On Joyce and Bees

This morning I went out to water the sunflowers. There are a lot of honey bees, working working working. Their little legs are fat with bright yellow pollen. Three days ago I found a spider in the center of one of the flowers, camouflaged and turned to yellow, waiting waiting waiting. I showed it to Kim, who said that I didn’t know her at all. Yesterday the spider had a bee, munching munching munching.

Last night I finished chapter one of Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. I remember reading it in high school or college, high school I think. That was a lot of years ago, but I still remember it being the first “classic” that touched me. At first I was uninterested, but something made me stick then, and I remember thinking by the end–hey, there’s special words here. That really is a good book. I haven’t read it again, and I’m sure I skipped some of it then, because when I was in high school that was what I did. It’s good to revisit it. I’m hopeful that I will understand more, now that I am older and a better writer.

I am struck by Joyce’s struggle to write. More than any other author, I can feel the work he puts in. It is not smooth. It is not easy. I can feel him writing and rewriting, working working working. I can feel that he’s just a regular guy, wishing to go to the corner for a pint, but the beauty of the world and his curiosity about it insist that he sits and works instead. I don’t get the sense that he’s a genius, although of course he was. I get the sense of his struggle to explain the world around him to himself.

As with any great author or great book, I must be careful, because I want to borrow borrow borrow. I love his description of schoolboy life. I love the questions of the young men as they wonder about the boys who run away after being caught “smugging” in the toilets. I love the indignity of Stephen Dedalus after he is punished with the pandybat for shirking his lessons: it’s not his fault because his glasses are broken and his teacher told him he didn’t have to work until he received new ones, but the rector who smacks his hand doesn’t know that and doesn’t care. Stephen takes it all the way to the top and the other boys carry him around on their shoulders for being brave enough to make the complaint, but through it all there is the sense that he is complaining about the unfairness of life, and we know where that gets us. It gives me ideas for Stope and Stull, and why they don’t want to return to their arm.


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