One of my methods of either making life more pleasant or at least wriggling through, depending on point of view at the moment, is translating (badly) classical Latin poetry, an endeavor I also classify as getting in touch with my inner nineteenth-century schoolboy. I take part in a Latin reading group at LRU, and it is the highlight of my week: a meeting devoted to intellectual pursuits instead of to the budgetary or administrative train-wreck of the month. And so, for the last several months, instead of beginning the day with writing (which has gone back to being fitted in where and as I can), I begin by thumping through 5-10 lines of Latin.
It’s very satisfying. I make steady progress. Some new vocabulary has even penetrated my ageing brain (oh for those halcyon days of youth when I could read through a vocabulary list once or twice and nail it; why oh why did I not make better use of those years?), and I am quicker to recognize assorted grammatical constructions. The ablative absolute holds no terrors, though I still balk a bit at indirect questions.
I also observe that I am even more literal-minded in Latin than in English. Metaphors confuse me. I am happy when a poet signals a simile with a heavy-handed qualis or sicut, because then I can recognize it’s a comparison, rather than puzzling over where this damned ship came from (look up word, it is a ship, yes?) in the middle of an account of, let us say, deer-hunting.
I wonder if this is how my students feel about English poetry.
While thinking about this use of my time during my long drive yesterday, I thought that this is something that my first boyfriend would get, and grad-school boyfriend would not; and, tracking this thought further, and much to my surprise, I concluded that first boyfriend and I actually were fairly well suited and might have been happy together in the long-term, whereas (and this I did already know), grad-school guy and I were really ill-assorted and, had we married, would surely be divorced now.
This is only strange because I spent so many years cursing first boyfriend; it’s odd to suddenly get this completely different perspective on that relationship. Our problems were significant, but, I now think, circumstantial: not necessarily that we were too young, but rather that we had terrible models in both sets of parents, and spent far too much time reenacting those relationships and damaging each other in the process. Had we come from happier families, or met later in life, or even been able consciously to say we wanted to be a refuge for each other and not like our parents, things could have been very different.
I wanted to study in France after college; he wanted not to be a doctor (his mother’s preference) and was obsessed with cycling. Well, hey: he could have worked as a mechanic for some équipe while I focused on language and literature; he could have done something similar while I went to grad school, or started the coursework that led to the practical master’s degree he has now, which allows him to work in a very portable career. Although he’s more athletic than I, we both like outdoor activity, and we both enjoy and value hard intellectual challenges. His version was more along the lines of math or chemistry problems, but he would grasp why I work on dead languages for the fun of it.
Grad-school boyfriend was essentially lazy. Very bright, and when he had a strong enough reason to do something hard, he could buckle down and do it, but basically his idea of fun was always the easy leisure activity, like watching sports rather than participating.
It’s been twenty years since I last saw first boyfriend, and close to that since I gave up cursing him and tried to think more charitably of us both. But it is pleasant to be able to imagine a happier outcome, to think of my (admittedly rather dreadful) much younger self as having had some decent instincts about people after all.
This omphaloskepsis brought to you by unbloggable work crap.