Thursday, January 06, 2011

Ulysses, Agnes, hot flashes and withdrawal

So after reading the first chapter of Ulysses and two commentaries on it, I have to say:  who knew?  it is funny.  And entertaining.  It isn't anything at all like what I was expecting.  You definitely have to exercise suspension of understanding (to warp a phrase)-- there are things that are incomprehensible and that aren't explained anywhere in the first chapter.  But if you just plow through those and keep going, it's really good.  You could knock me down with a feather.  I've been dreading this for years, and it's really not that bad.  So far, it is the story of three graduate students, living in a tower that they rent from the government, ribbing each other while they shave, eat breakfast, and go down to the river to bathe.  Well, actually, it's mainly Mulligan that does the teasing, but still-- it's a scene that anyone who ever lived with roommates in an apartment in their twenties will immediately understand.  In the course of the chapter, Stephen, the serious, introverted one who is still reeling from the death of his mother, decides that even though he's the one that's been paying the rent, he can no longer live there.  So he hands over the key at the end of the chapter.  That's about all that happens, but it's really well done.

It takes place on June 16, 1904.  If you hang out with English major types you know that Ulysses takes place in Dublin in the space of a single day, and June 16th is the day, although it's not stated anywhere in the first chapter. (I think I would have been able to tell you it was in June, but I'm not sure if I would have known the 16th and definitely not the year.  Got that from the commentaries.)  I read Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man as a sophomore in college (Ulysses is the sequel to Portrait), and understood it not one whit until the professor went through it with us.  I guess that's what I was expecting this time, too.  I'm not sure if the difference is just that I'm 25 years older now or something else, but so far, so good. 

If you're reading along, here are the helpful things I gleaned from the commentaries.  The Latin phrases are all from the Catholic mass-- the first one, at the very start, is the first line of the mass as the priest and acolytes approach the altar, and the whole scene, with Mulligan carrying the shaving bowl and shaving implements, is a parody of a Catholic mass. The second one, later on, is a line from the last rites and is in reference to the death of Stephen's mother.  I think there is another one, too, but I don't remember it at the moment so we'll assume it's not particularly important.  The lines about Fergus that Stephen recites to his mother in a flashback are from Yeats, an Irish poet.  The lines that Mulligan recites as he's jumping in the water are blasphemous nonsense of his own composition.  Ireland, as you probably already know, is extremely Catholic, and (according to the commentaries) the examination of the influence of Catholicism and the interaction between belief and unbelief is one of the central themes of the Ulysses

So we're off.  I'm actually way more excited about this with the first chapter done than I was before.

I am almost always reading some kind of genre fiction at the same time that I am reading my academic stuff.  It keeps me sane.  This time it is time for my annual ritual re-reading of Agnes and the Hitman, one of my all-time favorite books, a book I'd recommend to anyone.  My spouse, of course, isn't a big fan of romance* novels, but of the (probably) couple hundred I've read, I've handed him only two--and Agnes was one of them (the other was Lord Perfect, but that's another post).  Anyway.  It interests and amuses me how often there is interplay between the genre fiction I'm reading and the more serious stuff.  This time, there is a key that becomes significant in the first chapter of Ulysses, and apparently later on there will be a Keyes Tower that becomes significant.  And by page 4 of Agnes you find out that it takes place in Keyes, SC.  A little thing, but it made me smile. 

I'm feeling better today, not because I'm done with withdrawal (see previous post), but because I finally gave in and took more drugs.  My usual migraine treatment is one Maxalt (thank God for Maxalt) and half of a 5 mg percocet.  Usually that's all it takes.  but caffeine withdrawal is one tough mother and today, a couple of  hours after the original dose, I took the other half of the percocet.  This is day five.  If I'd had any idea how bad withdrawal was going to be this time, I would never have let it go this long.  I was barely having any caffeine the last week or so, just enough so that I wouldn't go through withdrawal while we were on vacation (half a cup of coffee, or a Dr. Pepper).  I just didn't think it would be this bad.

Excuses, excuses.  I'm weak, what can I say?  It's difficult being a mere mortal and living with my spouse, who has near perfect self control.  If he found out that caffeine or some other substance was a problem for him, said substance would never cross his lips again. Three or four years ago he decided it wasn't healthy for him to drink soft drinks, and as far as I know, he hasn't had so much as a sip since.  But I'm not quite that good at it.  It takes me many tries to rid myself of my vices, probably infinitely many.  In fact, that is my new year's resolution for this year, and instead of an entire post on it, I'll just give you the one sentence version:  keep starting over.  I know what I need to do, I know the issues I'm working on and the ways I want to treat myself more kindly, more healthily, and more .... grown-up-ly?  But I keep screwing up.  So the idea for this year is to keep starting over, keep getting back on the bandwagon.  Not to let failure de-rail me.  I guess that was more than one sentence.

Whoa.  what else can I fit in this post?  One of the main things I was going to write about hasn't even appeared yet, which was my trip to the pharmacy on Tuesday to get more Maxalt.  But this one is plenty long enough, so I will save that one for another day.  And in case you're wondering about the hot flashes of the title, that was just because when I sat down to type, I had to open the door to the deck, which is practically at my right elbow, even though it is about 25 degrees outside because I am so fricking hot.  Internal combustion is my middle name these days.  It's too bad we can't harness the energy of all these hot flashes my friends and I are having because it would pretty much solve the energy crisis.

And that's it for today.

* Agnes is definitely not your typical romance novel--it's more of romantic suspense, or something like that--but it's sold in the romance novel section at Borders.  And also in the literary fiction section.  It sort of has a split personality.  My favorite.

1 comment:

  1. The Book -great start. I am enjoying this through your eyes already. Will stay tuned for how it all progresses.
    Crusie stories -love 'em. And yes, I have shared a few of MY favorite reads with the Spouse as well. (I made him read Eat, Pray, Love and Liz Gilbert's follow up book Commitment as well.)
    Those bastards we are married to and their self-control -mine does that too, I hate it. Why are they like this? All non-smug and well adjusted. Just to piss us off? I'm sure that must be the reason.
    The addiction, and its after-math -I've had those headaches, I am impressed that you can still type. I ended up leaving coffee behind when I started taking Super Blue Green Algae. Strange I know. But it happened.
    Hot flashes -I will NOT comment on that, because if I tell you that they have gone away, then they will be back, much like our little monthly friend that we have also discussed.