Diary of a Country Bookseller - Get Some Perspective!

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Smaller problems seem to get bigger as I grow old. And the reverse is also true: big things hardly bother me at all. The money I've squirreled away over the years, for example, has shrunken like a New Guinea tribal head. Oh well. C'est la vie. I've never missed a meal and the kids have to buy their own shoes now, so everything is going to be alright (Really).

On the political front, a sour drug addicted wing nut has captured the souls and imaginations of about 15 percent of American radio listeners, while our new President seems to have bailed out every last person in the Universe except ... me. Still, I really can't get worked up very much about either one of these guys. I'm too deaf to hear much radio and, truth be known, I stopped bailing myself out a long time ago; I shouldn't expect someone else to do it now. God bless them both.

On the other hand, I'm in a lather over how long it's taken the county to cut the grass in front of the Circuit Judge's office; last week the stuff was about a mile high and the property had the overall look of a meth lab. I'm sure the newly indicted feel comfortable going in and out of the place, but I doubt that the 12,000 people who drive through Berryville every day on US62 leave town with a positive impression.

Telescope vs. microscope

"Get some perspective!" my wife advises (tells) me. She worries about the dwindling family fortune, the mob of Yahoos in charge of the future, and about polar bears trapped on ice flows. She wants me to be worried about these things too, but my laser-like focus is on the 8,000,000 feral cats that crap in my flower beds at four in the morning. Who's got time to worry about going to the Poor House?

She blames my lack of perspective on Marcel Proust, a pudgy little French guy who stayed in bed for 14 years and used the long recline to write a novel entitled In Search of Lost Time, or, in an earlier translation, Remembrance of Things Past. As an object to which one might assign blame, In Search of Lost Time is a pretty good one: it is 3,200 pages long, has more than 2,000 characters and, honest, at least one sentence runs on for 17 lines.

Magnificent minutiae

What is the book about? Nobody really knows. A guy is in bed (of course!) and he can't sleep. During that fitful night he begins to remember "things past." Among the things he remembers is a wonderful croissant, a perfect cup of coffee, an annoying phrase from the mouth of a pretty girl, the way light is comprised of motes and beams ... and on and on.

I suppose that In Search for Lost Time is about the importance of small things, and about the comfort we draw from what we know and what is common to us. And it is about how personal it is when the known and the commonplace become strange, or atrophied. Every morning at 5 a.m. I wait for a thump signaling the delivery of the second worst newspaper in America. Like Proust, I have come to understand that it is the thump, and not the newspaper, that is important.

It all matters

My favorite book, Duane's Depressed by Larry McMurtry, is about a man whose psychiatrist assigns him the reading of In Search for Lost Time. She tells Duane "don't come back to see me until you finish the book." Needless to say, Duane believes that a nine-pound book is the last thing he needs. But he takes a year, and he reads it.

What Duane learns from Proust is that his life as a roughneck and oilman, as the father to a bunch of obstreperous kids and husband to a smart and passionate woman -- and as the resident of a small and insular town -- has mattered somehow. And he has gotten the perspective that what has really mattered has been measured in days, hours, and minutes -- in the smallest units of time -- rather than in years and lifetimes.