There was a period in my life, just after finishing college, when I wanted very much to be a novelist.  To that end, I spent just over a decade living in a room in my father’s attic, earning my keep with a job at the local factory, and committing myself with monastic zeal to all the things that I thought a novelist was supposed to do, which in general was a hell of a lot of reading and writing.

I confess now that I don’t love literature the way that I did then, and it saddens me just a bit to think that I’ll probably never love anything that much in my life again. It was my life.

One summer, around that time, I taught a Creative Writing class for senior citizens at the local community college, a dozen students between the ages of sixty-five and ninety. Most wanted to write some version of their memoirs, some wanted to write haikus, one had a short story about the War that he wanted to submit to every major magazine listed in the Writer’s Market — but what they all really wanted was a place to hang out once a week and shoot the shit. I got to moderate.

Having never taught before, I was largely winging it.  I workshopped whatever they’d written for the week, gave them a few short in-class exercises, and brought in some examples from the canon of Western Literature — most of which they hated. They hated almost anything written in the past century, and couldn’t understand why there weren’t more Jane Austens and Edgar Allan Poes being published in The New Yorker.  I just thought they needed someone to guide them through this unfamiliar country.  When one student, a woman in her 80s, asked me to recommend something that I considered great, I brought her in a copy of the short stories of Raymond Carver, which I held then, and still hold, in the highest esteem (pointing her, in particular, to the stories “Cathedral” and “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love”).  Sharing that book with her meant the world to me.

For as much as I loved literature then, it was a very lonely pursuit.  I read for an hour or two at the start of every day and felt like I was walking with giants. Then I’d work eight hours on the assembly line, where no one gave a damn what I was reading or how profoundly I felt it was shaping me on the inside.  It was killing me.  So to have these students begging me to turn them on to the works I loved —never mind their ages — it was like a dream for me.  All of that reading I’d been doing finally meant something to someone.

I’ll never forget when, towards the end of one of our sessions, that student returned my Carver book.   She slid it respectfully across my desk and, smiling, said, “I put a note in there, just for you.”

I waited until after class to read it, a post-it note on the title page that read, “In another fifty years, no one will be reading this garbage.”

Damn it, that still sort of hurts.

I walked away from literature shortly thereafter, and these days I don’t imagine I’ll ever write a novel, but I like to think that people are still reading Carver.  They are still reading Carver, aren’t they?