It just occurred to me at the bookstore yesterday that life is too short for Alexander Pope. I stumbled across his translation of the Odyssey, and I realized that, even though I do mean to read the Odyssey one day (I never have), Pope's isn't one of the translations I'd consider reading.
It's not that I have anything against Alexander Pope. I know he's a great poet. I studied him a bit in college English classes, and I absolutely agree that there's no rational justification for anti-Popery. I am willing to remain provisionally pro-Pope, so far as it goes. Sympathetic and admiring, from afar, as it were, in a disinterested sort of way; uncritical of those who choose to read, savor, and study him. And yet, apart from the odd couplet encountered serendipitously, I think I can state with finality that I am going to perish without ever absorbing significantly more Alexander Pope than I already have.
I'm at that point in life, I guess. You have to make choices. Actually, you really have to make choices at every stage in life—it's just that none of us know that when we're young. Most of us humans live into our thirties or even beyond without sufficiently appreciating that there's not going to be time for everything.
One thing I'm increasingly coming around to thinking I must make time for—a thing I once imagined I was done with—is a darkroom. It's not because I think a darkroom makes any sense for the future, necessarily. My interest in this is not a comment on digital, or film-vs.-digital, or what sort of print is best. For me specifically, what a darkroom makes sense for is the past. For better or worse, I shot 35mm black-and-white film—lots and lots of it, tens of thousands of frames worth—for twenty years, from 1980 to 2000. I have all those negatives. Sitting here. Mute and mysterious, their pleasures locked away in indecipherable codes of metalized silver. No one else is ever going to make anything of all that work. If anyone's going to do it, it's going to have to be me. So for some months now I've been considering building a darkroom in my basement to make one final triumphant pass through that mass of raw material, create one summary master portfolio, maybe even mock up a monograph.
So unaffected, so compos'd a mind
I had lunch with my friend Nick Hartmann yesterday. He's currently the President of the American Translators Association (ATA), so I got to hear about that, which was interesting. (He suggests Fagles' Odyssey. And how often does one get a recommendation of a translation from the President of the ATA?) I don't have many friends, but the ones I have are well chosen, if I do say so myself: Nick is intelligent, unpretentious, articulate, friendly, erudite, interesting, genuine, and wise. Even though he's a photographer. He shot for many years with a Leica M6 and a 50mm lens, and has now graduated to a Canon S90, which I think is his fourth or fifth digital camera. (If you're interested, he reports that the S90 took some time to get used to, but that he loves it.) Anyway, Nick built a darkroom in his house—now unused, and of course he built it right before he switched exclusively to digital—and, based on his experience, he suggested something that is so blindingly sensible and obvious that I absolutely never would have thought of it myself. Instead of building a darkroom in my basement, Nick suggested simply light-proofing the entire basement.
Brilliant. There are six small windows and one door at the top of the stairs. I could light-proof the entire basement in an hour. A couple of hours of cleaning, a few tables, a bit of improvisational electrical work, and voilà—darkroom. And, as Nick pointed out, if it doesn't work out, if my grand design comes to naught, I can just tear the black plastic off the windows and have my basement back. Told you he was wise.
Anyway, that's what I've decided to do. In fact, writing this post is my way of getting started (whenever I'm faced with a task, my impulse is always either to read about it, or to write about it).
I'll post updates. You are authorized to make fun of me if I procrastinate too badly.
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Original contents copyright 2010 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved.
Featured Comment by diforbes: "Yawn."
Featured Comment by Robert Meier: "Hurray!!"
Featured Comment to end all featured comments, by Alexander Pope:
Of darkrooms, dev and stop and fix, I'll sing!
A little burning is a dangerous thing,
Black skies as never were beneath the sun!
And dodging, too, tho' it be carefully done,
Creates those ghostly halo'd heads that shine
Like beacons in the murky fog of grain,
And dust! Fell dust! Tho' negatives be stored
And puff'd, the darkroom worker's quickly bored
With spotting spotty spots, and longs
For cloning; No, Johnston! Put down thy tongs,
The dreadful night of hypo is now past,
And DIGITAL's bright day has dawned, at last!