Tonight will be a perigee moon. Perigee means the point in the orbit of a heavenly body, especially the moon, or of an artificial satellite at which it is nearest to the earth. However, it is unlikely I will have a clear view of it because of the fog that has settled over Hong Kong in the past couple of days. I am going to call it fog – though it is far more likely some variant of the pollution that we inhale on a daily basis over here, a nice dose of Nitrogen Dioxide. Yesterday it appeared that the sky had fallen. When I got home I was unable to see the bright lights of CyberPort, or even the ambient light of Hong Kong island, which generally creates my nocturnal backdrop. It was eerie. I could see some of the lights on the loaders and ships that were not too far off the shore , but even those were pretty diffuse, and the fog horns were going all night long – always spooky in spite of being a beacons. It was kinda like this, for real.
This morning when I was walking towards my yogic destination, the sky actually did fall. It wasn’t rain. It was like suspended wet that just sort of enveloped me as I walked towards the tram stop near Times Square. It was dark and quiet and damp. My students are always asking me what exactly “dank” means when they read Donald Justice’s poem, The Tourist From Syracuse. This would be it. Dank.
It is the kind of weather that sort of makes you want to hole up in bed with a good book and something tasty to drink; even if it is pollution and not really weather, it has the semblance of a blustery day. It’s not holing up because you are in a bad mood, but just because it seems more friendly inside. This weather matches the literary news of the last few days. I woke up yesterday to hear that Howard Zinn had died. I have been reading Howard Zinn since the days I was just discovering that I loved history. A People’s History of the United States may be one of the best books I have ever read, any of the editions, and it has always served as one of the best teaching tools for dealing with US History, a class that cannot be effectively broached in a single academic year (Go high school curriculum! Don’t even get me started on the idea of teaching World History in a year… No wonder everyone is bugged by history as adolescents.) It sucks to lose such a voice, but perhaps the irony of [modern?] death will prevail and more people will listen now that he has died.
I contemplated Howard a lot yesterday. I had only one history lesson to teach but was imbued with Theory of Knowledge lessons, which forces one to consider all the aspects of good history/historiography. Not to mention, I am 40 pages away from the conclusion of Roberto Bolaño’s 2666 and it is a novel of quite literal epic proportions, which I cannot imagine gleaning much from without some understanding the historical context against which it is set. History matters, and it is relevant in ways that few have been able to articulate as well as Howard Zinn. He always had much to say on how we choose to learn/study/use history, and I know I will be revisiting much of his work again in the near to immediate future.
When I woke up at 5 a.m. this morning the fog had not lifted even a little, in fact was far more substantial as I mentioned above. Walking placidly, if not a bit fuzzily out the door to catch the ferry I read that J.D. Salinger had died. Damn. Not like he made a habit of being around anyhow, but, damn. I will never read The Catcher in the Rye and not think of two of my most favorite humans to have ever walked the earth: Willy Oaks and Jason Baucom. Both of these guys embodied so much of what Holden Caulfield meant to me. I think Willy probably gave me my first copy of the book. And then, it was the reason I developed such a crush on a certain freshman at UCSD; Marshall’s favorite book, so prominently displayed in that charming college freshman way, was, of course, The Catcher in the Rye.
Two days and two big guns – gone. I started to wonder why it seems like certain people go on living forever, ever when we are sure they are going to die any moment. [Or we just want them to.] I have never written an obituary, well, I sort of wrote one once… But in reality, I wouldn’t know how to capture the way I feel when I hear about guys like this passing. It’s like a another little light, somewhere, has gone out. And even if that light is not readily accessible, or even one we need to have access to on a regular basis, we are poorer for having lost the illumination.
I hope I will see the moon tonight, though the fog will be here a little longer I think.
May we all find a beacon in the mist.