Monday, November 22, 2010


Sometimes visits can be a disaster.  Subsequent encounters become even worse--train wrecks or misdirected expectations.  Things to dread or, worse, invent emergencies calling you back to where ever you were before the visitation.

Visits do not have to be negative.  Returning to a novel or short story that once held promise for you can remind you of a visit to an old neighborhood, or a meeting with an old friend.  Of course these visits are fraught with scenarios for disaster but in equal measure they are brimming with the potential to reconnect you with some discovered delight, reaffirming the choices you have made over the years, giving additional substance and nuance to memories.

With this in mind, you have to confess that much of your early reading was embarked upon to get away from the boredom of your daily life, or at least those parts of it that seemed boring to you.  Reading then offered an immediate platform for escape, a platform that influenced nearly all the choices you made, which is to say you wanted adventure, alternate universes, recognizable opponents. You had no serious business with the meanings, not until you were in junior high school and such works of nonfiction as Microbe Hunters and The Education of Henry Adams came your way.  Richard Henry Dana's years before the mast added dimension.  First Twain then Thurber began poking away at various parts of The Establishment, and you began to see a greater purpose yet for reading beyond mere transportation, reading for understanding of intent, reading for visions of the writer's mind.  Most influential of all was Twain;s essay that was, for you, so shattering, "Fenimore Cooper's Literary Offenses."  This was not only satire, it was awakening satire, from which you awakened from dreams of naivete to see that he wasn't all about telling jokes or setting up absurd situations for the adventure of it but rather to demonstrate anomalies in human behavior.

Some individuals with whom you were friendly in the past continue to interest you and, presumably, you them.  Some things read in the past hold up nicely under a differing kind of scrutiny.  You want the meat of the coconut, the juice of the grapefruit.  You're looking for things to help you relate to your surroundings and now your surroundings cover ever so much more of the universe than when you were a kid, interested in being an adventurer.

Approaching an old friend is of itself a theme for a story, especially if you see someone you know, away from where you live.  It seemed to you that every time you took some shortcut through the central part of Mexico City, you'd run into someone you knew from L.A., and you remember all those times when the same thing happened in mid-town Manhattan; it was always the same.  What are you doing here?  And then you would have to explain.

Once even, there was Victor, who caught me coming out of a hotel on  The Avenue of the Americas, well, Sixth Avenue.  You said you didn't like it here, Victor said, and yet here you are.  I don't like it here, and yet here I am.  You couldn't fucking take the job I offered you because you didn't like it here, but here you are, anyway.  Are you working for someone else?  Actually, you said, I am.  So why would you work for someone else when you could be working for me?  Because I'd have to be living here.

When you go somewhere for a visit, whether it's a book or a place, it's better if you can find something to respect and learn from.  Taking Victor's job would have meant running a pretty large-sized operation and it would have been fun, but those things do not last, that thing did not last, and although things did not last here, it was better to be somewhere you liked when things do not last than someplace you thought might be an adventure.

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