Still another lesson: you can make up your own lessons, and draw on them as needed. Had I decided that my friends were out there, had I been able to admit I needed help, and been willing to solicit it, things would have been different. Instead, I only learned from the lesson that said when you’re hurting, quit. Wrong lesson. But the choice of lessons is always ours. Choose wisely.
Note: This account of my Peace Corps experience is taken from my unpublished memoir, “Remember Me,” about my best friend, Jay Fox.
I FINALLY GRADUATED college in June 1969 with a bachelor’s degree in history. It had been a long strange trip through academia, altogether six years – during which I dropped out twice and spent a year overseas. But I still wasn’t ready for a job – the “real world,” we called it, where we would “be productive” and hardworking. For one thing I still had a rampant case of wanderlust. But without a continuing deferment, the draft loomed, dark and threatening, like an approaching storm.
Daisy was the grandmother of my African American mentee. Aside from 11 children of her own, she raised him – plus his two sisters and three cousins – for ten years, from the time he was 9. She was fiercely protective of their safety and devoted to their well-being. She was a lovely person and a beautiful human being. She said:
When I was young I’d say I’ll have time to do this or do that. I’ll have plenty of time. But you don’t have plenty of time. When you’re old you can’t do it anymore. Now I tell my grandkids, there’s no tomorrow. Get your education and enjoy life. Because life is short.”
Daisy: I was born October 30, 1934, in Memphis, Tennessee. Daisy Bryant was my maiden name. I was the oldest of nine children. I came here [to Evanston, Illinois] to live with my father and my aunt when I was 13. I’ve been here ever since. I’m 77 now.
“Don’t play the notes. Play the meaning of the notes.” – Pablo Casals
When Richard Young was invited to join the Vermeer Quartet in 1985, he felt he had reached the pinnacle of the chamber music world. Just 39, he had played professionally for 13 years, first with the New Hungarian Quartet and then the Rogeri Trio. But the Vermeer was in a different, more elevated class, one of the top performing ensembles in the world. Based in Chicago since its founding by Israeli violinist Shmuel Ashkenasi in 1969, the Vermeer had recorded and performed throughout North and South America, Europe, Australia and the Far East. Their records and performances routinely drew rave reviews. “The superlative playing of the Vermeer Quartet has to be heard to be believed,” said the San Francisco Chronicle. “Their performance was magnificent; majestic in style, technically without flaw, and utterly persuasive,” wrote Melbourne’s The Age. “The Vermeer Quartet’s interpretations seem so nearly ideal that one can more easily appreciate music as universal harmony,” said the Polish music magazine Ruch Muzwczny. . . .
“On Reading Proust” is a hybrid: except for the incidents at the Y, it is all true. Call it creative non-fiction. Or Proustian.
Our public library sponsors an annual citywide book club called Mission Impossible, so named because only the most impossible-to-read classics are selected. What’s an impossible-to-read classic? One that by reputation is too big, too abstract or too abstruse to comprehend or enjoy. Think Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time. Or as Mark Twain said, a classic is “a book which people praise and don’t read.” But often these books are wonderfully readable, with the right help, and that is what the library provides in the form of an excellent introductory lecture and subsequent breakout discussion groups led by trained facilitators.
The first year the library made the obvious and preemptive choice: Joyce’s Ulysses. Of the 150 or so people who signed up, about a third actually made it to the end, nine months later. That is a phenomenal batting average as far as I’m concerned, having made it only to page 5. . . .