—There were other writers whose haunts we saw flashes of—August Wilson, Sherwood Anderson, Edward Bellamy, Walt Whitman, and on and on and on. As long as I was teaching, there seemed an endless supply of places to go, sites to see.
And then in June 2011, I retired.
Now what? Am I doomed to endless hours on the porch swing reading publications of the AARP?
Nope. John O’Hara rode to the rescue.
For a number of years I’d taught a short story by John O’Hara—“Do You Like It Here?”—a story about a new kid at a prep school, a kid whom the headmaster accuses of stealing a watch. I’d first read it back in college in a creative writing class taught by my favorite professor, Abe C. Ravitz. We were working on dialogue at the time, and dialogue is one of O’Hara’s strengths. But I didn’t really know much about O’Hara (1905–1970). I knew he’d written BUtterfield 8 and From the Terrace and some other racy and popular novels (novels my parents did not read, did not have in the house), but I knew virtually nothing about his life, his career.
So I’d bought Geoffrey Wolff’s 2003 biography, The Art of Burning Bridges: A Life of John O’Hara, and consumed it. Then I thought I’d read O’Hara’s first book, the short novel Appointment in Samarra, 1934, just to see. I liked it. So I moved on to the next title, The Doctor’s Son and Other Stories, 1935.
And then I was hooked. I was ordering all his titles, driving—several times—over to Pottsville, Pennsylvania, where he grew up (and which is the “Gibbsville” of much of his best fiction), to Princeton (his final home is there, his simple grave at Princeton Cemetery), and to State College, Pennsylvania, where the Special Collections Library holds many of O’Hara’s papers—and where they have re-built O’Hara’s study from his Princeton home, Linebrook, using his original furniture, books, knickknacks, wall adornments, and so on.
I’ve missed my students, my colleagues, the classroom colloquies. In some ways, retirement has meant a painful separation.
But I always remember a line from the mouth of Macbeth: “The labour we delight in physics pain.”
And so it does. And so, in some ways, I continue the “labour” of my career, “labour,” which of course, also goes by the name of “love.”
“The affectionate recollection and admiration of the dead,” wrote Godwin in Essay on Sepulchres, “will act gently upon our spirits, and fill us with a composed seriousness, favourable to the best and most honourable contemplations.”
Or so we can hope … and so I’ve always found … and so I hope always to find.