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that smell of timelessness
june 3, 2001
Mary and I have been on vacation this week.
I love being on vacation.
I love being able to step outside the rush of the world, and roll lazily over in a warm bed, the sun in the windows, drifting back to sleep thinking about imaginary cities and bubbling water. I love being able to stay up as late as I want at night, typing for hours, crushing cigarette pack after cigarette pack, going to bed without dinner. I love Mary and me working out in our hot garden in the middle of a work day, not caring how exhausted we get because we don't have to raise ourselves out of bed the next day until we feel like it. I love the luxury of preparing a meal that takes hours, and all sorts of scavenger list ingredients, rather than stabbing a frozen meal before popping it in the microwave. I love the smell of timelessness that wafts around a vacation.
I love it that for a week, or however long, it feels like the world has ended, and only Mary and I survived.
Vacations are also a good time to do all the things you enjoy doing. Mary's been working on a new section of her webpage series Cats in the White House, and I've been creating my first Flash movie, the introductory page on SENTENCE from which people will be able to select my Flash movies.
I've also been reading. Coincidental with the impending arrival of our vacation, one of the seemingly endless e-mails I get dunned with from Amazon contained notice of a book I was actually interested in buying (I like Amazon. We order from it a lot, books, CDs, software and hardware, but once they get your name, expect to showered for the rest of your life with e-mails from them alerting you to other items their profiling software has decided you'd enjoy. These e-mails to me include automatic insertions of my name, Ralph Robert Moore, in the text, the sort of computer-generated personalization junk mail initiated years ago. Mary and I have always used post office boxes for our snail mail correspondence. Since we get a lot of flower catalogs, it's not unusual for us to receive a flyer in our box that informs us their tulip selection "is ideal for planting at Post Office Box 859." Most of these so-called personalized e-mails from Amazon start by listing a book by an author whose work I've ordered from Amazon in the past (it's almost always Burroughs' The Place of Dead Roads, which I already have, and in fact obtained from Amazon), after which the list deteriorates into bizarre offerings I have no interest in whatsoever, such the Disney video of "Disney's The Kid", which I saw and liked, but don't want to own).
Anyway, the book Amazon's software thought I couldn't live without this mailing was Dear Bunny, Dear Volodya, and for once, the software was right.
For those of you who might think that title odd, "Bunny" was the nickname used by Edmund Wilson, the American critic, and "Volodya" was the name Wilson used to refer to Vladimir Nabokov, the author of Lolita, Pale Fire, Speak Memory, and a large number of other brilliantly-written novels and non-fictions.
Both men were close friends, until Nabokov published his four-volume translation and annotation of Pushkin's Eugene Onegin, after which a very public literary feud developed, an event as exciting and welcome in the book world as an early evening lightening storm in the dullness of Summer.
The book is a compilation of their letters to each other over the decades before, during and after that storm.
The letters first came out in 1979, when it was then called The Nabokov-Wilson Letters, and in fact I have a first edition, I've just pulled it down from my shelves to look at it, which I ordered from a bookstore in Santa Barbara where I was then living, and picked up on one of my first dates with Mary, way back then.
Since I was ordering the Nabokov book, I decided to scoot around the Amazon site for a while to see if there was anything else I wanted.
I ended up adding two additional books to my "shopping cart": Lovecraft Remembered, edited by Peter Cannon, published by Arkham House, which puts in one volume most of the remembrances of Lovecraft written over the decades by those who met him or corresponded with him, and The Pocket Essential Philip K. Dick, a slim paperback written by Andrew M. Butler, published by Pocket Essentials, which summarizes and critiques each of Dick's novels and several of his better short stories, as well as providing additional information on each.
All three writers are among my favorites. We need only add William S. Burroughs, Donald Barthelme, Alain Robbe-Grillet and Julio Cortazar to make the party complete.
All three writers, to some extent, were on permanent vacation most of their lives.
Nabokov did odd jobs while he still lived in Europe before World War Two, giving tennis lessons and tutoring, and once he moved to America taught for several years, but for most of his life, he was unemployed. He bragged in his later years that he was kept by a little girl named Lolita, and indeed the success of that novel gave him his financial freedom.
Philip K. Dick worked in a record store during his youth, but then spent the rest of his life living from royalty check to royalty check, and none of those checks were very large.
Lovecraft probably worked at a regular job less than 30 days in his life. He had a brief stint as a ticket-taker at a movie house in his home town of Providence, Rhode Island, and, as memory serves, I think showed up to stuff envelopes a few times while he was living in New York City, but outside of that, he was unemployed his entire life.
I envy all three of them their talent.
But even more so, I envy all three of them their permanent vacations.