Taking an easy route with this post. Searched through some many-years-old journals of mine for a specific piece of material and eventually found it.
Despite of the cheat of this post (not current, not new to my life now), I did experience a revelation I thought worthy of more than just a transcription of old thoughts.
I’m not sure why I was even looking for this particular piece from my journals, but I was recalling I had written down my feelings after reading a paragraph from one of James Baldwins novels. And after finding this in my journal, and considering that whole entry verbatim for this post, I knew I needed to locate the source of that paragraph to give it the correct credit, as I had not bothered to mention the source in my journaling.
So next I decide to type a fragment of that Baldwin writing into Google. And therein occurred the surprise revelation I mentioned above. Kind of scary, to me anyway.
The entry in my journal I’m talking about here was dated March ’86, long, long before today’s internet of everything. Specifically, long, long before a web domain called goodreads.com existed. But, again, shocking to me anyway, when I entered the somewhat random fragment from the Baldwin excerpt I had in my journal into Google, I found this. The link is to the “quotes” section of goodreads.com, and is titled, “James Baldwin > Quotes > Quotable Quote”, and is the exact same paragraph I had copied from what I know now is Baldwin’s, “Sonny’s Blues”.
So, yeah, gwonna keep it real here. Discovering that made me think, “damn, guess I have/had a pretty good sense of the art in literature, when it exists.” ‘Cause when I made that journal entry I had zero idea about any kind of English Lit teaching material, any professional critique or review or commentary, etc. about this story from James Baldwin. Purely read it for pleasure while a working professional, most likely from here, and was moved in a certain way, enough to put my feelings down in my journal.
Here is the quote (from Sonny’s Blues), “All I know about music is that not many people ever really hear it. And even then, on the rare occasions when something opens within, and the music enters, what we mainly hear, or hear corroborated, are personal, private, vanishing evocations. But the man who creates the music is hearing something else, is dealing with the roar rising from the void and imposing order on it as it hits the air. What is evoked in him, then, is of another order, more terrible because it has no words, and triumphant, too, for that same reason. And his triumph, when he triumphs, is ours.”
And this is from my journal,
If you have indulged me and a) are stilling reading this post and b) read the musings of my 20-something self from those journal pages, just want you to know those journal writings are as fresh to me as they would be to you. And I have no comment on them…
But I’m not done here, ’cause the coincidence, the serendipity, the universal alignment of things, however it can be characterized regarding the Baldwin quote in my journal and finding it online as I described, and then me writing about it, that “surprise” if you will, has led to another.
The fact that I was inspired to put something in my journal about the writings of James Baldwin is definitely not particularly surprising. He was, and may still be, one of my favorite authors. It’s long ago now, but I do recall personally thinking his novel, “Another Country”, was an amazing work. For me, more so than the novels he is best known for, which I also read, most likely, first.
Not only was I a reader of Baldwin’s novels (again, not in a classroom), I actually once saw and heard Mr. Baldwin speak.
Though it was many years ago, I could actually remember the place/space, but I could not remember the year, and that was bugging me. I remembered it was on the UNC campus at Chapel HIll in North Carolina, but, I’m disappointed to admit, instead of recalling something particularly memorable he said, what I do remember, is a question from the audience, and then his answer, during a brief Q and A after his talk. I do also remember me thinking to myself while sitting in this relatively large, somewhat typical, college small auditorium, that probably a lot of the attendees were students, there only because they were required by some class they were taking at the time. And I can only speculate that this might relate to the question I heard asked.
I just remember that the person asking the question was a white male and the question included the word, tertiary, and the person was asking Baldwin about a character or plot line. And I remembered Baldwin answered in a not surprisingly acerbic, somewhat, to me anyway, sardonic manner. And it was obvious to me he was perturbed at the apparently purely academic nature of the question, as opposed to a question more about the soul of his writing, or the inspiration for a character, etc. Least, that was my take. I was actually a bit conflicted when I heard the exchange. Kind of felt bad for the person asking, but was also amused with Baldwin’s response because I felt I knew where Baldwin was coming from. Though, come on, I could not possibly know such a thing about James Baldwin, a complex person, with a complex history.
OK, I’m finally getting to what I’m calling the other “surprise” in my little adventure writing this post.
So, as I mentioned previously, I could not recall exactly when, or exactly what was, the nature of this Baldwin speaking engagement, but the internet had the answer, and here it is:
If you read this clip (UNC has digitized the university paper, the Daily Tar Heel, from 1893-1992), you will learn, as I did reading it, what the speaking engagement I attended was all about. But, as I mentioned before, I really wanted to know what year it was that I saw James Baldwin, and there it was, just below the paper’s banner.
Great, I think, at first glance, I now know it was 1984. But then, the little “surprise” I’ve been alluding to. The month and day of that 1984 issue. November 13. That, my friends, is my birthday!
Kind of wild to me, and you’re no fun if you don’t get it.