“I’m old enough to know what I like, and that isn’t gonna be it.”
I’ve devoted much of my writing time this fall into a few other endeavors, one of which recently forced a re-introduction to a classic novel I haven’t read in decades. Even then, I only read it because a high school teacher created a test I needed to pass and assured me failing to read the stupid book would ensure I would also fail her class. It’s fair to say the introduction didn’t facilitate my appreciation of the novel. As works of art, our understanding and appreciation of the written word often chance over time as our personal perspective and experiences alter the complex ways we view the world, ourselves, and our place in it. I tell you all that to tell you this: the opening of this revisited classic absolutely blew me away! The same words, sentences, and paragraphs that I hastily skimmed over with regret and disdain all those years ago drew me into the story and inspired me to continue reading. Here’s a piece of that introduction:
“Call me Ishmael. Some years ago—never mind how long precisely— having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world. It is a way I have of driving off the spleen and regulating the circulation. Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off—then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can. This is my substitute for pistol and ball. With a philosophical flourish Cato throws himself upon his sword; I quietly take to the ship. There is nothing surprising in this. If they but knew it, almost all men in their degree, some time or other, cherish very nearly the same feelings towards the ocean with me.”
Herman Melville is my rock star author right now! What incredible turns of phrase and word choice: whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul?! That’s so immediately relatable, and I imagine it is to every adult who’s suffering the slings and arrows inherent in this life! I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can. This in my substitute for pistol and ball. Such powerful, universal relation to his audience, with the apparent and obvious exception of 17-year-old Gavin. That kid was an idiot to let this experience pass him by!
In addition to inspiring me to make time to re-read Moby Dick for fun, it’s also compelled me to question how much of my previous disinterest was assigned in error. It is possible I like radishes now? Do I have some unknown appreciation in modern art? Am I a Jackson Pollack fan and don’t realize it? Should I sit through a replay of that one, and only one, movie I walked out of in the theater and demanded my money back? If I like, do I have an ethical obligation to send some entertainment conglomerate the $5 they lost in 1997?
If nothing else, now that I’m on the downhill side of this life, I’m opening myself up to new and renewed experiences. Even if Moby Dick is a one-off anomaly and I go a few months or years from replicating this sensation, I’d rather start looking at the world with a more open mind than many of the retired cop curmudgeons I know.
“I’m old enough to know what I like, but I’m gonna take the chance. That might be it.”