James Joyce's Ulysses
It was the early 1980’s. I had just broken up messily with my girlfriend and I was working at a career that gave me no sense of accomplishment or satisfaction. I was angry, lonely, directionless.
Around that time I picked up Ulysses in a bookstore. I had tried to read this novel several times before but I’d never gotten beyond the first few pages. Stephen Dedalus struck me as a cold, unsympathetic character. This time, I kept going beyond those first few pages. Maybe I was more like Stephen than I’d been willing to admit. He seemed cast adrift and directionless, too.
I kept at the book. It was a challenge, and I needed a challenge. I needed something to take me out and above my troubles so I could see my life from a different, larger perspective.
I took Gifford’s Ulysses Annotated out of the library and read the novel in the evenings with the annotations at my side, penciling notes into the margins of my copy of the novel. Like a monk I kept at this for weeks, a few paragraphs at a time. Slowly learning to find my way in Joyce’s world.
The book became my Bible. I quoted from it to my friends (to their confusion and indifference). Joyce’s dazzling stylistics became a lens through which I read my own world.
I started writing my own sketches of the city and life around me, noticing details I would normally have ignored. Sights. Sounds. Smells. Voices. Mannerisms. Patterns. The wonder and the squalor and the radiant ordinariness of things. I saw more, and paid more attention, because of this book.
One day around this time someone asked me what I really wanted to do with my life. For the first time (out loud) I said, “I want to be a writer.”