|
With this new direction I entitled my story Thanatopsis, which in Greek means: meditations on death (I was, quite understandably, REALLY impressed with myself for coming up with that). This was going to be it, my crowning achievement as a writer. My Mrs. Dalloway. And up until I was twenty-four, I would annually revisit my “Thanatopsis” word document and write and rewrite its various sections. It wasn’t until last summer when I reread Ulysses that I came to a startling revelation: Holy shit, it’s the same thing. My brilliant idea, my groundbreaking work was essentially just a rip-off of a similar idea that James Joyce had had nearly a century before: mixing myth and modernity and stream of consciousness narrative. And so, with a heavy heart, I quietly and sadly abandoned the Thanatopsis project.
Damn you, James Joyce. Damn you.