Monday, October 21, 2013

The Growing Season - Summer in Review

Proper reflection can be an arduous process. To thoroughly expound upon events past is challenge enough, but to attempt the encapsulation of an entire season takes more than a few days' thinking. Though autumn is already a month underway, the leaves already changed and falling, it's only now that summer's expiration has finally sunk in. And while I did well to appreciate its passage at the time, it's only through the lens of hindsight that I'm capable of seeing what a spectacular summer it had been.

Sunrise over Lake Glacier, Mill Creek Park
Owing much to the annual school schedule, we are trained from an early age to view summer as a season apart, unique and detached from the rest of the year. It is a time for late nights and lazy mornings, frivolous hours of outdoor play in the extended light of day, vacations and day trips, carnivals and parades. It's a season of adventure and exploration, of excitement, of fun. What did my spectacular summer entail? At least at the onset--reading. Lots and lots of reading.

One of the benefits of cavorting with other writers is catching the fire of their inspiration at the hands of sources new to you. Passion is contagious, particularly when it comes to literary proclivities. A friend enthusiastically endorsed a host of artists and authors with whom I had yet to become acquainted, but none grabbed my attention so firmly as Henry Miller. The nature of his work—controversial, semi-autobiographical, rambling, graphic--intrigued me, and I acquired a copy of 1939's Tropic of Capricorn for my introduction. 

I was instantly seized by the novel's tone, gritty and dark and discontent in the way only a true romantic could portray. In many ways the novel is a period piece, describing a particular moment in history, and yet it also seems to have been ahead of its time; there's a quality to the prose which places Miller, in my mind, at the forefront literary movements that followed, particularly the Beat era. Literary fiction to the core, Capricorn has little in the way of plot to summarize; essentially, it's a window into a portion of Miller's life, however dramatized it may be. Though his work proved controversial enough to earn the ire of censors in its day, the novel's mature themes are almost charming in a way, or at the very least amusing; though the exposition of its protagonist's knowledge and experiences is of a uniquely high quality, its basic import is nothing particularly out of the ordinary in the modern era.

Reading Miller isn't easy, at least not at any appreciable pace. After borrowing Tropic of Cancer from the library, I found myself covering no more than a few pages at a time; sometimes a single sentence would be enough to floor me, bringing me to a state of cerebral paralysis, basking in its genius and wallowing in that novitiate writer's lament, "I'll never write anything half this well..." However, I will say I found I identified with Miller in a number of ways, which was at once welcome and disturbing. The man was many things, but as a role model I'm sure one could find a thousand better choices. Taken by his writing style and what he hoped to achieve with it, my own approach to writing has since shifted in a decidedly Milleresque direction, hopefully for the better.

Something about Miller's style, though I've yet to successfully pinpoint the exact aspect, called to mind Hemingway's writing. I'd only read one of Hemingway's books—The Sun Also Rises—as an adult, but the comparison was distinct. Having seen him portrayed cinematically in Hemingway & Gellhorn and, to a lesser extent Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris, I had developed a curiosity about the man's life and work. I began with Papa: Hemingway in Key West, by James McLendon, an account of Hemingway's time in Florida compiled from interviews with, and as described by, those who knew him. I came to find that behind the myth and the offensively macho veneer lay a man wholly dedicated to his craft, fueled by an insatiable lust for life. I followed Papa: Hemingway in Key West with Papa: A Personal Memoir, written by his son, Gregory, and Ernest Hemingway: A Writer's Life, by Catherine Reef. I read Hemingway on Writing, The Selected Letters of Ernest Hemingway, The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway: The Finca Vigia Edition, The Nick Adams Stories, To Have and Have Not, Death in the Afternoon, and what became my favorite of the lot, A Moveable Feast.

Say what you will about Hemingway, he was no small figure in American literature. I had never had much of an appreciation for his workThe Old Man and the Sea, required reading in high school, left me baffled as to why anyone would bother with his oeuvre at all. Even after The Sun Also Rises, I remained confused, though for different reasons; the "iceberg theory"—Hemingway's assertion that a writer well-versed in his or her story could leave out the bulk of it, and allow the remaining "the tip of the iceberg" to intimate the rest—was surprisingly effective, but I couldn't fathom how it worked. I could appreciate the simplistic, direct tone, and his use of syndeton was masterful, but there are whole paragraphs comprised of sentences that seemingly have little to do with one another, yet still manage to propel the story in a capable and meaningful way. It all seems so random, and even now I fail at fully comprehending it. That something so simple could prove to me so confusing is a testament to the man's art, infuriating though it may be.

Just as one could never divorce Hemingway from his reputation as a drunk and belligerent misogynist, one is hard-pressed to discuss the man without coming across the topic of hunting or, much more likely, that of fishing. As stated above, passions are contagious. So it was that I went from the summer's first chapter, reading, to its second: learning how to fish. 

Lake Glacier, as viewed from Fellows Riverside Garden, Mill Creek Park
Teaching yourself something from scratch, without the aid of a guide or mentor, is definitely a difficult task. I didn't know the first thing about fishing, and had no idea where to even begin aside from a few "for beginners" books found at the library. I'd initially thought that procuring the necessary equipment would be difficult, though I'd always known my grandfather had an old fishing rod tucked away in the garage. it wasn't until my father caught wind of my sudden interest and located a completely stocked tackle box that the possibility of seeing things through became a reality. I began to seriously consider becoming an angler. 

One of the greatest perks of living in Youngstown, OH is our magnificent park. Mill Creek Park is a beautiful sprawl of forest paths, fields, and waterways. It's also a good place to catch your first fish.

Fishing pier, Lake Glacier, Mill Creek park
After a few weeks spent researching the ins and outs of fishing, practicing a few integral knots and learning about the assortment of accessories used to catch the various fish I might encounter, I took to the park with an inordinate amount of enthusiasm, spending hours at a time practicing my casting, trying different bait and rigs, and eventually catching more than a few bluegill, rock bass, and carp. There's something to be said for the benefits of fishing as a hobby, namely that it's surprisingly conducive to meditation; while fishing, one thinks of the setting, the water, the wind, the line, the bait...but little else. 

There was, of course, much more to the summer than reading and fishing. I attended a wedding reception, for example, that was easily one of the greatest celebrations in which I'd ever participated. I relished the time with the best of old friends, made quite a few new ones, and frighteningly enough, caught the garter with a disturbing degree of enthusiasm. 

I've also endeavored to improve my skills in the kitchen, mastering meringues and excelling at entrees; a particular point of pride is my ability to now bake a palatable cake from scratch. I've become more health-minded, experimenting with green smoothies and far less processed meals. So much of our lives revolves around food, and it was a delight to spend time focusing on it in ways that didn't leave me feeling guilt-ridden, making meals I could proudly share with others. 

Boat launch, Lake Newport, Mill Creek park
In light of all these activities, I reached summer's end feeling more capable in virtually every way. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times--but it was a tremendous season of growth, a season of Becoming. Allowing for a week or two to enjoy the milestone of another year's aging, it's honestly due to this estival progress that I'm back at it here at the Scholar's Fane. It's how I made the decision to take the inspiration gleaned from Miller's writing and apply it to this year's National Novel Writing Month and my novel The Third Face of Janus.

I continue to be overwhelmed by the experience of living, enjoying a lust for life of which Hemingway might have approved. It was the most memorable summer I've experienced in years, and though I was sad to see it finally end, I'm left feeling emboldened, confident, and ready for a spectacular end to the year. Autumn has always been my favorite season, a time for great change and introspection. Only a month in, and it's already proven to be every bit as hectic and fulfilling as the summer had been. As I turn my gaze from the past to the present and future, I can't help but smile. 2013 has turned out to be a far better year thus far than I'd anticipated. It's been a wild one, but for once I'm glad to have gone along for the ride. It's your turn, autumn; let's make this a memorable one.

Parapet Bridge, Lake Glacier, Mill Creek Park

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