Last week my boss announced it was time to clean out our offices. She was serious enough to go into my meeting calendar and mark all the open time slots as busy, so I had no excuse to put it off. (While everyone in my department received the same directive, as the office slob I know it primarily intended for me and the avalanche of paper on my desk and the tumble of cast-off shoes underneath it). I filled a recycling bin, made trips to the shredder, and in the final stage of excavation of my desk drawer, underneath the forgotten snacks, reusable shopping bags and errant paper clips, I found them, the sonnets, cut up into portable squares that must have fallen from my backpack pockets.
At least a decade ago, though I’m not certain when, I made up my mind to memorize all 154 sonnets by Shakespeare. Memorizing poetry was my hobby and I was good at it. For all my weaknesses (and being a slob is just one of many) I can still claim that I once had an excellent memory. I didn’t need to make grocery lists, write down phone numbers or do much studying for tests in school. By paying attention I could learn easily and retrieve a lot of information on demand. I liked the process of sticking poetry into my head, how phrases or whole poems would come to me at off moments. If nothing else, poetry was an antidote to musical ear worms, which I am susceptible to, particularly from those 1980’s pop songs on heavy rotation in grocery stores.
I learned Shakespeare’s sonnets while walking, so I associate the iambic pentameter of his verse with the rhythm of my footfalls. In the space of a 15 minute walk to work, with a second run through on my lunch hour walk, I could have a sonnet memorized, maybe with a “thee” or “thou” out of place, but essentially all there in my head to retrieve at my pleasure. Shakespeare’s language tickled me, with his unexpected combinations of words—what could be sexier than lascivious grace (Sonnet 40)? Or more lush than unthrifty loveliness (Sonnet 4)? Why would I ever want to be merely sad, when I could trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries (Sonnet 29)?
In his sonnets, Shakespeare is the supreme craftsman, with both ambiguous that somehow often seem to both universal in theme but also specific to my own life. During a time when I felt stigmatized by my job working in customer service, Sonnet 111 had me complaining along with Shakespeare that fortune did not better for my life provide/ Than public means which public manners breeds./Thence comes it that my name receives a brand/And almost thence my nature is subdu’d/To what it works in, like the dyer’s hand. After unsuccessfully trying to understand the basics of quantum physics (how can something be both a particle and a wave?) Sonnet 45’s These present-absent with swift motion slide taught me more about wave function than a popular physics text. Sonnet 44’s nimble thought can jump both see and land was a siren call to my budget travel fantasies. Ladies, are you experiencing street harassment? If so I recommend public sonnet memorizing as self-defense. Even the most relentless sexual harasser will avoid a woman muttering sonnets to herself on the sidewalk. [You may find it comforting that by the time you reach the age of 40, having passed by the ambush of young days (Sonnet 70) you’ll become invisible to street harassers and resume living without unsolicited public appraisals of your body parts].
I succeeded, more or less, in memorizing 154 Shakespeare sonnets. Sure, I’d need to refresh my memory on occasion, with scraps of printed sonnets in my coat pockets, but it was time for me to spend time with the works of other poets too. Who knows how long that would have lasted, the walking and poetry memorizing, if it weren’t for insomnia.
For more than four years I’ve had incurable insomnia. The details are tedious and best left to Shakespeare’s Sonnet 28 for explanation: How can I then return in happy plight/ That am debarred the benefit of rest?/ When day’s oppression is not eased by night, /But day by night and night by day oppressed. Insomnia has butchered my memory and my attention span. I no longer memorize long poems or slide through life with my bright mind easing the way. For years I was a painter with an iron discipline, laboring six months on a single work. When I lost my attention span and ability to paint along with it, I started this blog to have a feeling of accomplishment, to connect with people who like me, love to travel for culture. It worked. I love writing Picnic at the Cathedral. I love interacting with other bloggers and helping people travel cheap. I can write when my attention span allows and though the insomnia often makes it challenging for me spell and put together sentences, I try to power though and rely on my still robust sense of humor.
Two nights ago I was distracted, worried about HOB’s health, and of course, tired. I sat down to upload photos onto my blog site for a new post and got a message that I was out of media space. Oh well, no big deal, I would just delete the photos in the media library and add more. So I hit “bulk delete” and clicked away and soon enough had plenty of memory for new photos. Not until lunch break at work yesterday did I realize that this also deleted the images from my blog site as well. Apparently this can not be reversed, so now I have a busted blog.
People like me don’t get to wallow, so I did what I always do this morning: fed the cat, got dressed, and went to work. On my morning walk I was surprised to find myself reciting a Shakespeare sonnet:
When I have seen by Time’s fell hand defac’d
The rich-proud cost of outworn buried age;
When sometime lofty towers I see down-razed
And brass eternal, slave to mortal rage;
When I have seen the hungry ocean gain
Advantage on the kingdom of the shore,
And the firm soil win of the wat’ry main,
Increasing store with loss, and loss with store;
When I have seen such interchange of state,
Or state itself confounded to decay;
Ruin hath taught me thus to ruminate —
That Time will come and take my love away.
This thought is as a death, which cannot choose
But weep to have that which it fears to lose.