Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Reviving this blog...

Time flies quickly! The last time I posted was well over a year ago, in March 2012. I won’t give the tired old excuses of how busy I've been: who isn't these days. Instead, I’d like to present some disconnected thoughts on what I've been up to recently, and gently ease into the task of blogging again.


On May 1st, I finished five years (10 semesters) of teaching at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. That day, after the last class session of the semester, some students came by to say they’d enjoyed the course (you generally don’t hear from those who did not like the class; perhaps it’s best that way). I left the class in a joyous mood to have lunch at the student union building, and the beautiful spring scene outside – warm and gentle sunshine; messy, overgrown and dark green grass; the leaves just beginning to make an appearance on bare trees – matched what I was feeling. Adding to the excitement was the realization six year long process of securing tenure was slowly but surely drawing to a close: I now again nurture the hope of reading, writing and traveling – the three things that energize me more than anything else.


Since reading Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, about a year and a half ago, I am now halfway into War and Peace (the new Pevear-Volokhonsky translation). If anything, the latter book is even more complex, wide ranging and longer. I often look forward to the end of a day or week, just so I can immerse myself in the book. Like many others, I was intimidated by the book’s size before I started it, but I am now thankful that it is long – it seems that I could go on reading it forever, delighting in the drama of the story, the astute psychological details and the philosophical and religious speculations that Tolstoy embeds so well into what is essentially a soapy, high society narrative.

When a book resonates powerfully within, I feel as if I have access to a special secret that no one else in the world is aware of -- this despite the fact that countless others may have read the same book. In the last ten years or so, I felt this way while reading Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings (2001-2002; though its effect has faded considerably); Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children (2003-2004); Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs and Steel (2004-2006; the book that set the tone for a lot of my travels in the Americas); Charles Mann’s 1491 (2006-2008); V.S Naipaul’s India: A Million Mutinies Now and his other travel writing (2005-2008); Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, The Idiot and The Brothers Karamazov (2006-2008); and now Tolstoy’s long works (2011-present). 

While still on Tolstoy, here is a quote from his work, What is Art?, which defines art in as open-ended a manner as possible:

as that human activity which consists in one person's consciously conveying to others, by certain external signs, the feelings he or she has experienced, and in others being infected by those feelings and also experiencing them.
Interpreted this way, art would cover -- as it should -- everyday activities such as talking, playing, and conveying by the way one lives certain feelings and emotions that others can connect with.


Since March 2012, I did not manage to travel abroad but I did visit many national parks in the US: Everglades in Florida; Bryce and Zion in Utah; and Yellowstone in Wyoming. This year, I traveled New Mexico and Colorado to experience cities and landscapes of the American southwest (Albuquerque, Santa Fe, Denver, Boulder, Rocky Mountain National Park) that I’d somehow missed as a graduate student in Arizona. All of these deserve their own posts, but the one that I have managed to write and that will be up soon, is my 8-day trip in Yellowstone and neighboring towns in Wyoming. I wrote this slowly over the last few months, whenever I had a little bit of time, and it now stands at 5000 words. I’ll post it in 3-4 parts.