In the early light, is there anything that holds more promise than a school building? Students arrive via bus or car or bike or foot, teachers too, all bringing a tangible energy, filled with all the opportunity in this day. I always smile driving up the hill to this grand building, the original section completed in 1928. I have spent nearly 3 decades working here, discussing story and craft and everything in between with students from 9th grade to 12th. This year that hopeful energy is even more palatable, because we are back full-time and in-person doing whatever is needed to keep our community safe, even graciously donning a mask. Heroes if you ask me as sacrifice has become the norm.
Virginia Woolf wrote, “Most commonly we come to books with blurred and divided minds, asking of fiction that it shall be true, of poetry that it shall be false, of biography that it shall be flattering, of history that it shall enforce our own prejudices”(Woolf). I don’t really remember the first time I doubted the opinions of a character in a novel or when I realized that perhaps poetry did not always impart truth, but I do know that all those notions came together in quite a spectacular manner when I read Crime and Punishment. As early as page 2 Dostoyevsky invites readers into his very real and awful world,
The heat in the street was terrible: and the airlessness, the bustle and the plaster, scaffolding, bricks, and dust all about him, and that special Petersburg stench, so familiar to all who are unable to get out of town in summer—all worked painfully upon the young man’s already overwrought nerves. The insufferable stench from the pothouses, which are particularly numerous in that part of the town, and the drunken men whom he met continually, although it was a working day, completed the revolting misery of the picture. An expression of the profoundest disgust gleamed for a moment in the young man’s refined face. He was, by the way, exceptionally handsome, above the average in height, slim, well-built, with beautiful dark eyes and dark brown hair. Soon he sank into deep thought, or more accurately speaking into a complete blankness of mind; he walked along not observing what was about him and not caring to observe it. From time to time, he would mutter something, from the habit of talking to himself, to which he had just confessed. At these moments he would become conscious that his ideas were sometimes in a tangle and that he was very weak; for two days he had scarcely tasted food.
The suspect mind of Raskolnikov was penned with the use of an omniscient point of view, and it is in that murky place that we begin our troubles. This narrator is not to be trusted on any account, his warped and privileged preoccupation with his own superiority clouds his vantage. Yet for many hundreds of pages we are led into his dangerous train of thought.
When I look back at my post from one year ago, I hear exhilaration, fear and uncertainty, but mostly an exhale that the business of life has halted. The post is filled with bursts of cheer with lines like, “Here we are. On our own couches. In the middle of our own living rooms. Reading an actual magazine. In loungewear. Bought online. Yeah. There are a few perks during the scary and dark days which have clouded our planet and forced us all indoors. I am not here to tell you what you should be doing to survive these days, but just wanted to let you know that we will, mostly, and I for one plan to celebrate epically on the other side.” By the end of the post, I was certain that hope for all was on the horizon, “I do not want to diminish the suffering for all the sick, for the families grieving those already lost, for this is a disaster that no one deserves. To think so is pure cruelty and folly. There is no telling where we will all be on the other side of this pandemic, but I know we will all have stories about heroic neighbors and sweet strangers, tales of unmeasurable fortitude and creative-energy bursts, new alliances and newly-developed passions. And most of all, a real understanding, like for real, that we are indeed one world. One small world.” I envisioned this new Still Life in the most temporary of terms, with joyous outcomes by summer.