Monday, January 11, 2010


I hope that someday, I will be able to have it completely slip my mind that today is the first day of the semester at the college where I used to teach. I’m hoping there will come a time when that first day will just pass me by and I won’t have that nagging feeling that I should be somewhere doing something.

Retired teacher flashbacks, I guess.

It’s January 11—the first day of Spring Semester 2010. All my former co-workers spent last week in diligent preparation for today while I enjoyed a fairly empty calendar. All of my former co-workers probably had a “spastic colon Sunday” night, anxious and anticipating the next morning, while I calmly watched a football game on t.v.

At 5 a.m. this morning, when normally my alarm would have gone off, I was still sleeping.

At 6 a.m., when I would have been putting on my coat and getting ready to leave for work, I was sitting in the living room with a cup of coffee, still in my bathrobe, reading Wally Lamb’s The Hour I First Believed. I was on page 582, and the narrator of the book was teaching an English class in a two-year community college. Ironic.

At 8 a.m., when I most likely would have been standing in front of my 8 a.m. class for the first time that semester, I was on page 671, where the narrator finally finds out the source of the mummified baby in a suitcase stashed in a crawl space of the attic.

At 9 a.m., when I would have already started teaching my second class of the day, I finally closed the Wally Lamb book—all 734 pages of very small print—and sighed a sigh of relief. As Wally Lamb says on page 685, “Life is messy, violent, confusing, and hopeful.”

While my former co-workers were scrambling to organize class materials and get to their 10 a.m. class on time, I was still trying to mentally digest Wally Lamb’s book.

It stretched credibility a bit that the narrator of Wally Lamb’s book, Caelum Quirk, had a life that was directly connected to the following events and people: the Civil War, Columbine High School shootings, Hurricane Katrina, Miss Rheingold Beer of 1950, the Korean War, the Iraq War, the dedication of the Statue of Liberty, the Prison Reform Movement of 1840, Abolition, Women’s Suffrage, the 1942 Boston Cocoanut Grove fire that killed 480 people, the surrender of Geronimo, an Iraq veteran’s posttraumatic stress disorder shooting rampage, anger management, divorce, abortion, drug addiction, alcoholism, spousal imprisonment, mental illness, Louisa Mae Alcott, Mark Twain, poet Christina Rossetti, Dorothea Dix, Conan O’Brien, a weeping statue of the Virgin Mary . . .

It was like Lamb had material for about four books but decided to get it over with in one huge story.

It was a very good book. Long, but good . . . multigenerational . . . a man with so many problems, he made the biblical Job look like an amateur of suffering. I’m guessing Wally Lamb was absolutely exhausted when he got done writing it. I felt like I’d run a marathon just reading it.

So while my former co-workers met their new students for the first time, reviewed class syllabi and textbooks, stumbled through pronouncing lists of unfamiliar student names, I was home reading (and reading and reading) Wally Lamb. While his characters were having flashbacks, I was having flashbacks of my own.

I guess I just wanted to prove that even though I am retired, I am still trying to do something challenging and productive with my time, still expanding my brain.

But I continue to feel like I should be somewhere today, doing something . . . should be teaching . . . like an amputated limb that still itches and tingles a little, even though it’s not really there.


Jenny said...

Have you also read "I Know This Much Is True"? They are very similar in nature.

Brian would whole-heartly agree with your review. After he was finished he said..."How many national tragedies can he fit in one book?"

Me, being more naive, just thought it was a well-written, captivating book. But I'm at home all day every day with kids. I get excited with a police car drives past our house.

2to4aday said...

Jenny: I read "She's Come Undone" and "I Know This Much is True" a l-o-n-g time ago, and I doubt if I could give a book report on either. But I would certainly agree with Brian that it seems like Wally Lamb reads a history book or a newspaper account about a national tragedy and then somehow incorporates it into the story!

I found myself mapping out the Popper/Quirk family tree on a piece of paper while I was reading this one, just to keep up!