Sunday, June 30, 2013

Reading for Surprise and Discovery

You read for the rush of surprise and discovery.  When you approach nonfiction, you're hopeful of the surprise of discovering some insight to go along with the presented information.  

This is revenge of a sort, for now, you'll have set to memory an event or fact which you're able to associate with a feeling, a considerable contrast to your sense of impatience at being instructed to set basic facts to memory in order that they might become muscle memory, but not in any sense of being able to connect seemingly disparate facts or even related facts.

Whether through flaws in the way you were educated or, to be fair, ways in which you were being lazy, you were for the longest time content to be satisfied with memorizing facts.  Through much of your university days, essay-type examinations and the occasional papers were opportunities to demonstrate what you'd assumed was a better-than-average memory for facts, which you were able to deploy with some logic and commentary.

Then came your job with the Associated Press and your discovery that writing your examinations as though they were news stories produced startling results.  Your grades went up, and you began to see a connection between fact and event, between event and effect.  

Fiction and poetry were yet another matter.  Reading these for the rush of surprise and discovery led you to seek the resident emotion in every scene, and because of your immersion in wire service forms of journalism, you narrowed your focus to include motive.

Things have been expanding ever since, or to express the matter in a more causal way, you've been making up for the gap between you and your education of the no-nonsense, no-surprise, factual sort and the inferential, unspoken, connective-tissue type of expression, the elephant-in-the-living-room-type of education.  Welcome to the world of reading and rereading, of writing and rewriting.

This is a world of surprise and sensation, where you find yourself taking on scene after scene and paragraph after paragraph any number of times until your internal surprise register signals to you a surprise connection.  No more reliance on speed, rather a delicious realization that for some time you have been improvising with ideas for nonfiction and with responses for fiction.

A significant key here is the awareness that you are powered by some resident desire, say revenge or to take down pomposity or to luxuriate in some new discovery.  That is, in metaphor, the horse you ride, chosen for its personality because, when all the murk and dust are cleared, you wish the work to have a resident attitude.  In order to get it at its best, you must be as fair to all sides as possible, in actuality tilting a bit toward your antipathy in order to add greater weight to it so that your own characters and agenda will have had a workout.

Orwell is a splendid role model.  Much as you admire him, you still attempt to mount the horse Twain rode from time to time, recognizing the strengths and weaknesses he brings to his anger- and outrage-driven essays against pomposity and conservative agenda. 

Deconstructing Didion has helped enormously, ditto a man you nearly let get away from you until you stumbled into a friendship with John Sanford.  John's stories about his own friendship with Nathaniel West and the magical summer of their working on novels in a rented cabin in upstate New York sent you back to The Dream Life of Balso Snell, Miss Lonely Hearts, and The Day of the Locust.

Connections, you have come to recognize, have given a purpose to all those facts you ingested without knowing why; they influence your present day diet of facts.  The world is a random place, filled with enormous stretches of beauty and similar patches of grim, despair-laden detritus.  Your part is to inspect samples of each, then try to make some useful sense of them.

Your world requires more connections and fewer factoids.

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