Tuesday, July 10, 2007

The Maytrees by Annie Dillard

For a long time they owned no car, no television when that came in, no insurance, no savings. Once a week they heard world news on the radio. They supported striking coal miners' familes with cash. They loved their son, Pete, their only child. Between them they read about three hundred books a year. He read for facts, she for transport. Nothing about them was rich except their days swollen with time.


Every book he read was a turn he took. He ran aground. He started new notebooks without having made the least sense of any old notebook. He pitched into the world for plunder, probed it with torches, filled his arms and brain with its pieces botched--to what end? Every fact was a rune. Whole unfilled systems littered the kitchen and beach of the house he shared with Lou. He wanted to spend himself broke in the brain, to master something and start again. Since everything fit with everything else, how could anyone begin to think or understand?


What gave adults the cheer to tolerate their hypocrisy? Even his mother praised generosity and hoarded; she preached industry and barely worked. Perhaps every generation passes to the next, to hand down to yet more children, an untouched trunk of virtues. The adults describe the trunk's contents to the young and never open it.


Lou hoped scandalously to live her own life. A subnormal calling, since civilization means cities and cities mean social norms. She wanted only to hear herself think. She admired Diogenes who shaved half his head so he would stay home to think. How else might she hear any original note, any stray subject-and-verb in the head, however faint, should one come?


All these peoples voted on what we are supposed to do here by portioning their time. Our forebears' chief acts were raising childen and gambling. Not even getting food. Getting food never took long before storing grain showed up. The few people tended to starve instead. Also popular: getting high, eating the salty, oily, and sweet, whittling, weaving, invading, and placating gods. Were people missing something? If we are missing something, why the big secret?

1 comment:

A bang, not a whimper

  Two months into L.'s retirement, and I'm finished with the stockpiling of books. No more book purchases! Or at least, no purcha...