Yesterday was New Year’s Day. For the past thirty-seven years I had already begun another season of collegiate teaching by yesterday—was a week in, in fact: rep chosen, students recruited, newbies initiated, auditions over, personnel posted, enemies made, a few people made happy. Classes begun. Dancing yet again: keep moving, Dehning, so no one really catches on: this is ridiculous and glorious; I can’t imagine not doing this but I still don’t understand why they let me.
Now I’m retired from academe and now I can imagine it: for the first time in fifty nine years, during the season running from September to June, I was in school in some form, and for over four decades of that time I did something that I maintained in muted tones was more fulfilling and fun than anything you could do in any position, even a horizontal one. Now I can say it senza sordino: it was better than sex. Requiring the timing of an athlete, the grace of an athlete, the judgment of Zeus, the humor of a stand-up comic, the zeal of a coach, the skill of a diplomat, the presentation of a chef, the perspective of a historian, the selflessness of a real teacher, the desire of a lover, the priapic lust of a satyr, and a little musical background and training, the activity of leading an ensemble rehearsal involves body, mind and spirit in a way more completely—and offers more self actualization—than any other. And a lot of people do it for simple glory and worldly acclaim. Fools. Mere Sybarites of the Stick. They live for the performance. Imagine that. It’s like playing a game merely to win rather than concentrating on the game itself. You win some you lose some—and winning is certainly more fun—but what matters is the game itself. And the game is the rehearsal, not the performance.
Yesterday was also the Sabbath: Saturday during the American collegiate football season. As a sport, it is more like war than anything else, but I love the physical beauty of much of it, especially in the passing game. And the upsets that a bunch of boys can engender. And a few wise coaches who gamble, still having fun at their age. As a sport, collegiate basketball is more like music making: fast, fluid, graceful, sweaty, fun. (Just like rehearsal. I still don’t know how I feel about not doing that regularly. Get back to me in October.) I truly think that the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament in March of each year is the finest sporting event the country has to offer. Period. It is the sporting equivalent of Holy Week without the pain, blood and mumbo-jumbo of that event. The music is the finest part of that last one.
But for twelve Saturdays every fall I celebrate the Sabbath, beginning it with the Eucharist of butcher’s bacon, eggs, toast (occasionally hash browns, if ambitious), and milk. Take, eat, this is what it’s all about. This is a big part of what boys were meant to do, and for today, you can be a boy again just by watching (on a 26’ flat screen and in High Definition!). Hocus-pocus. Pretty dancing girls, marching bands, domesticated mascots, color, and boys in their physical prime (lineman often well past their prime and bloated, but, hey . . .), and here’s the best part: no one knows how it’s going to end! Now that’s theater, that’s magic, that’s liturgy at its finest, and we’re not subjected to soliloquies and sermons. They just tee it up and play the sucker. Ah, bliss.
I don’t know what to call this, if anything. Don’t know how it’s going to turn out either, if at all. Just keeping my eye on the target; playing the game. I’m just going to sit down in front of this electronic marvel a few days a month for a while and put words down. I don’t even know who the audience might be. Last time I did this a book came out of it—you could look it up—but I don’t expect anything that grand or useful this time. Naturally, I will take days off when visiting children and grandchildren, or when engaged in guest jobs conducting, doing clinics or both. I will follow the academic year yet again, quitting this at Christmas for a while and in mid-May for the summer. Summa cum laude. Honoris causa. And all that.
I dropped Connelly, Burke, Block, Martin Cruz Smith, and thrillers for awhile (after discovering and devouring Patrick Quinlan—come on, lad, more, more!) and am reading Umberto Eco again. After being absolutely delighted with The Name of the Rose, I suffered through Foucault’s Pendulum only because of jury duty. Now am enmeshed in Baudolino. Sigh. Please, amico, why not another Rose? Hmmm . . . .? OK. Do what you do so well: make history live. I’ll try to hang in there out of loyalty and respect. Stunned admiration, too.
Also, for only the second season in forty three years, I begin the year as a single man, in the midst of divorce mediation, living in a “large single bedroom apartment,” as the ad called it. And it is, actually. I have plenty of room for what I really need to do: read, watch football and basketball, cook, write, correspond, sleep, nap, stretch. And I am minutes from the YMCA, to which I repair three times a week in search of muscle tone and the Perfect Shot from 13, 15, 17, and 19 feet. Thursday: 45 of 75 shots from those distances, with 15 being dead-solid-perfect net snappers. God, I love that sound, and I celebrate it with a double arm pump every time it happens. Old guys grin when I do that, kids stare, women are nowhere around. Yet more bliss.
The lawyer drawing up my estate papers noted both divorce and retirement:
--Lawyer: couldn’t you have taken two life changing events one at a time?
--Me: life is what happens when you ain’t looking, I guess. Beats me.
--Done for the Day, and a good one it was. Filled with sweat, effort, 11/47 DSP’s at the Y, a nap, and a dip in the apartment pool. I wish we had an elevator rather than the pool, but today, hot as it is, I welcome the latter. Leftovers for dinner tonight that I cooked my own self. Yum, I guess.