Saturday, January 19, 2013

Secrets of an Autodidact



You've spent time in schools beyond the normal run-through times associated with life after high school, and were even considering yet one more year before you came face-to-face with the reason for wishing to continue:  You were a bit nervous about doing nothing but starting a novel.  Many of your friends had already moved along on their pathways to PhD. degrees or J.D. degrees, or the MD status.  You were comfortable, making enough to keep you at the smorgasbord UCLA offered you, more than enough credits in your back pocket.  One of the wiser things you did at that age was recognize the time had come, to give crude paraphrase to Stephen Daedalus valedictory in Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, to encounter risk and forge the unarticulated conscience of yourself.

High faulting talk for acknowledging the need to become an autodidact. You'd had a magnificent library to use and some instructions on how to use it; you'd had years of taking courses out of curiosity rather than requirement, and you'd had a certain amount of hubris burned off the hard-to-reach parts of your ego, leading you to the place where you could say you had some awareness of how to make out the instructions for assembly that came with you, as though you were some piece of furniture manufactured abroad, sold at a then equivalent of Ikea, given a hasty translation from its native language into English.

This last is not so fanciful as it might sound.  At one point during your residence in an apartment in the Hollywood Hills, your neighbor discovered you one afternoon, in the grip of frustration, its related anger, augmented by a severe sense of bewilderment.  The then-equivalent of Ikea was a store called The Akron, at which you'd purchased a bookshelf with three tiers.  Your attempts to assemble the unit were getting you nowhere.  Your neighbor, a skilled and imaginative interior decorator, took charge, discovering first of all, and to your great relief, that you'd been given the wrong instructions.  "This is not an instruction for a bookshelf.  This is in fact instructions for an outdoor picnic set."  He could have said, "dummy," but he did not.  Your relief at learning the instructions were wrong was soon held ransom by the inner question, "Why couldn't you have seen that?"

This has more or less been your mantra.  And yes, the bookshelf has survived the years. Assembled, restrained, it has long since lost the appearance of self-assembly.  And yes, you still find yourself asking, perhaps the Cosmos, perhaps those disparate aspects of yourself who may well be the equivalent of an outdoor picnic set, "Why couldn't you have seen that?"

No, "Better late than never" doesn't do it for you, thus you begin and end your days impatient, and you are now comfortable--if you can call the feeling comfort--with the awareness that it is your nature and process to "see" things, to discover, to in effect integrate what you've seen and learned on your own hard drive by writing in dramatic narrative and in addition to integrate through writing in these vagrant paragraphs you call a blog.

This is not the most comforting awareness you could have made for yourself, but it is your equivalent of throwing away the instruction sheet and on some kind of trial-and-error basis, fit the pieces together to arrive at a useful piece of furniture.

Sometimes when you are asked for a resume or, if the request comes from the academy, a curriculum vitae, you stop to consider the source, then put down one of the following tropes, writer/editor/teacher, editor/teacher/writer, or teacher/editor/writer.  Although you vastly prefer the first, you have come to terms with all three.  You are not an outdoor picnic set.  You are not by any account a modish bookshelf.  Nevertheless, you can still hold books.

Thus your philosophy--fitting the pieces together to see what the furniture is, rather than beginning with some preconceived notion of the end result.  For some time, the bookshelf adjacent your bed had a slight wobble, which you addressed by using a remedy you'd not have suspected, a shim.  What on earth did you know of shims?

"Imaginative use of a shim there,"  the mover said, bringing the bookcase into your latest digs.  "Would never of thought to do that."

Negotiated settlements with the Cosmos and Universe are worth striving for.  Your medium for attempting them is through story.


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