by Matthew Koslowski on March 17, 2010
in Anecdotes

The covers were all rolled in on themselves. I knew all the pages would be stuck together. The first book I picked up was On Love and Barley: The Haiku of Basho. And it dripped like a wet sponge.

Despite the grief at having lost hundreds of dollars worth of books, I found comfort in picking up the works of Basho. Although he could have had a comfortable life as a military officer or a small official, Basho renounced that to become a poet, to teach poetry, and to travel. His disciples built him a modest hut and planted him a banana tree. In fact, they built him several huts throughout his life because each was destroyed.

All Basho owned was some clothes, his hut when he had one, his banana tree, and his art.

I have long admired Basho’s poetry and the sparseness of his life. Back in college I remember, perhaps after spending time reading Basho, saying that a trunk full of books, a trunk full of clothes, a pen and paper, and a sleeping bag was all that I should ever need.

Quite against my choosing, my life will be more spare. More spare materially, but perhaps more full.

Perhaps because I picked up Basho first and I remembered my old ideal of living a life around my art instead of around material goods, I was not too grieved by the loss of my books. There were some losses I will grieve.

Many of the papers I wrote in college and course readers and other miscellany were soaked through.

The next book I picked up was priceless. As a Christmas gift, I received a dual language edition of Rilke’s poetry, in the original German with Russian translations. A hardcover book, I had had some hope that I could save it and set it in front of a space heater. When I looked in after it the next day, it looked swollen and beyond saving.

Another priceless book, a dual language edition of Petrarch’s Lyric Poems: The Rime Sparse and Other Lyrics in Italian with English translations by Robert M. Durling, sat in the water. I have two copies of that book, though only the ruined one is accounted for right now and the other may share the other’s fate. What I do know is that I received the one that was ruined as a gift from my favorite college literature professor, Dr. James Biehl.

Then I picked up Albert Camus’s The Myth of Sisyphus. While sad to lose that book, I chuckled. How appropriate a book to lose. As I picked up books and papers, tried to guide water to the sump pump, I felt there was something Sisyphean in the effort. And beyond the effort of clean up, I thought of other Sisyphean tasks.

Will I work to earn money to buy these books again only to worry that they may get ruined again? Or will I use this opportunity to create my life more consciously, to consume less but enjoy more?

Perhaps even Sisyphus can smile.

Of Steppenwolves and Hedgehogs

by Matthew Koslowski on September 16, 2009
in Essays

One night in May while walking around the MFA, I was reunited with some old friends. Though the paintings and sculptures have settled here in Boston and need to be visited in person, I had pictures of many of them, just like having photographs of friends in an album.

A few weeks ago, I was again reunited with an old friend while pawing through boxes of books that I have not unpacked.

But this friend, this dear old friend who reached out to tell me my own story, who I called godfather, was always with me. With me when I moved to Ohio for college. With me when I fled Ohio for Chicago. And with me on my return to Massachusetts and Boston.

That this friend, Harry Haller, did not have pride of place, that he was packed away in a box embarrasses me not a little. He should have sat always at my right hand.

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