Tuesday, March 23, 2010


Most of the early books you associate with your discovery that you, too, wished to spend your working life among them were fiction, many of them by Twain. Until you chanced upon one work of nonfiction in particular, during your junior year at the university, yiou were seeing books as bright, reflective surfaces, things that shined in the darkness of your ignorance about the world about you and the people and animals who inhabited it.

Then came this particular book, which held the promise of being about the very nature of persons. It was for some time a light shed upon a dimension you had not previously considered. The book was a text book, a red buckram binding without a dust jacket, its spine embossed in gold leaf. Introduction, it read, to Psychology.

The type face was cold and foreboding, the illustrations seemingly as remote as the old copies of National Geographic you used to find in used book stores or the garages of your friends. One thing in the early pages of the text stood out, the information--pronouncement, really--that the organism tends to think well of itself.

Although you did think well of yourself, it was pressing in on you that you did not think well enough of yourself; things were lacking. You needed to discover what it was you could do to cause you to think well of yourself. Getting good grades did not seem to be the answer, nor did having a job that paid you well enough to do some of the things you wished. For some time, you must have been a considerable pain, asking your acquaintances what it would take to cause them to think better of themselves.

The course for which the red book was a text, Psychology 1A, proved a disappointment, particularly after your discovery that the entire psychology department at UCLA seemed to be run by so-called behavioralists, modeling approaches other than strictly historical ones around the work and theory of one B. F. Skinner.

You did know that you felt pretty good about yourself when you were writing or reading or listening to music (particularly jazz) or eating elaborate meals washed down with as elaborate a wine as you were able to afford at the time. It was a no brainer from there: you spent more time listening to music, reading and writing than you did studying and attempting to discover the intent of each of the classes you took. Classes such as psychology 1A that produced no immediate good feelings tended to be ones in which you were least likely to make connections or draw conclusions.

It is amazing to you now that you advanced as well and as far as you did with such attitudes, but there you have it, avoiding things that did not help you feel better about yourself than you already felt, reading and writing a good deal, listening to music, eating elaborate meals, looking for the literary equivalent of the Holy Grail, a book that would not influence you beyond the point previous books influenced you but explain to you the mechanism by which the earth turned on its axis, individuals behaved as they did, things got published.

You had to learn that there was no such book; every time you felt you had a line on such a title, your investigation and ultimate reading of it would disabuse you of your belief in formulas and incantations. Everything, book, person, random matter alike, needs to be taken in and processed with slow, deliberate care, then stored away in some convenient receptacle, say a memory, to be used as a spice on the events before us.

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