Tuesday, May 21, 2013

QotD: "It is easy, retrospectively, to endow one’s youth with a false precocity or a false innocence" / Evelyn Waugh

"It is easy, retrospectively, to endow one’s youth with a false precocity or a false innocence; to tamper with the dates marking one’s stature on the edge of the door. ... I should like to think—indeed I sometimes do think—that I decorated those rooms with Morris stuffs and Arundel prints and that my shelves were filled with seventeenth-century folios and French novels of the second empire in Russia-leather and watered silk. But this was not the truth. On my first afternoon I proudly hung a reproduction of Van Gogh’s Sunflowers over the fire and set up a screen, painted by Roger Fry with a Provençal landscape, which I had bought inexpensively when the Omega workshops were sold up. I displayed also a poster by McKnight Kauffer and Rhyme Sheets from the Poetry Bookshop, and, most painful to recall, a porcelain figure of Polly Peachum which stood between black tapers on the chimney-piece." Evelyn Waugh, Brideshead Revisited

Yup, I did graduate
Alas, it was not Van Gogh's "Sunflowers" but rather "Starry Night" that graced my room that first freshman year in college. I was also lucky to have a roommate that was quirky and shared, I humbly add, a taste in 60s music (and thank you Steve for introducing me to The Blues Project, John Mayall, and the deeper cuts of the Grateful Dead).

In addition to "Starry Night" our decor also included Milton Glaser's famed poster of a psychedelic Dylan (no McKnight Kauffer), and as the year wore on, in place of the Polly Peachum figure, an actual tree stump (which sprouted mushrooms over winter break), the top of a lamppost that when hung from the ceiling and hit with tossed dice rang like a bell (you had to be there). Not sure if I had pretentious French novels that first year (Huysman's  À rebours and Françoise Sagan would come later), but I do recall William Golding's Pincher Martin on the shelves. The next three years, though they had interesting element and a series of new roommates, didn't have that initial burst of the new that first year.

The Big 80s, times of Big Glasses! (sitting by two Annes)
And so the college years flew past and, wow! To paraphrase Floyd, one day you wake to find, THIRTY years have got behind you .... ergo, it was way way back on 21 May 1983 (see diploma above) that I graduated from The Catholic University of America. BA, English, focus, Medieval, dropped (after 1.5 years) architecture.

That year, the commencement speaker was James Billington. Dr. Billington was then the director of the Woodrow Wilson Center International Center for Scholars (semi-, kinda, sorta part of the Smithsonian). Just a few years later, he became the Librarian of Congress, a post he's held since then. So, in that speech by Dr. Billington (and no, couldn't tell you a lick of what he said), my future was crystallized  first, by ending up working at the Library of Congress after graduation, and then moving on to the Smithsonian Institution. I've subsequently met Dr. Billington on a number of occasions (let's all say "World Digital Library" -- but nope, I do not believe he would have a flicker of who I was), but never mentioned our hooded congruence.

And so, now, looking back on an unimaginable thirty years, the false precocity (which I now freely and humbly admit too) grown to, what? With unimaginable successes in areas that never existed in 1983? With dashed dreams that were probably best unfilled ... I can honestly say, in the words of the OTHER Grateful Dead lyricist  (Robert Hunter) -- the one I've not had the pleasure to meet (which would be John Perry Barlow) ... "what a long, strange trip it's been!".

James Billington, a little to the right of the guys standing

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