This post is the very first one ever published. We launched on Bloomsday in 2020 on June 16th. And since this Friday is Bloomsday 2023, I thought it would be fun to visit our earliest inspiration. It seemed an auspicious day, with everybody the world over out reading the James Joyce’s novel Ulysses. Literature, so to speak, is in the air on that day! And, of course, fellow Irish expat, Samuel Beckett, was friends with Joyce in Paris.
Monsieur Godot has been a friend of mine for many years, and I dare say a friend of yours as well. You might be, like, Godot? He’s that guy that two men are waiting for in a French play, some important person who doesn’t show? Yes. So why do we care?
Via this blog, I hope to have conversations with a whole range of people, like folks are doing today, particularly in Ireland, but also in many countries. Everybody is celebrating the one day on which the novel Ulysses took place in Dublin in 1904. June 16th is called Bloomsday, after the main character in the story, and people dress up in costume and hit the bars (for better or worse). So it’s a grand day to talk about books and writing and your gran or your love life. (And Covid 19 and black lives under threat.)
But why bring Godot into the mix? I’d like to introduce you to what I call a Godot vibe that I think you’ll like. And what better day to do that than Bloomsday? Let’s start by way of a story.
A young man went up to a chipped statue of St Jude, in his local church. “St Jude,” he prayed on his knees, “Patron Saint of lost causes, help me win the lottery.” Every Friday this was the man’s prayer in a dusty corner of his small church. “Help me, St Jude, to win the lottery.” Unfortunately, the man never won the lottery. Weeks turned into months, and still the man returned with his heart-felt, confident prayer, “Help me, St Jude, patron saint of lost causes, to win the lottery. “
One day, after a very long time of sending his prayers heavenward, a surprising thing happened to the young man. The statue stepped down from its pedestal. “My son,” the saint said. “You must first buy a lottery ticket.”
I especially like this little parable because all the Godot ingredients are there. We long, don’t we, for things that don’t materialize. A fortune, a lover, a mate, a child, happiness. We may despair over this outcome (or lack of outcome). But the obvious step to make that happen, we don’t do! The focus in this story is on St Jude’s advice, and not on the absurdly wonderful idea that the saint will take your cause so to heart that he will inhabit his plaster image and speak.
All right, so on to Godot. The premise in this play and in the theatre of the absurd is that the world doesn’t really make sense. While sometimes this is depressing–and quite depressing it can be, like World War II was to Beckett, and yet despite this, the absurd is also quite freeing for you. But that is a big you, because after all, the tramps in Beckett’s play, Vladimir and Estragon, are in this crazy/sad, crazy/ funny crazy/violent world together.
You might now ask why call a blog, “writing4godot?”
I hope you are intrigued by this question. And I hope you will turn to the weekly posts to see the answer unfold. My first interest in Godot comes from a famous exchange in the play. One character says, “Let’s go.” The stage directions say, “They do not move.” All the synonyms for “going” are at play here: striving, achieving, growth for the stockholders. Not moving is a kind of short circuiting of all that effort. What happens if we don’t go? Many of us have been sheltering at home during the virus pandemic, and maybe have more of a taste for what happens when we don’t go, although there can be a lot of effort at home with family, especially young children!
The play is called Waiting for Godot, written by Samuel Beckett, an Irish Frenchman, who first put this play on in the 50’s. The blog, writing4godot, also up-ends the idea of destination writing. Ah, the ends we seek: fame, fortune and publication. I’d like to think of this as a blog for people who like to laugh, who like books, who are interested in the writer’s life which is a jazzed up (and often poorer version) of everybody’s life. The play has a big reach, where stasis, pointlessness, disappointment and violence are held up and examined. We need that kind of reach when we try to make sense of this world. And we also need the joy.
A little FYI about how I came up with this idea. I have just returned to rural New York—home, in fact—after a very long sojourn in France. I lived, wrote and taught just outside of Paris for 20 years. Initially I worked as a copy editor for the texts of a Sufi musician. I descended from those arcane heights and taught English and Social Studies, first at the American School of Paris and then at a local French school, which had an option in English lit. Ah Paris, where Godot is most present and most absent, two quirky cousins paradoxically on the same stage, in the same blog.
I am working on a novel in linked stories, focusing on the way a neighbor’s tragedy can ripple through the lives of a community, stalling the lives of some people and creating unexpected connection in others. These stories are clear-eyed about the wreck of disaster, but also suggest that while life is hard, with its sadness and absurdities, there are flickering moments of grace.
A bientôt! (And don’t forget to celebrate Juneteenth on Monday.)
Here’s a five minute video about Ulysses: