I am, I must confess, an introvert. Looking at my blog, with its 130 book reviews and 90 movie reviews, this is probably not exactly a shock.
I am in something approaching a leadership position where I work, so I can overcome it. It’s gotten to the point where I’m actually pretty comfortable now speaking up in meetings, giving presentations, and other such nonsense.
For the past couple of years, I’ve been living alone. I have no real burning desire to become the guy that dies at 90, his body left undiscovered for weeks, and when the authorities finally do break down the door, they’re confronted by ceiling high piles of newspapers, mildewed books, and decades of old magazines. There’s a rabbit warren of barely navigable pathways that lead inevitably to my shriveled, desiccated body, buried under a pile of National Geographics from the 1980’s.
To avoid that, I make a conscious effort to go out, especially on the weekends. I try to make it a point to try a new restaurant, go to a play, concert, reading, or movie, or some other public event where I have to, even minimally, be amidst other people.
This weekend, I had several options. One option was to go to Punk Drublic, which is a punk rock / beer festival. Some popular bands from back in the day were going to be there. I was tempted but it was an all day thing and it was way out in the hinterlands of Tacoma, so if I was to drink (which I would), getting there and back was going to be a minor hassle.
Literally next door from where I live, Chris Rock was performing tonight. Maybe a mile away or so, Jim Gaffigan was performing. At a small club about a mile from me The Beaumonts were going to play. I don’t really know much about The Beaumonts, but they appear to be a Texan honky-tonk punkish kind of band, which sounded fun.
But…there was another option. Without going into too many details explaining why, one of my lifetime goals is to read James Joyce’s novel, Finnegans Wake. For those who don’t know about it, Finnegans Wake is Joyce’s last novel. He spent nearly twenty years writing it, and was blind or poorly sighted for much of that time. He essentially invented a new language while writing it. Eighty years later, there are people still trying to figure out what it’s about. Here are some examples of prose from it:
- The fall (bababadalgharaghtakamminarronnkonnbronntonnerronntuonnthunntrovarrhounawnskawntoohoohoordenenthurnuk!) of a once wallstrait oldparr is retaled early in bed and later on life down through all christian minstrelsy.
- And the duppy shot the shutter clup (Perkodhuskurunbarggruauyagokgorlayorgromgremmitghundhurthrumathunaradidillifaititillibumullunukkunun!)
- The (klikkaklakkaklaskaklopatzklatschabattacreppycrottygraddaghsemmihsammihnouithappluddyappladdypkonpkot!).
- Wold Forrester Farley who, in deesperation of deispiration at the diasporation of his diesparation, was found of the round of the sound of the lound of the Lukkedoerendunandurraskewdylooshoofermoyportertooryzooysphalnabortansporthaokansakroidverjkapakkapuk.
- For hanigen with hunigen still haunt ahunt to finnd their hinnigen where Pappappapparrassannuaragheallachnatullaghmonganmacmacmacwhackfalltherdebblenonthedubblandaddydoodled and anruly person creeked a jest. 
- Let us here consider the casus, my dear little cousis (husstenhasstencaffincoffintussemtossemdamandamnacosaghcusaghhobixhatouxpeswchbechoscashlcarcarcaract) of the Ondt and the Gracehoper.
And yes, in case you’re wondering, those bolded words are one hundred characters long each.
I think that you can see now that, even though I’ve been reading semi-seriously for over thirty years, I have yet to tackle it.
What does this have to do with anything?
Well, apparently someone in the Seattle area has, not only read it, but has decided to memorize it. And not only memorize it, but he puts on shows where he declaims it. His goal is apparently to find the musical underpinnings of the prose.
That’s actually cool on a couple of levels. First of all, apparently there is a rhythm to Finnegans Wake when spoken aloud. More than that, the pre-written word epic poets of ancient Greece used to recite their poems. These poems were passed down from generation to generation by poets memorizing the verses. To aid in the memorization, poems like The Odyssey or The Illiad also have a musical structure, so we seem to be circling back to the arts of the ancients. Lastly, Joyce was nearly blind and Homer was allegedly blind, so there’s yet another weird multi-millenial tie that binds.
The artist is apparently up to chapter four. If that doesn’t impress you, understand that reciting just chapter one takes an estimated three hours.
So, given all of that, imagine my shock and surprise when I saw that he was going to read chapter one Saturday night. Even though I have no idea how such an event could possibly go (if I can’t read it and understand it, how can I possibly hear someone else recite and get anything out of it?), I quickly abandoned thoughts of Chris Rock and decided that I wanted to hear some dude recite from memory some gibberish!
It starts at eight. It’s about a mile and a half away, so I walk. I arrive about five minutes early. It is in the middle of a residential neighborhood. There are no lights anywhere. I walk past what appears to be a couple of hyper-local storefronts (one is a hairstylist). I keep walking. I walk past one of the storefronts and the door is open.
I look in and see about fifty chairs set up. It looks like nothing more than one of those storefront non-denominational churches (Rock of Faith, all are welcome!). I look in as I pass by. No one is sitting down. There are three people standing at the front. I figure one of them must be the counter person (tickets must be purchased). The three of them have formed a conversational triad with a level of comfort that implies that they all have known each other for a while. There is no one else there.
I walk past the theater (I guess?) and stand off to the side. No one else comes in over the next ten minutes.
What do I do? If I’m literally the only person in the audience, that will leave me extremely uncomfortable. Even if two of the people are audience members, clearly I’m the guy that doesn’t fit in. What if they ask me about Finnegans Wake and I have to confess that I’ve never read it? That I have to admit that I’m some kind of voyeuristic poseur of avant-garde literature? I was planning on checking it out and then maybe ducking out at the intermission. That’s going to be really hard to do if I’m the only fucking person in the audience. What if it’s really uncomfortable? How am I going to respond if this artist, who has spent God knows how many probably thousands of hours memorizing gibberish, stands in front of me looking sad or forlorn but feels some show must go on duty to make sure that I get my $15 worth? Or even worse, what if he sits next to me, knees touching, and stares at me fiercely, eye-to-eye, while he regurgitates Joycean stream of consciousness at me for three hours?
The pressure becomes too much. I bolt. Like I said earlier, I do try to make an effort to break out of my introvert shell, but this was asking too much. We all have our breaking point and I’ve just found mine.
I think that I’ll see what’s in my Netflix queue.