The following is an email of mine sent this morning to an acquaintance.



Scott —

I’m on a jaunt.

I had a sort of epiphany just now (actually at about 7 a.m., when I was in the park).

As you know, I purchase audio courses. Recently, my wife asked me to purchase a course on chemistry for her. She wanted the video version (a series of lectures).

I was kind of surprised. She has never expressed or demonstrated any particular interest in science or chemistry. The course was expensive in comparison to the lectures in audio format which I purchase.

I was asking myself, is she really going to “complete” the course? But, far be it from me to stand in her way.

I purchased the course on line with my credit card. My wife managed to bollix things by using the wrong password for my account with The Teaching Company (when streaming the lectures), causing my account to be disabled for a while.

After a couple of weeks, I asked my wife: “How are the chemistry courses? You watching them?”

She said they were a disappointment, for several reasons (which seemed valid).

I thought of this this morning when my mind was wandering. Instead of thinking how stupid (or that it was a waste of money), I felt a rush of affection and love for my wife.



Our life, others’, the experience of those closest to us is made up of INCIDENTS, ranging from the seemingly non important to those which we deem to be of significance.

Actually, none of our own experiences –- or none of our loved ones’ — is unimportant or insignificant. William Blake taught us that.

Our lifetime is limited; our experiences, in aggregate, are finite as well as distinct. So are shared experiences. The very fact that they are finite and distinct makes them precious.

To be intimate with someone is to share all their experiences. The time my father toasted marshmallows, which he walked over a mile in a snowstorm to purchase, over the fireplace in our living room for us. When my mother asked me, on her deathbed, to purchase a book about Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn that she was eager to read for her. When my maternal grandmother, sitting in the kitchen with my mother, heard some medieval music on my record player upstairs and said, “That music is beautiful.” I had never known or appreciated that she was gifted musically.

My wife’s aborted chemistry lessons.

If you love someone, you love everything new, different, or unanticipated they say or do; every time they reveal a new interest or enthusiasm or facet of their personality. Including dead ends.

But, beyond the theorizing, you love them for being themselves. It’s what they do from day to day, every day, that makes them special — unlike no one else.

It’s the funny little things they do that make us love and remember our loved ones in the here and now and remember those departed.

Cherish them.


— Roger W. Smith

   October 9, 2017

7 thoughts on “chemistry

  1. Luanne

    Love this post. I finished The Ladies’ Paradise. I don’t think I had read Zola before. I hadn’t thought about it until I read this one. His style is so different from American novels of the same time period. It’s kind of hard for me to see him as a Naturalist. If anything, other than the praise for city modernization (as opposed to the sentimentalized qualities of the pastoral life), the book seems Romantic in some ways. I love those extravagant descriptions of the store’s wares!

    Thanks for the tip, Roger.

  2. Roger W. Smith

    You’re welcome, Luanne, and thanks for commenting.

    I am very eager to read more Zola, and also Balzac. Some of their novels were hard to come by; several have been republished lately. I have bought several with good intentions.

    You probably know that I have a site devoted to Theodore Dreiser. I am not about to cease and desist, but I am getting a little tired of him. There are so many better authors to read. Balzac was a big influence on Dreiser.

    I have had some depressing experiences related to my Dreiser site lately. You mentioned naturalism. Dreiser was one of its exemplars. Probably the best known scholar alive today on naturalism is Donald Pizer. He recently used material from one of my articles (posted on my Dreiser site; over 30 pages and heavily documented) without giving me any credit. There was material in the article that had never been learned before. Dreiser was involved in an affair, it was the 1930’s, and he and his lover were arrested for adultery. It made headlines nationally, but the case blew over and the charges were dropped. No one knew anything about the mystery woman. I happened to somehow read a recent biography of a once famous concert pianist (now forgotten) who had an affair with Dreiser’s mistress. Dreiser had an affair with his girlfriend, who was the “mystery woman.” A love quadrangle ensued; there were all kinds of entanglements, betrayals, and recriminations. Now that the “mystery woman” had been identified, I realized there was pertinent stuff for persons interested in Dreiser’s life. I contacted the author of the book about the pianist and suggested that we coauthor an article focusing on the love quadrangle from the point of Dreiser’s love life. He said he would be glad to have me write the article myself. He shared all his notes with me, which were full of confidential material based on interviews with the pianist. Donald Pizer used this information in an article he has just published, “Dreiser’s Relationships with Women.” He didn’t bother to give me credit for discovering the information.

    Also, I was asked by Thomas P. Riggio, perhaps the dean of living Dreiser scholars, to look up something pertinent to Dreiser at the New York Public Library. It had to do with sources for Sister Carrie. Dreiser based most of Sister Carrie, his first novel, on actual persons and events. There is a scene at the end of the book where Hurstwood, just prior to committing suicide, is homeless. He observes A “street evangelist ” who is helping homeless men find beds for the night. Riggio said that this incident, in a famous chapter of Sister Carrie, must have been based on a real person (i.e., the evangelist) and real incidents. Could I find anything out for him? I went to the New York Public Library and, when I was just about to give up, hit paydirt, and found stories in the New York Times and New York Herald Tribune about a street evangelist just like the one in Sister Carrie; all the details fit. I sent the newspaper articles and some other materials I found to Riggio, figuring he would let me know what he as going to use them for. He kept me in the dark and was very vague about his plans, then went ahead and published an article, “Oh, Captain, My Captain,” in Studies in American Naturalism which was based on my materials and uses them lock, stock, and barrel. At the very end of the article, he expresses thanks in a footnote for some material that Roger Smith sent him. When I said that I had basically given him the whole article, he said, well, I wrote it, I was planning to write it, what are you complaining about?

  3. Luanne

    These stories make me sick and actually I have had a taste of that myself, but not at that level. The one that sticks with me most bitterly is that when I was a grad student in history (I didn’t complete that degree, and that is a whole other angry story), I was doing research on the history of the Jewish community in Kalamazoo. After I had spent a lot of money (I was a grad student and had so little) and was really getting somewhere, my professor took my research and then asked me to stop and change topics mid-semester. Then he incorporated my work into his book with no credit for me. So I was out the money and had to change my topic with only half the semester left to complete it. AND got no credit. So, to a small degree, I understand how that makes you feel.

    On another note, I’m sure I’ve mentioned before how much I love Sister Carrie. But there are so many from the realism and the naturalism periods I love. McTeague really made an impression on me. And I love House of Mirth (sort of naturalism). But I like the realists like Howells a lot.

    I’ve never read Balzac. I might be afraid of it because of his name’s prominence in The Music Man).

    Can’t you complain to the deans of the schools that their departments are in?

  4. Roger W. Smith

    Luanne —

    Thanks much for responding.

    Can’t complain. Both Pizer and Riggio are emeritus professors.

    Your grad school story rung true. I tend not to find myself admiring the way academics deal with students and others and how, while condescending to you (meaning the generic you), they are trying to use you any way they can.

    McTeague made a big impression on me; it was a long time ago. I like your joke about Balzac and “The Music Man” (which I love). If you read Balzac, I would advise you: start with Père Goriot. What a book! The first chapter or two are worth it alone. Sister Carrie is good, but it was never my favorite.

    Thanks again for responding. — ROGER

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