Thursday, December 17, 2015

"Night of Enchantment," or, " Men and Women Like Us," or, What Would T. S. Eliot Say?

It seems that last month the Sewanee Review hosted its annual fall open house, which featured a number of readers sharing pieces from past issues of the review that they found particularly moving or resonant. One of those participants chose to read aloud my 2007 essay "Tracing Paradise: A Meditation on Milton, Chores, and a Private Life" (a piece that eventually evolved into a chapter of my reader's memoir, Tracing Paradise: Two Years in Harmony with John Milton).

This is a lovely thing to discover: that a reader is still moved by something I wrote nearly a decade ago. But, wait, there's more.

In his introductory words before the event, "Sewanee alumnus and Aiken Taylor fellow Robert Walker (C’15) welcomed all attendees to this 'night of enchantment'—one that he always anticipated as a student—to experience 'a river of literature' . . . written by great authors [who] 'weren’t legends or gods, but men and women like us.'"

Here's a short list of a few of the other "great authors": Walker Percy, Billy Collins, T. S. Eliot, Edna O'Brien, Wendell Berry, Robert Penn Warren.

* * *

Just so you know: I am standing here at my desk, in my bedroom, on the second floor of my dumpy little house. I have not made the bed yet. I am wearing sweat pants and slippers and I haven't taken a shower and my new short haircut is sticking up like dog hair and I just ate a handful of cheese puffs for breakfast.

Also I'm feeling slightly queasy, for reasons that have nothing to do with the cheese puffs. Also I want to laugh, possibly even to snigger. Also I have an urge to put my head in my hands and hide both my humiliation and this immodest flood of pleasure, which I should never, ever reveal because, as Alice Munro points out in her story-memoir "No Advantages," "calling attention to yourself . . . make[s] others cringe with embarrassment and apprehension." Possibly those "others" are simply the the thousand other faces of myself. Possibly they are also you. I assume the worst, on both counts. So, it seems, does Munro, and that at least is a comfort . . . because I'm pretty sure that the ghost of T. S. Eliot isn't having any second thoughts about his stature. I'm also pretty sure he isn't wearing a pink-flowered bathrobe that's been shredded by cats.

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