15 March 1995

by jkatejohnston

Dear Max,

I was thinking last night about how important it is to make fun of the people you greatly admire. I remember going to Mr. Stephens’s[1] office all frightened and prepared with my rough drafts and questions and then just sitting on my hands, whispering, and my god, it must have been so boring for him, like having a baby bird appear in your office and you have to take care of it and it doesn’t even speak English.

I remember once he said something nice to me. It was when I was taking the class that Annie and I called 5 Ren Po (Five Renaissance Poets) and once in his office I whispered something about a line, and he said, “Yes, that’s so. I never noticed that before,” and I practically had to run out of the room. And I remember thinking at the time and often since then how unfair it all was.  Why should he always have to see people on their best behavior instead of at their best? Good people don’t want to be respected, they want to be amused and interested and surprised.  Excellence should be rewarded not punished, but there’s this difficulty, because excellence has this effect on most of us. We get all respectful, and it’s bad manners.

And that’s what I so love and admire about Boswell.  He said about Johnson in different places “I worship him,”  “I would defend him at the point of my sword,” and it’s absolutely true.  And yet he was so cheeky to Johnson when he was with him, as no one else was. People like that are heroes. 


[1] The poet Alan Stephens.  http://alanstephenspoems.com/about/