Tuesday, November 17, 2009

On--not between--a rock and a hard place

Why do you read?  Why does anyone read?

To glean information, of course; to discover who won a race, a game, an election, a literary prize; to discover how differing persons felt when they were doing things you had always dreamed of doing but were somehow too timid to undertake or born in the wrong century or place or both; to see how individuals other than yourself coped with human conditions you coped with; to daydream, to wonder what it would be like, if only...

You read because it is habitual to the extent that if you did not read, you would suffer varying incarnations of withdrawal. You read your own journals and stories because they are metaphors for penciled height marks on some wall or door frame, whereby you measure who you once were against who you think yourself to be now, at this very moment.  You read to educate yourself in ways that will cause you to experience a greater understanding of what it means to be alive, and to come to terms with Reality the same way you come to terms with a difficult relative or difficult acquaintance, which is to say you consider options of disowning Reality or the difficult relative or acquaintance.  

You consider the options of that word that could never have come forth from the shadows had there been no Internet: unfriend.  You can say, Once upon a time, I was a great friend of Reality, but Reality has refused to share its toys and has never offered me so much as a bite of its peanut butter and jelly sandwich, therefore I abjure Reality and instead opt for Fantasy as my new BFF.  

You read because reading once provided you with the delightful notion that it was possible to earn one's living from writing things other persons might read, thus an early form of shamanism on your part because you had no idea what one had to go through in order to produce material others might wish to read; the entire process meant you sat somewhere, wrote, sent it somewhere, and the money--note the construction there:  the money, not royalties or advances or first N.A. rights, merely the money--came from somewhere else.

You read to remind you of differing views of the same experience, and of the men and women whose materials strike you as elegant, funny, plangent, clever, resourceful, an awareness that causes you to realize that more often than not the writers you most admire are those who cause you to be in a place you might not otherwise be, concerned for the fate of a man, woman, or child you were surprised to have had any care for.  

At one time in your reading, you might have described your favorite reading material as adventure, meaning to the then you that you expected to have some journey to a particular place, whereupon you would have an encounter from which you would emerge with some prize you would bring back to share with those about you, hello Joseph Campbell; you read to become a hero in metaphor if not in fact.  Now, as a result of having read and continuing to do so, you are able to look upon the reading you do as a ratifying of the writing you chose to embark upon, once again recognizing Joseph Campbell but not with the sense of wanting to regard yourself as heroic but rather as a way of getting you off to places and situations you might not otherwise visit, places where there is some scary potential for outcome or, scariest of all, lack of outcome.

Somewhere in the American Southwest, amid a number of truly ancient petroglyphs, is a huge boulder with the words Paso por aqui incised on its side, a thing to be read by the many others who have passed by here.  The incisions of the petroglyphs were more likely to be representations of animals, rodents, reptiles, birds, perhaps the occasional bolt of lightning; they were likely to have been put there by individuals who were stoned on some cactus or seed, recording their visions of said animals, rodents, reptiles, and birds who represented messages of some sort or another.  It is not much of a stretch to imagine some contemporary seeing said petroglyph and thinking, Ah, Fred must have had a conversation with a snake right about here, and was told to save water for the coming drought.  It is still possible to see the incision on the rock, but thanks to deconstruction, the text may have lost a bit in translation.

As writers, we are willing to have conversations with animals, rodents, reptiles, and birds.  As for lightning bolts, even Vladimir Nabokov was willing to essay a conversation, witness his two-word disposal of Lolita's mother's death, (picnic,Lightning).  We are willing to have conversations with individuals who are entirely bogus but whom we wrap event and sensation and experience as though we were wrapping the armature for an electric motor.  We are setting warnings and tagging and the written equivalent of arm waving to a teacher when we were kids and knew we had the right answer to a question.

In our itch and urge to demonstrate that we got some message from our journey, we want to write it down and be read, curiously unmindful of the great irony of duality, no one wants to hear advice from an elder; we want to create our own advice.  Thus we learn through reading techniques by which we are able to set forth our own prize of advice in ways others will indeed want to read; thus we learn that it is about them, our characters, and them, our putative readers.


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