I was lucky that I found a job that (mostly) involved few routines. Yes, there was a calendar and things went along in a steady sort of way but a few times a year they picked themselves up, put themselves away, and started differently–different people, different books, (even if Shakespeare’s Sonnet 73 appeared where some might say it did not belong–I could fit it into a class on the 19th or 20th century novel). I don’t like routine; I recoil from the tyranny of a list. I am not precisely a free spirit: I must begin my day by feeding and cats and steeping strong tea. But I am a dud when it comes to challenges, patterns, commitments, steadiness, sturdiness, and repeating on Tuesday what I did on Monday. If I were an Olympian (ridiculous thought), I would be a quick sprinter rather than a marathoner. And thus we arrive at one of the reasons why I like to read poetry so much. I can sprint into the world and dash out with celerity. While I don’t think I have ADHD (I’ve read The Tales, The Faerie Queen, PL, The Prelude, The Ring and the Book) I do think a little dab of reading will do me for many purposes. Just as some people need oatmeal or The Today Show to set them up for the day, I need to get out of my own little geriatric mind. Of course, as a professed enemy of habit, I don’t do it the same way every day.
More and more I come to appreciate the value of quotations from those other than poets. I have a little book of quotes by Henry James. And there’s no way I will ever read it methodically, but turning to some of its pages, I find much of delight. The editor, a well-known James scholar, Michael Gorra, has made some superb selections:
“He saw more in his face, and he liked it the better for its not telling its whole story in the first three minutes. That story came out as one read, in short instalments.” From “The Lesson of the Master,” 1892.
“Will she understand? She has everything in the world but one,” he added. “But that’s half.”…”What is it?”…”A sense of humor.” The Awkward Age, 1899.
“When Milly smiled it was a public event–when she didn’t it was a chapter of history.” The Wings of the Dove, 1903
“She was as undomestic as a shop-front and as out of tune as a parrot.” “The Marriages,” 1892.
What delightful ideas, figures of speech, and wit these quotations provide. Gorra wrote a superb book called Portrait of a Novel: Henry James and the Making of an American Masterpiece. If I could recommend a quatrain of books to you right now, it would be Gorra’s two books, The Portrait of a Lady, and John Banville’s Mrs. Osmond.
While I cannot hew to routine, I admire those who follow a schedule such as Henry James and Anthony Trollope.