Friday, January 13, 2006

A king of infinite space

So I'm out for my morning walk, aiming at coffee and a danish somewhere, listening to my book on tape, Robert Forster reading me Stone Cold by Robert B. Parker, and I'm ignoring the beautiful weather here and the pretty view of the the river and the trees and snow and blue sky reflected in it to concentrate nostalgically on the beautiful weather and the pretty view off Cape Ann in Massachusetts Parker's characters are enjoying and I'm thinking, You know, if I lived in Boston, I could drive up there right now and listen to this while I was actually looking at this same scene.

Except that I couldn't. If I lived in Boston I'd have the same demands on my time I have here and I'd be no more free to drop everything and run off to the beach and stare out to sea than I am here. In fact, Cape Ann is hardly a hop, skip, and a jump from Boston anyway. In the four years I lived there I got out to Cape Ann no more than a half dozen times and I was a college student then with a lot more time to call my own.

But realities like that are no obstacle to the dreamy and romantic and thinking about where I wished I could be had the effect it always does on me---it made being here feel like imprisonment.

The only lines I can quote from Paradise Lost---

The mind is its own place, and in it self,
Can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven.

---I quote over and over to myself to no avail. There's no solace in them; I refuse to learn their lesson. I'd do better to remember Hamlet's line, that "there is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so," except that he's explaining why he feels Denmark is a prison.

"O God, I could be bounded in a nutshell, and count myself a king of infinite space..."

He says. But he adds,

"...were it not that I have bad dreams."

Me too, sweet prince. Me too.

A loyal reader of these pixels dropped me a note in which she asked, casually, just making conversation, if I happened to be in jail.

I think she thinks I have far more free time on my hands that I actually do and she was wondering how I came to have so much leisure at my disposal and something about the way I write made her automatically reject the notions of trust funds and lottery winnings and assume the answer must be long term institutionalization.

I don't know whether to be flattered or offended that she thought it was more likely I was locked away in the state penetintiary instead of the local nut farm.

By the way, I don't think she was romanticizing when she asked me the question. She wasn't imagining that I'm George Clooney in Out of Sight. So she doesn't want a pen pal.

Get it?

PEN pal?

Funny guy, Lance.

Let me assure her, and you, I'm not incarcerated in either place. I probably deserve to be in jail, but the only prisons I have ever lived in have been ones in my own head of my own devising.

But this made me wonder something.

Can people in jail blog? Do convicts have computer and internet privileges?

When I was in grad school I taught a correspondence course in creative writing. (There's a series of posts I hope I resist ever writing.) One of my students was a convict, doing hard time in a state pen in New Jersey. He never told me what for and I never asked. He did assure me that our chances of ever meeting face to face were slim as his stay in his present place of residence was going to be a long one. He wasn't responding to anything I'd written him, so I guessed a teacher of another correspondence course he'd taken or was taking had gotten nervous about correcting the work of a possible psycho-killer who wouldn't take kindly to earning any grade lower than a B and he wanted to put my mind at ease. But I wish he'd written a short story or essay about his criminal past. Then again, it might have been hard to grade.

"Julian, in this sentence, where you describe shooting your way out of the bank, you split an infinitive and misplaced a modifier. And please, avoid slang. You might say to your friends, 'I capped the Mofo,' but in our writing we must strive for a greater degree of formality and accuracy. Which Mofo did you cap, where was his wound, and are you certain he was in fact a mofo?"

What Julian did write a lot about was the religion he invented for himself while in jail. He wrote a lot about it, but he never explained it very well. His poems and the elaborate iconography he'd devised and with which he decorated his papers gave me the impression that he had amalgamated elements of ancient Celtic, Egyptian, and Norse mythology, throwing in a little Aztec for good measure---there was definitely some sun worship involved.

Speaking of someone who had made a heaven of hell, who was bounded by a nutshell but counted himself a king of infinite space...

At any rate, nowdays, university correspondence courses are called distance learning programs and are conducted online and via email and since prisoners are encouraged to take classes the ones who sign up for classes like the one I taught must be allowed some computer privileges, unless special arrangements are made to use snail mail.

Anybody know?


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