I Give Up (Not Really)

Summer has arrived in Seattle. Summer in Seattle ranks among the best in the world. This opinion is uncontroversial. For three to four months a year, the weather achieves a perfection of clear skies, warm days, and cool nights.

Outside my office window, the rose bushes have come into bloom. Their pink and carmine flowers are radiant against the milky sky. Mount Rainer towers in the distance. A steady cooling breeze blows in from the sea. Now is as good a time as any to abandon literature.

Here is The Book of Disquiet by Fernando Pessoa. It rests on my desk, among other more consulted works, seeing enough use to keep the dust away, but barely. As the title would imply, this book is vague and somber, although disquiet is perhaps too strong a word, at least in terms of its effect on the reader.

Pessoa is famous for adopting a multitude of literary personas under which he wrote the vast majority of his work. The count goes over seventy. Depending on the date of the manuscripts, the author of The Book of Disquiet is either Vicente Guedes or Bernardo Soares, though published editions credit Pessoa himself.

Guedes or Soares or Pessoa ruminates on his dissatisfaction with life — not his life in particular but life in general, life as concept — its impermanence, its petty and inexhaustible disappointments. These sentiments take no particular object. There is no story, no characters as such, no beginning or end. Pessoa never got around to finishing the book. It was cobbled together, posthumously, from author’s notes.

I take up my copy, read a page or two at a time, laugh at its pessimism, set it down again.The breeze combs the rose blossoms. Leaves gently rake the window glass. The day is growing brighter. It has a clarity deeper than any page.

I leave the house, walk down the narrow forested streets, toward the Lake Washington Ship Canal, and sit at the water’s edge, forgetting how to read perhaps, at least for one tranquil moment, as the ships, large and small, pass on their way to the sea.

 

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