I Shall Rush Out As I Am...
"Antium, 16 (?) April 69
"As usual, I was avidly expecting a letter from you towards evening, when along comes word that some boys have arrived from Rome. I call them in and ask whether they have any letters for me. They say not. 'What,' say I, 'nothing from Pomponious?' Frightened by my tone and look they confessed that they had been given one but lost it on the way. As you can imagine I was very put out. Every one of the letters you have sent me lately has contained something useful and charming."
So that is Cicero writing to Atticus. Unfortunately, my Penguin edition is not annotated, so I am having to rely on vague memories from what I read several years ago. Heavy movements are underway. Having a chronology beside me would be helpful, and I can see why a reviewer suggested it would be better to read all the letters in order, rather than (as I am doing) just those to this or that recipient. Cicero is exiled, begging for Atticus to come, begging, begging—then all of a sudden there is a gap of six months (obviously he came).
But at least I can capture tidbits along the way: "They seem fools enough to expect to keep their fish-ponds after losing constitutional freedom." "And what will history say of me a thousand years hence? I am far more in awe of that than of the tittle-tattle of my contemporaries."
Shackleton Bailey's biography is due my way, but really, having the annotated editions linked to above would really be best, but the prices are a bit out of my reach. (I generally do not even try the Chicago Public Library anymore, because, as with the Carcopino, either they don't have what is sought or it winds up inaccessible for some other reason.)
In his book on Augustus Caesar, David Shotter writes:
According to Juvenal, the satirist writing at the turn of the first and second centuries AD, Cicero for his own reasons, which lay in the quashing of the Conspiracy of Catalina, described 63 BC as a momentous year:
"O happy the Rome that was born in the year of my consulship." Rome and its empire, it might be said, came to see 63, the year of Octavius' birth, as momentous for rather different reasons.
My retention is very bad. When I first introduced myself to Cicero five years ago (or whatever), it was through the various Michael Grant editions at Penguin, and one or two others, but which I only read piecemeal (or did not read at all: events got in the way). I believe I went to Loeb for the Philippics complete, since the various selected volumes only reprinted one or the other, and read them all--but again without retaining much in my memory today. (I also, for future reference--but never as yet acted upon— obtained an edition of Demosthenes: as yet my "Greek phase" has not begun.)
When my attention lags—it is not clear that I will do this—I have stumbled upon a copy of Moby Dick which recently I was encouraged to read by a friend. I recently asked him about Confidence Man which I similarly stumbled upon. He wrote:
I've read all of Melville and like him but don't feel he's much of a novelist. Or poet. I think he was some kind of genius with moments of brilliance in all of his writing (even his poems—have you read his Poems?) but there's no novel that he wrote that comes close to what we expect from a great novelist, a Tolstoy or Dostoevsky or Dickens. Confidence has some great moments, as does Moby Dick, but some moments are plain not great.
There is something about his stance—or the stance of a Bartleby—that is tremendously appealing. The work ethic of my early manhood reflected something of that attitude: I took jobs for the interest of it and not for the career trajectory. And left them when that interest was exhausted, much as the Kipling:
Therefore, from job to job I’ve moved along.
Pay couldn’t ’old me when my time was done,
For something in my ’ead upset it all,
Till I ’ad dropped whatever ’twas for good,
An’, out at sea, be’eld the dock-lights die,
An’ met my mate—the wind that tramps the world!
So it is bitter cold in Chicago today—record breaking I have been told. Tonight I am scheduled to go to a "networking" event related to Chicago theater—not that I am looking for employment in the industry. "Been there and done that" as the popular phrase goes. In that same "early manhood" I did my share of stage managing or ancillary tech support—spotlight or whatever—and just as it seemed a (low-paying) career path might be opening up for me, I decided it was not how I wanted to spend my time, and began to turn my attentions to playwriting. ("I prefer not to" is how I would have phrased it.)
Actually it was an all-night event of "cable coiling" that did it for me. Cables may not be so necessary today, but that was grueling work. Also I handled properties once or twice: but my interest, it became increasingly apparent, was with the play itself. Most of my work had been in (light) opera, but transitioning into theater, and working on a show that (I felt) lacked artistic merit, made me realize that theater as a commercial enterprise itself held no attraction for me.
"Ah, bitter chill it was! The owl, for all his feathers, was a-cold"
Yet, for all of that, I do miss the theater world. Writing is a solitary act, but engagement in community another thing entirely. Cicero loved his retirement at Tusculum (or whatever) when he could absorb himself in literary studies. Even before events have hardly begun to roil, we hear him telling Atticus, "I am spoiling for a fight." (Not so myself—but engagement sometimes necessitates that, while common humanity prohibits perpetual standing down.)
I have not exactly "seen the moment of my greatness flicker". Rather—if there was greatness—it has never come into its own. But I have seen, in a good quarter of a century since I said to the producers at Vampire Lesbians of Sodom "I prefer not to," many events transpire.
When I began to write plays—in Chicago at least—a two-act structure was common, and so I wrote accordingly. The format I have evolved—or discovered—has suited me. But I recognize the vogue for the two act (all of Shakespeare was presented that way) has begun to pass. Now we see musicals all the rage, or else crisp short plays done as a one-act—fifty minutes to eighty minutes at most—with no intermission and no chance for the audience to walk out if it's bad (in most of our spaces that would entail cutting across the action).
So I recognize myself as something of a dinosaur in the sphere of theatrics—adhering, as ever, to drama before theater, action before performance, as is the playwright's credo. The event tonight pertains to "interns" looking for (paid) work in the field—youngsters I might say with starry eyes and sunny aspirations. Something far afield from myself. I have no expectations or hopes regarding "connectivity" (networking as such goes against my grain), but, keeping the breakdown of the Republic in mind, let me bear the cold and do it in the spirit of old Cicero.