Saturday, March 8, 2014

Toys of Imagination

You were young enough when your reading interests took you beyond the class room text and work books to lack the perspective to see beyond the immediate gratification from reading and into the implications of what the process held in store for you.

Without realizing you were doing so, you were becoming a promiscuous reader, a habit still in place today.  You didn't then--and don't now--think of reading as a retreat or withdrawal from Reality.  You were eager to engage life with activities, but because of your age and circumstances, you pretty much had to accept Life on the terms it presented to a seven- or eight-year-old boy, which for you meant a good deal of routine, sprinkled with free time and occasional outings or ventures orchestrated by your parents.

In retrospect, you see you made the most of your opportunities, which meant variations on the ways you walked to and from school, your promise not to cross Fairfax Avenue except through the underground tunnel near your school, and your awareness, once home of your limitations to the block on which you lived.  

Crossing a street, even a residential street, had always to be done with an adult watching.  After a time, it was acceptable for you to cross Orange Street, the residential street on which you lived, to access the sumptuous empty lots that then faced Wilshire Boulevard.

There were no such restrictions with reading, which was in effect crossing over borders of restriction into whichever worlds you preferred.  The literary equivalent of being able to cross streets unattended was the principal, Miss Angelo, extending your access to the library in her office.

Pocket-sized notebooks were as important to you then as they are now.  Perhaps there is an unexamined connection in your appreciation of the multitudes of such volumes on your desk, in your jacket pockets, and scattered about the kitchen table and reading areas.  The difference between then and now is profound.  You had fewer observations or reasons for notes then, even though you longed for them.  At the time, in your elementary school, there seemed ample supplies of foolscap, a pulpy-but-durable rectangle, 8 1/2 x 5 1/2 inches.  Imitating the sewn signatures in books, and using the cardboard from your father's shirts as covers, you constructed many a notebook, only to suffer the frustration of having nothing to write in them. 

In desperation, you began recording the number of steps from where you lived to Miller's Drug Store at the corner of Sixth and Fairfax, a place you liked because of its smell, and your father frequented because of a succession of exciting pin-ball machines.  When the pattern developed of you being dispatched by your mother to Miller's Drug Store to alert your father to dinner being served, you listed those times, which seemed to be more significant because they recorded incidents rather than mere measurements.

You even had the addresses of houses on side streets that crossed Fairfax Avenue, ranked to show your preference for which houses had the garages abutting patches of lawn.  This was of great matter to you because of your joy in scaling the garage, from which roof you could jump, then land in a giggly heap in the grass.

Books became surrogates for jumping from garage roofs.  For page after page, you were in free fall, whether in an adventure novel, one of the mysteries your mother borrowed from lending libraries, descriptions of explorations or archaeological excavations, anything about Indians, and the exciting world of the Big Little Book, the then equivalent of the massmarket paperback, a 4 1/2 inch x 3 3/4 inch book printed on a thick pulpy stock, combining pages of text with an occasional full-page drawing of some scene featuring the protagonist in action.

At the time it seemed to you that Reality was enhanced by reading.  There was always the promise that as you grew, Reality would offer you more opportunities, more things to note in your notebooks, less restrictions on where you could go, entire dimensions of potential for you to investigate with like minded friends.

Somewhere along the way, Reality became less a thing to be waited out or endured for the potential of adventure, but the habits of reading seemed to grow in parallel, offering yet more things to read, then, to your great pleasure, things to agree with or disagree with.

Further along the way, you found yet another dimension.  Perhaps it was the answer to the frustration of not having things that mattered to note within your notebooks.  You discovered story and commentary and fact; you discovered the shorthand of words and phrases intended to remind you of parallel developments, ideas for stories, mischievous observations, and sometimes the mysterious observations that meant something to you as they were entered in the notebook but now nothing more than an enigma to be pondered.  What did you mean when you wrote those two or three words?  What was that cluster of numbers?  

From time to time, when you leaf through your notes, you'll find a name.  Was that a real person?  If so, who or what was he or she?  It is as though your present day notes are making up for the frustrations of earlier blank pages.  You remember once, after it was decided you were responsible enough to carry a book of paper matches in your pocket, a kind of ceremony in which you wrote on the first page of an otherwise empty notebook, This book died of loneliness from having nothing in it.  Then you burned the book in a carefully arranged small fire pit in an empty lot on the corner of Cloverdale and Sixth.

The relationship between Reality, Reading, Story, and Notes of observation has turned the longing of your early years into the adventure of mature years.  Who is Gordon Slope?  Real or invented?  Why would there be a note after his name, Find out his real story, even if you have to invent it?

You know thins much is true:  When you are involved in Reality, part of you is always wondering what's going on in Story.  When you are involved in Reading, part of you is wondering how characters of your own devising would fare in such circumstances.  When you are involved in Story, your component parts are everywhere at once, transcending the boundaries.  You are there, taking notes, capturing firefly flashes of detail.  You are seated in your car on stake-out, drinking coffee gone cold, either from Peet's or The Daily Grind, watching the comings and goings of Gordon Slope, your iPhone poised in case an opportunity for a photo presents itself.  

When you were younger, you daydreamed of having adult toys and purposes, things of significance to write about.  Now, you are an adult, surrounding yourself with the young person's toys of imagination, curiosity, suspicion, and a tremendous sense that you are eavesdropping on a glorious adventure.

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