Saturday, January 18, 2014

Reading for a Different Kind of Pleasure

 Untill you reached a particular age--which you are trying to identify here--your major goal in reading was to provide a structured adventure that absorbed you to the point of distracting you from the plodding footsteps of time and the near absolute lack of control you had over reality.

You were aware of those two elements, passage of time, and control, in the sense of feeling their presence, but in a similar manner that you could not always explain the function and ranking of the friends in your parents' lives, you nevertheless accepted them as being who your parents said they were, and your own awareness of the frequency of their presence.

You were expected to demonstrate tangible respect and polite behavior to these persons, whether you liked them or not, whether you felt comfortable in their presence or not, even if you felt patronized by them.

One parental friend in particular reminded you of numerous characters in the novels of Charles Dickens, a similarity that extended beyond his calling you "boy," as opposed to your given name, venturing into the kinds of questions and even riddles presented to you with an attempt to demonstrate to his satisfaction your potential for engaging your school work and education.  "We'll see what you've been learning at that school," or, "Let's see if you've been pursuing your studies."

These prefatory observations heralded some question such as, "Tell us, boy, about the binomial theory," or "What can you tell us of the catalytic agent?"

When you heard them, you'd read enough Dickens already to giggle as the similarity.  The giggle would bring questions about the occasions for humor, "Why do you laugh, boy?"  that sort of thing.  You knew enough to say, "Nothing, sir," because anything less would not have been polite, especially since you bore no feelings of politeness to the individual.  You did not know the nuances of the word hypocritical, but you knew enough, also from reading and observation, to know that saying "Nothing,sir" was least hypocritical and thus least damaging to your own self-worth.

You read to escape from such encounters, but also to have control, however delegated, over other points of vulnerability.  You had a better chance of a more prominent role through reading and imagination than in real life.

Of course there were some adults, teachers, say, and your parents, and a whimsical cadre of role models you did not know in real life whom you admired and from whom you sought clues of how to live out what you considered the adventurous you.

After taking enough courses, you found yourself at one strategic point where you needed to decide, graduate or another year of classes?  A week of self-evaluation was enough; you put in for graduation.  The matchbooks were out.  You began burning the bridges that connected you to the university, sweeping the clutter from the unpaved, unmarked road before you.

You even had a job lined up as a newspaper reporter in a small daily in a small town on the border between California and Mexico.  But what seemed like a direct nod from the Fates interrupted that plan.  You traveled in the opposite direction, northward toward the great Central Valley of California, and the beginnings of a life with a traveling carnival.

Even then, you were more apt to give greater weight to reading than to reality.  You'd read a good many things once or twice, eager for that double hit of pleasure and information, in many cases having to settle for one or the other.  By now, you were turning your quests for adventure more into life, learning from your experiences in it such things as fear, frustration, despair, unquestionable heights of happiness, competitiveness, and the potentials for traps within reality that were every bit as murky as the worst conspiracies of literature.

Your quests led you to marathon sessions in used book stores and then home to the day's work, which was filling the stationery your father liberated from the bankrupt companies he was retained to prepare for auction.  Early drafts of novels and short stories found their way from you onto the back sides of these stationery sheets.

Thus you were launched on the adventures into reality you'd imagined yourself playing with years earlier.  In a real sense, the two forces of adventure, the imagined and the real, were merged.

You were in a race to move beyond entertaining yourself to the greater focus of defining yourself.  A major challenge to overcome:  your horror at the implication that you might think and sound when you thought and spoke the way your narrative sounded when you wrote.

More hours, searching books, reading them, filling discarded reams of stationery, trying to conflate the way you wrote with the way you spoke.  Then, more hours still, learning the truth.  No matter how well you progressed, you would still need to rethink, revise, change long sentences into two or more shorter ones, remove habit words, stay on track.

Force is a vector quantity expressing magnitude and direction.

A vector is an arrow, drawn to scale, representing an applied force.

Is your narrative a vector?  Is it, ah, is it a force?  Can you get characters or concepts you invent to be as straightforward as a vector?  Can you invent characters who know how to ask for what they want?

The more you read, the more you appreciate the parallel lines of mystery and mastery.  The more you reread a work you thought instructed you how to do things, then attempted to do, the more you realized you were better off rereading your drafts and the works you thought you knew.

In ironic circularity, you find your skill sets, honed to their present day sharpness (or not) reminding you of the boy you were when you were being asked questions by the friends of your parents whom, you felt, were the ones who patronized you.  You hasten to remind yourself not all of them were thus.  Some gave you books, asked you questions you enjoyed answering.  Some even directed to your attention the advice of Mark Twain, Put all your eggs in one basket, then watch that basket.

Often, as you reread a favored work from the past or do with your own work as you have been doing these past few weeks, reread your own, you are reminded:  "What can you tell us, boy, of the catalytic agent?"
"Tell us, boy, what qualities of Hegel's impress you most?  You do know Hegel, don't you boy?"

"Yes, sir.  I do."

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