On the first page of my weathered copy of James Joyce's Ulysses is a name and telephone number. I remember it being penciled in on the bus slogging up Burnaby Mountain to Simon Fraser University. It was 1992, probably raining, and I had just recognized someone on the bus from college. Ryan and I were both transfer students at SFU. That semester, I strained eyes and comprehension to follow some meaning in the labyrinthine prose of Ulysses. Four years later, I got my first job teaching ESL from Ryan, who'd started a small school in Metrotown. As I write this, I'm eagerly awaiting my schedule for September. I'm going back to SFU to do my Masters. From the end of my BA to now, I've reread Ulysses twice and I'm currently on a one-page a day diet. I've a good understanding of the overall project of the book and these days I'm savouring each sentence and word. I suppose the hallmark of a classic is that it is something we can return to again and again over the course of our lives. I love how Joyce plays between irreverence and reverie through so much of Ulysses. He's also very keenly aware of the colonizing power of language. Over the past couple of weeks, I've been happily inching through Chapter 16. Yesterday I read a passage where a sailor uses his hands to contort a face tattooed to his body. It's physical comedy in a chapter inflated stylistically in purple prose, but in this passage the narrator is at a loss for words:
That worthy, however, was busily engaged in. Collecting round the someway in his. Squeezing or.
-- See here, he said, showing Antonio. There he is, cursing the mate. And there he is now, he added. The same fellow, pulling the skin with his fingers, some special knack evidently, and he laughing at a yarn.
I don't anticipate writing about James Joyce at SFU, but I do think the reading strategies I've learned puzzling my way through Ulysses and Finnegans Wake will come in handy for my English Lit degree. I stopped working for Ryan long ago, but I continued at other ESL schools in Vancouver. In fact, I'm writing this from a school where I've been teaching ESL for the past eight years. I'm taking a leave to do my Masters, which I hope will lead to something more.
Maybe the opportunity to read Ulysses again with a group of others.