In Praise of Dr. Chekov-and thank you, thank you, sir.
These days, in the first official year of my undeniable aging, I spend an inordinate amount of time, usually at wee hours of the morning as my wife sleeps next to me and the cats scratch around outside our door, worrying about how little time I have left.
This focus on the inevitable came on suddenly, not long after I left my day job and embraced the wonders of a comfortable literary retirement. Having nothing much else to worry about, I was left with just the near horizon of my demise to cause me to sweat through the haunted hours.
Yes, I said my own demise. Horrid, this obsession with termination, especially in view of my relatively robust health. Nothing wrong with me that's not covered by medication. I work out, I'm not in pain and I can still see fairly well. My heart sometime likes to keep it's own rhythm but that's fine as long as there is a rhythm.
No, the problem is only that I need, I want, more time to work--to write. More time, like another fifty years or so. That being unlikely, I turned to Dr. Chekov, the master of the modern short story, the great Russian playwright, the consumptive who was dead at forty-four.
I spent the last dregs of this past winter with Chekov by my beside, reading him for an hour or so every night until my eyes warped and burned and I surrendered myself to death's livelier twin. All right, that's a bit much-- I read until I fell asleep. And a lot of Chekov passed me by, unfathomable, uncomprehended. I really needed a professor of Chekov to guide my reading--to help me along the way. But I persisted through The Ravine and Peasants and a thick wad of other stories and finally a play or two (The Cherry Orchard--his last play about the dying Russian aristocracy, written while he himself was actively dying, was the last.)
Chekov is a little hard for the modern reader to breeze through like you can breeze through say, Hemingway. Chekov is a little more Faulkner-esque in that one has to--or at least I have to--re-read a lot of the sentences to grasp the 19th Century syntax/style. But never mind--I enjoyed him immensely, will miss our time together, and will continue to pursue an increased understanding of his brillance.
But just today, I realized something else important, other than his greatness: He started writing in college, say in his twenties, and died at age forty-four. That's maybe twenty years of production, most of it knowing he was dying of TB--and look what he accomplished. I've got nothing to worry about except to keep busy. I'm only sixty-five.
Chekov with a dog and with Tolstoy