Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Hello? Anybody Home?

During the many years when you commuted from Santa Barbara to the university in Los Angeles, sometimes twice a week,Books on Tape or Disc presented you an excellent distraction from the sameness and traffic of a near two-hour trip.

Moat days, the trip south meant you listened to half a particular title, the remainder to be experienced on the way home.  Factor in a dinner at one of the LA restaurants for which SB had no equivalent, say The Tasty Q on Hoover, The Pupuseria Elegante on Figueroa, or one of the Korean restaurants in Koreatown, where they would refuse to serve you certain dishes in the reasonable belief that they were too spicy for you.  Then, rush hour traffic dissipated, northward along the PCH, ears tuned for the second half of the novel.

This was good news and bad news.  Good news because you were able to put the commute time to some use beyond introspection and being alert to the road.  Good news because you tend to retain material you've heard to a slightly higher degree than were you to have read it.  

Bad news because you were beginning to realize your commutes in either direction were punctuated with a sense of departure, the ingestion of half a narrative, then the arrival at a destination, either Gate Three, University of Southern California, whereupon to your class room, or arrival at 1367-B Danielson Road, or, later, 652 Hot Springs Road, each in the same zip code of Santa Barbara.

The bad news came to you in slow increments, the primary one being the realization that the driver of a vehicle ought to be in the immediate present rather than in some abstract, muscle memory state where the probabilities were nevertheless high for you to respond to immediate emergency or variation.  To be even more blunt about the matter, a driver is supposed to be alert, aware, poised to immediate response for any contingency.

You were relying on muscle memory, grooving on a novel or historical account, arriving at school or home anything but bored or lulled from the near two-hour commute.  In other words, you were frequently unaware of your physical surroundings.  

The dynamic was similar to your days of running upward of five miles a day, prone to the same kind of interior focus as when you drove while listening to Books on Tape.  As a runner, you'd had at least two experiences of running into parked cars, once into a chair link fence, and in one notable event, into a single strand go chain draped between two posts as a means of preventing cars from driving into and along what was intended to be a pedestrian walk way.

Such nondrying events were fun to talk about at the time, but as the distance from them grew and the association with such moments of being absorbed seemed to conflate with your commuting to Los Angeles, the humor devolved to one of the true sources of humor, fear.

The effect of your behavior when reading, writing, or editing is to merge with the medium you've chosen to place before your attention, thus you are to whatever degree possible merging with the performance, the book you are reading, the material you are trying to compose, the manuscript you are attempting to engage as though you were its author.

This focus has been acquired over time.  Although you have frequent experiences of seeing three- and four-hour chunks of time sucked into the quicksand of work, you still have moments where you are uncomfortable in your awareness of the passage of time, seemingly on a minute-by-minute basis.  This means you still have to work at concentration and focus to the same degree you have to work at narrative, of dialogue, of scenes in particular, and then, when you have a notion for a scene, where it begins, and how it ends.

You've entered the anteroom of a time warp.  With each entry and each new project, to read, write, edit, or teach, you have to learn once again how to find that place of concentration without which nothing has traction.

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