Sunday, June 14, 2009


Last night I got to meet up with some friends from high school, several of whom I hadn’t seen in over a year. It was nice—we ate pizza and caught up on each other’s lives. It’s interesting to see how we’ve diverged into our various major…even those of us who had shared the same interest in biology are now looking at careers in ophthalmology, botany, biological engineering, and veterinary medicine. After dinner and a long debate about how we would split up the bill (too long since some of us had had a decent math class!), we headed off the Barnes & Noble to window shop and continue our conversations.

We gazed with halfhearted interest at the rows of books, wistfully categorizing them into Those We Had All Read in School (Life of Pi, The House of the Spirits), Those We Had Read for Self-Enrichment (One Hundred Years of Solitude, Everything is Illuminated), Those We Wanted to Read (Brave New World, The Dharma Bums), and Those We Should Theoretically Read but Never Would (War and Peace, On the Origin of Species). There was a hint of competitive one-up-manship, as we attempted to impress each other with our literary repertoire. “I wish I had endless time and an endless budget to read all of these books,” I remarked, sweeping my hand in a vague arc across the Fiction section. “Yeah,” replied a pal. We agreed that the tragedy of our condition is multifaceted. First, being Poor College Students, we can’t afford to buy anything (Last week, on a splurge, I spent an entire day’s wages on two books. But you can’t put a price on knowledge, right?). Next, our time is extremely limited. We don’t have the energy to read anything heavy during the school year, and during the summer, all we want to do is sleep. Finally, without the motivation of a grade or the encouragement and guidance of a professor, it’s hard to get interested in the more difficult (but culturally significant) works. So we settle into a state of apathy…and read the comics. Pity.

It was after 10:00 by the time we said our good-byes and the last of us split up to return home. I’ve always liked driving alone on the highway at night, when the faint lights of oncoming traffic off in the distance remind me, for some strange reason, of an amusement park ride. Last night there was very little traffic, however, and as the radio blared melancholy songs of unrequited love, I made the startling realization that I couldn’t see out my rearview mirror. I made a few adjustments before realizing that there were no problems with either my vision or the mirror’s location—there was simply nothing to see. The lay of the land was such that I couldn’t even see the dull, blank purple sky. My view was completely black for the “visible” mile or two behind me. No cars followed, and I could only dimly make out the tail lights of a vehicle far ahead. I was, I realized, completely alone. From time to time I amused (or consoled?) myself by tapping the brakes or flicking on the turn signal, so that the road behind me shone faintly red and proved that I hadn’t gone blind. Meanwhile, my headlights kept the highway directly before me brightly illuminated, while the median on my left and the woods on my right were black, shadowed, and hidden. It’s a one-track road, I thought to myself, bearing me down toward an inevitable conclusion. And sure enough, when my exit materialized out of the darkness, I felt myself signal, brake, and turn out of habit. What other choice did I have? Or, rather, what would happen if I just kept on driving?

But, despite my contemplative mood, I didn’t keep on driving. My only concession to impulse was to stop at the bridge over the creek, park my car, and walk out over the water. There was no moon in sight, but there were no clouds, either, and the stars were brilliant and as distant as ever. Imitating the stars were thousands of flashes of yellow light that moved and blinked and disappeared across the blank landscape. Fireflies. The whole show was reflected in the slow-moving waters of the Pomme de Terre and I watched, spellbound, for a minute or two until I heard the far-off rumble of a car’s engine and, seized by irrational panic, hightailed it back to the safety of my own vehicle to complete the drive home.


Mark said...

Good post. You're a great writer.

Mark Twain once said, "The Classics are books everyone wants to have read but nobody wants to read." I think he's got a point.

Mozart said...

I went through a phase when I thought I had to read everything significant/famous/influential. Yeah. I've found that, at least for me, many of the "great" works have lost relevance. They have, however, inspired modern writers who in turn actually improved upon the original works--while still conserving the important ideas. No need for masochistic forced readings through difficult stuff, I guess!

ihateyoupetersmythe said...

Origins is actually really boring. The only chapter worth reading (since everything else is condensed and infinitely easier to read in a decent bio textbook) is the one about his theory on how instincts came to be, specifically about slave making ants.
Oh, and I am anxiously waiting for your call.

Dan said...

I read Brave New World.