Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Bloomsday Post #3 (from Nicole Spodek)

My little Nicole is flying the coop - she starts Sarah Lawrence in the fall! Wish her luck and read the post that made me so very happy when I found it in my inbox this morning: a response to "unique perspectives on first-time reads of the novel" (Ulysses, duh).

I was fifteen when I first opened Ulysses. I would never have even dared touch the thing if it weren’t for a dedicated, hopeful, determined, and goddamn out-of-her-mind English teacher asking me to do so. She had devised a plan, you see. She suggested that we start a reading group in order to conquer the massive pile of pages before the end of the school year. We’d meet once a week, read aloud at our leisure, and ultimately try to finish the book while gaining some slight understanding of what was going on. We’d have to recruit people, of course, and this took perseverance.

Flyers were posted, as we declared its greatness; they must have scared those puny high schoolers away, as all of our members ended up in the group by word of mouth. Every Wednesday, after my last class, I would enter the musty library, Ulysses in hand (after it had been lugged around for six hours), waiting for the highlight of my week. One friend once asked where I went every Wednesday after school and when I told him that I was headed to my “orgy in the library,” he, naturally, followed me. He ended up staying with us for the rest of the year and became an indispensable member of our Ulysses Reading Group, or URG.

Being a member of URG was probably the only useful experience of my four years at high school. I was actually challenging myself by trying to interpret the mess of words and ideas that is Ulysses. Joyce was my toughest teacher, and reading Ulysses was the most intense assignment I had ever received. Sure, I didn’t understand 85.6 percent of what was going on, but reading in such a large group made everything worthwhile. We made sense of the chapters and understood the significance of their titles; we traced the steps of Bloom and Stephen; we interpreted the various meanings of things as silly as colors. But most of all, we had fun. I don’t think Joyce had intended us to laugh as much as we did, but we found humor littered throughout. Irish slang gave us the most acute cases of The Giggles. The phrase “sturzgeburt on the haha” was like nothing I’d ever laughed at before. We had our intense conversations too. Religion talks were rampant – we’d sometimes stay at the school until 6 p.m. just trying to get our points across. It was crazy, nonsensical, outlandish, and over-the-top. But, in the end, we accomplished what we had set out to do. We finished Ulysses before the year ended, giving us time to celebrate once Bloomsday rolled around. And so, two years after my completion of Ulysses, I feel nostalgic. I will forever cherish the memories from my URG days. I couldn’t have asked for a better introduction to Ulysses. Because that’s all it was: an introduction. I don’t think you’re expected to understand it until your eleventh reading.

*that "dedicated, hopeful, determined, and goddamn out-of-her-mind English teacher" was me!

Bloomsday 2010 post #2

I totally forgot to write about this, but one day back in April, Milton came up to me and said "Mrkgnao!" Even my cat quotes Joyce!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Happy Bloomsday!

@UlyssesSeen has inspired me to write something about my first ever encounter with "The Book." For me, it was the right book at the right time. I can't put it any more perfectly than that. I was finally starting to feel at home in college, and when I ran into my professor on the ferry, he told me he was teaching a class the next semester that would read it. "I only do this once in a decade, so it's like Haley's Comet: if you want to see it in your lifetime, it's gotta be now." I'm paraphrasing. Anyway, I not only took the course, I forced all my friends to take it. I lost a lot of friends that semester!
I remember there being a lot of freaky-seeming coincidences over the course of our reading it. The one that sticks with me is when we had a long, deep discussion of the significance of keys sparked by the Alexander Keyes ad Bloom is designing, and a student from an earlier class entered the room looking for his lost keys. We all laughed and freaked out; some of us actually screamed. Someone accused our prof of setting it up. The student was stunned. Then there was the time we were approximating how much money Stephen spent over the course of the day & someone out in the quad started playing Pink Floyd's "Money" loud enough for us to hear. I know there were more, but I can't remember them (jeez, it's 22 years ago now!).
A huge percentage of the book flew over my head, and a lot of it still does, all these years and 6 full reads later. I really felt the characters though, and the verbal pyrotechnics are completely amazing. Not until my fourth read through it did I begin to comprehend the book as a unified whole, rather than a series of episodes. There are more priceless moments in it than I can count.
Two years ago I assembled a group of high school students to read the book aloud every week. I've kept my notes on those crazy meetings - a gazillion in-jokes resulted - & someday I'll write something about that. Maybe next year ;)