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cake: reading Anna K, integrating the past

Because I began re-reading  Anna Karenina a week ago, I dove into a project on Sunday that I've long wanted to tackle. 

It's also true that I was feeling inspired by what I love most about social media, about Facebook in particular:

I can have my old cake and eat my new cake. 

I can have my past and I can have my present at the same time, combining childhood friends with current friends, never losing touch.  Oh, how I love retaining connections in all directions, scooping my hands through them to see what treasures come up.  

Re-reading Anna Karenina in this gorgeous translation by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky took me back to my years of studying Russian Language and Literature, to my university years, and to two boxes of erudition I've carried around with me ever since.

Boxes that lived in the garage until relatively recently and which quite literally read Erudition 1 and Erudition 2 on the side.

A few years ago I brought them in to the house, but they stayed in the office closet until the right moment.

Until Sunday.

Packed with files, report cards, notebooks, copies, essays, these boxes represent all of the work I did as an undergraduate, then graduate, student under the tutelage of my mentor and brilliant teacher, Norair Taschian.  Besides my parents with their irrepressible joie de vivre, Norik is the person I've most wanted to emulate in my life, from his hours to his knowledge.  From him I derive my most-dear habit of rising early-early in the morning to work.  He used to, or so the story goes, set out a glass of ice on his desk at 10 or so, go to bed, and when he'd rise at 2 am, have a freshly-melted cool drink waiting for him.  He was the one who'd famously tell the undergrads, complaining that they didn't have time to do something, that in point of fact we all have the same amount of time available to us.  It's just what you choose to do with it, he'd say, his eyes owl-big behind the thick lenses of his glasses.  You chose to do something else.

From him, I learned this habit of never just reading what's in front of me, but reading everything around it, in an expanding circle of influences and inspiration, seeking the connections, sifting for treasure.  

These boxes are a time-capsule of me in my early twenties as I was learning and living. And they're filled with 25-page papers I wrote on various subjects, well-researched and copiously footnoted. And with pages and pages of notes taken in my careful hand, in English and in Russian. Including notes from a graduate seminar on Tolstoy, pages and pages on Anna Karenina, which was what I went diving for on Sunday in the first place.

I had everything then. Did I know it?

So now it's 5 am and my 26-year old notes sit beside me on my desk, coffee cooling in a mug at my elbow. I'm re-reading Anna Karenina and reviewing my notes, and enjoying this sensation of past and present mingling, bringing the thoughts I had then about the book, and Norik's lectures and insightful comments on my essays, into this moment. I marvel at myself then, at all that I had without knowing it, a bright life of the mind before I had any significant responsibilities --  no child, no car, no house.  At how I had before me a true mentor, scholar and friend. At how all these papers put together make a book, or at least they make a tribute to a man to whom I am eternally grateful, who made me a better reader and a vastly better person as a consequence.

Anna Karenina is the story of so much. Naturally it contains Tolstoy's story, a treasury of human feeling in these most intimate of relationships, marriage and family. And for me, so much more: myself, my teacher, my past, my present. It's cake in every way, a cake you can have and eat, cake of the very best kind: the kind you get to keep.

In loving memory of Norair Taschian, 1932 - 2006. 

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