Patricia has been recently working as a legal secretary at a personal injury law office in the city, the job she secured through her former boss Alfred Petersen, Esq., a high-profile defendant insurance lawyer at a powerhouse Gothic City law firm. Patricia, a principled, intelligent, and discreet character could have found a position commensurate with her ability and experience in the city had the hiring managers in the HR departments been understanding of a nine-month lapse after her resignation from the position of paralegal at a boutique real estate law firm in downtown last year. The reason for her leaving was that the field of law did not turn out to be her best match, pace her previously held naive anticipation that it would require of her less contentious meeting with demanding clients and less leg work that would push her to be out of the doors most of time. Besides, she did not get along with her boss, Susie K. whose whimsicality flitted though the ebbs and flows of her melancholia and in the weather of her sanity with all too frequent paroxysm of hysteria. Patricia wanted to keep her sanity and dignity rather than to succumb to the incivility of an irreparable solipsist. Hence the lapse in her work experience.
When Patricia needed a helping hand to secure her employment with a B.A. degree what would leave you either overqualified or under-qualified in ever fast moving job market and the inglorious gaping period in-between employment history, she could not help but think of Mr. Petersen who was a lot like the empathetic boss of Bartleby the Scrivener in Herman Melville’s eponymous short story : that intellectually brilliant, characteristically benign, and professionally equable epitome of a “good” boss. Likewise, when Mr. Petersen whose heavenly blend of moral character and intellectual gifts saw many of his admirers got email from Patricia out of the blue, he was willing to cast her a life jacket on a perilous sea under the aegis of perennial influence. Since Mr. Petersen knew that Patricia was a good person who had not only the intellect but also the heart, an angelic admixture of humanity, he phoned one of his best lawyer colleague in town and connected him to her by sending him her resume via email for review and consideration that did not de rigueur need afterthought; it was the job to be had for the asking.
So far Patricia has been well adjusted to her work routine in the new office and the work style of her new boss who’s fair and magnanimous. She only secretly wishes that the current state of things will remain unperturbed because she feels that she’s worthy of such reward after what she went through while being the subject of the vertiginous treatment that knew no reason and stratagem at the expense of her wailing spirit smothering in the existential daily duties and responsibilities. Isn’t it a crime for anyone to yearn such a continuation of equilibrium?
P.S. Elsewhere in the world, people have believed that cranes dance at night when no mortals are around to transform themselves into human forms; then they choreograph their courtship, wooing and wooed. Mysterious and ancient, a crane is a bird of the misty past, of the uncertain present, and of the unknown future. Its regal poise makes wherever it stays a heavenly palace and entrances me into the whirlwind of Magic and Myth.
Oscar Wilde, the wonderfully strange writer with a keen eye on the panoply of human behaviors, knew about voyeuristic streaks on human nature when he said thus: “One must keep a diary when traveling anywhere by train or coach to read something sensational.” Maybe that’s why people like to read the lives of others. Maybe that’s why the memoir, which I regard very much as a diary written backward in time, always bestride the bestselling list of nonfiction of TheNewYorkTimesBookReview, which has become a formidably profitable genre of American literature. Admittedly, it’s awe-inspiring to read a success story of one whose hardscrabble background is a fortiori certifiable and renders a kind of feel-good sentiment with something of a vicarious experience to the reader sharing similar constraints of life in one way or another, or it may seem so. Frankly, any of the best-selling memoirs can hardly be less a modern version of Cinderella story than it seems to me, which is nothing but a proud exhibition of achievements by a select few (“The Chosen”) in the melee.
I might be cruel, only to be real. I am all the more respectful of anyone who has risen above biological/social inhibitions in his/her own fashion. But this topic of Triumph of Will over difficulties has become a literary fad, as though anyone who had rough and tough times in growing up somewhere in the backwater of downtrodden south or mid-western regions were suddenly in a zealous Olympic competition of writing the most heart-wrenching personal story on one cardinal condition: that the writer must have a very good career that provisions him/her with a nice place to live and loving, understanding significant other into the bargain. That is, unless a would-be writer of memoir is well-established in society, it’s not worth the writing of the story because after all, who’s gonna read your story if you still live among the melee with some ordinary, if not nondescript, job with meager income to barely get by despite your noble resilient spirit and evergreen hope to better yourself?
For example, the October 7, 2018 issue of TheNewYorkTimesReview carries an elegant book review of “Hey, Kiddo: How I Lost My Mother, Found My Father, and Dealt With Family Addiction”, a newest memoir of a certain popular illustrator-writer of children’s books named Jarrett Krosoczka, hailed as another survivor of economic and social determinism. The review presents the book as a courageous live-to-tell account of his childhood shadowed by his mother’s drug addiction and of his triumphant accomplishment as a successful artist who can presumably inspire many kids unfortunately mired in disadvantaged surroundings through no faults of their own. The spirit is commendable, but the gist is visceral. According to the elegant summary of the book, Krosoczka was better off than many other kids in his station because he had lumpish but loving grandparents who took care of him and encouraged his artistic inclinations, plus a cast of odd but good characters that complemented the other void of affectionate attention needed for a child. Back in our real nonfiction contemporary life, how many kids are fortunate to be endowed with the luck he had, and what if a kid struggling to escape from the plight with his intelligence and industry turned out to be just an ordinary adult still laboring to make the ends meet, while still secretly entertaining the thought of becoming somebody in his solitude? Would you think that his life is a failure? The memoir of this kind is more of a resume of individual experiences and achievements that, in a twist of irony, provokes a sort of catharsis in the reader as if he were watching a television drama that would made him feel like living in a holistic virtual reality.
In all fairness of my acerbic and arbitrary opinion on the review of the aforesaid memoir, it goes against the grain not to point out other popular memoirs perching on the best-selling list: Educated by Tara Westover is about her story of how she got away from her bohemian parents to immerse herself in scholarship; Hillbilly Elegy by J. D. Vance, another one by a Yale Law School Graduate recounting the struggles of the white working class struggles through the story of his own impoverished childhood; Heartland by Sarah Smarsh, a daughter of a poor wheat farmer in Kansas telling her poverty-stricken childhood into adolescence and the hard lives of the working class in the Mid-West; and finally, Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls, revealing her errant childhood and her struggle to be away from the rabble that led her to a gainful literary success. And I suspect that there will be more memoirs to be published in future like new soppy television movies in production.
As someone who regards Courage, Endeavor, and Resilience as great American drama in three acts, I am all for reading about someone who would continue his/her secret aspiration, while keeping the foot firmly grounded in reality, such as Laura Ingalles Wilder, Lucy Maud Montgomery, Jane Austen, and Charlotte Bronte, all of whom continued to tend their ordinary daily duties and responsibilities even after their literary success. To say it’s an anachronistic and antediluvian mode of thinking in the 21st century is to depreciate their literary geniuses and modus vivendi peculiar to the ethos of their times. However, the love of the writing must not corrupt into the worship of the hero. It’s the sense of the writer’s spirit that addresses the spirit of the reader, not the pageantry accolades of material successes that seem to be the bedrock of the memoir riding on the crest of popularity of rags-to-riches telltale revelations. We might live in an Orwellian world of reality prioritizing the ostentatious display of wealth or power, but we shall not devalue the truthfulness and value of ordinary life where the meaning of life depends upon whether or not we fulfill the demands placed upon our daily tasks however insignificant or trifle they may seem. For this reason, I don’t subscribe to the popularity of the best-selling Cinderella memoirs in which the sacredness of ordinariness in combination with the peculiar magic of literature is conspicuous by its absence.
As days of Indian Summer seem to be fading away with the arrival of fall in earnest this week, so do the halcyon park days of Henry Bovine, a tram operator of thirty years and a decorated veteran of the Abracadabra Campaign, whose pastimes include reading his periodical subscriptions and writing his essays and reviews in his weblog basking himself in the sun alone or sometimes with his good errant friends enjoying their temporary free times away from their homes in reminiscence of their bachelorhood. Wasn’t it Francis Bacon who also lamented the pathos of a married man with children? “A man with his wife and children gives hostages to the goddess Fortuna,” was his philosophical utterance. It’s not that all the married men in Avonlea regret their conjugal ways of life, but that they inevitably have to sacrifice some of their personal times for the sake of families. Surely, John and his chum Randy Beaver, the wonderful chef at the fabulous French restaurant called LaBoum (meaning “The Party” in English) are aware of their duties as married men and rights as individuals who do not forego their weekend sovereign pastimes.
“Hey, Henry. What’s new today? What’ re you writing about? Whatever is worth doing at all is worth doing well, I think. That means your writing is worth the reading in my part.” Anything coming from Randy is not flattery of a sycophant or an empty approbation of a busybody. He means it with all his heart and with all his mind. Knowing this makes Henry a fortiori pleased and appreciated, and because Henry is a very reticent man who tends to dissimulate his realm of thoughts, unless otherwise he trusts one to become his confidante over a long period of probation to test the character of the would-be confidante. “Hi Randy. Instead of writing, I am reading this week’s edition of The Watcher that mostly deals with the issues arising out of gender dysphoria in elementary and middle schools. For goodness’ sake, I could not have imagined to read such articles a decade ago. I guess I am falling by the wayside of the epochal changes and stuck in forgeyism,” says Henry with a wry smile. “Oh, cheer up, Henry. For what it’s worth, the world is not such a bad place to live. Life is like a voyage of Odyssey, packed full of vicissitudes of fortune,” declaims Randy against Henry’s self-effacing disservice to himself. “Shakespeare said it a personal play, but I call it a voyage because it seems more daringly venturesome. You know that between the devil and the deep sea, there was a strait where one of the most endearing and exciting adventures of Odyssey happened? Vide our own lives in that perspective!”
Randy’s passionate delivery of philosophical speech brings the grist to the mill for Henry’s reservoir of writing and enlivens his otherwise gloomy spirit with a visceral feeling of hopefulness and good-humorousness, of which Henry is in need. Ever humane and munificent, Henry wants to treat Randy with nice homemade styled lunch at Snoopy. Randy is, of course, glad to lunch with his intellectual friend who understands what he has read, ranging from the Classical to the contemporary, and what he talks about with verve and gusto. Isn’t it wonderful to have a kindred spirit in life? But in case Fortune has not yet revealed such spirit to you, do not be disheartened, for you can dispel your gloomy spells by trying to braving the world outside your comfort zones little by little: walking in the hustle and bustle of the center of town with no particular destinations in mind, followed by enjoying a coffee time with a journal to write and a book to read at your favorite coffee shop, will surely frame your mind to mirth and merriment that can make you immune from a thousand harms for the day. At the end of the day, Petula Clark’s “Downtown” will sound apposite to your day’s adventure, or it will seem.
Hunter and hunted, quiet and questing,
Tamed and wild, chaste and insatiable,
It’s man and woman at its will shifting
Its nature but the beauty still admirable
As the Unicorn fell from a noble creature
To a profane beast with Death of Adventure.
P.S. The divinity of the unicorn suddenly declined during the Renaissance period (14th~16th centuries) and like Lucifer, the Fallen Angel, it became a symbol of bacchanalian debauchery associated with lust and a harbinger of moral corruption. Even J.K. Rowling’s unicorn is devious and ghoulish, which is antithetical to my perception of unicorn as a divinely beautiful being evoking a wide arc of imaginations in my mind’s eye that has become sore to the dreary sights of the existential vertigo I sometimes stumble into.