Monday, August 3, 2015

Horseman, Pass by

You began your adventures in reading to escape the banality of boredom and what would reveal itself to you as the banality of text books.  The closest you had to a living hero was Richard E. Byrd, whom you always heard referred to by his naval title of admiral.

Only reading gave you the sensual equivalent of the clash of swords, the war whoop of Indians, stealing horses from the Spanish, the thrum of a bow string as it sent an arrow forth against some wretched enemy on some distant battle field.  Admiral Byrd seemed to go pretty much where he wanted, when he wished to do so.  

The fact of his being a descendant of a slave owning Virginia family did not present itself to you until your college years, where reading took on greater nuances than the sounds of adventure stories.

Reading was getting you up to speed from the sensual to the nuanced toward the layered and braided strands of the life surrounding all the clashing and thrumming and self-directing admirals discovering things about the South Pole.  It was not lost on you that William Faulkner had won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1949 and that you were struggling to get some sense of his work, but you needed time well beyond the university to make sense of him and to feel yourself challenged by some of the comments he'd made in his acceptance speech.

Reading that speech was not the first time you'd felt as though you'd been thrown from a horse.  This is an important metaphor because you'd ridden horses to a considerable degree by then.  Although you were by no means a gifted or even comfortable rider, neither were you a poor rider, nor had you ever been thrown from a horse.  

By the time you'd read Faulkner's speech and were thrown by the implications of his vision of fiction--"the anguish of moral choice"--you'd read enough Westerns and had even tried to write a few.  In your imagination, you'd been thrown from any number of horses, roans, duns, Arabians, quarter horses, Appaloosas, you name it.

By the time you were thrown from your imaginary horse by Faulkner, you'd been thrown by a significant number of other writers, including writers you would not think of having that effect on you.  Katharine Mansfield.  Willa Cather.  Marianne Evans, AKA George Eliot.

Here you are now, in the midst of a booklength project on the hundred novels you regard as having had significant and lasting effects on your writing life, and you are aware of falling off of horses.  The implications are impressive and daunting.  To convey the sense of the effect on you these novels had, you must yourself relive the being unseated, the surprise that horse or novel could do this to you, and the added sense of surprise when you felt yourself being separated from your mount, that fragile, helpless moment of being airborne, followed by the sense of you meeting the ground with the weight of a falling body.

Over the years, you've learned a few things about horses that relate to you, in particular, as a potential rider.  Some of your high school and early college years were spent learning about thoroughbred horses, being ridden by trained jockeys, how these horses had fared in relationship to other horses in contests of speed and endurance.

Over the years, you've learned a few things about novels, in particular as they relate to you, how they are likely to hold up in various competitions with other types of novels, written by a variety of writers.  You've looked with passion and its lack at attempts of yours, and the attempts of others to write novels.

 In the strange, wonderful ways in which events and goals from the past have consequences that circle back in time, you understand that you were reading in earlier times with the hopes of some momentous event that would unseat you from your perch.

The adventure and escape you from the banality of boredom and textbooks remains with you as you select a book from a display at a bookstore or, in fact, as you thumb through the pages of something you've written, looking for the true place where it begins--the place that knocks you from your perch, then sends you flailing like Wile E. Coyote, when he realizes he's overrun the edge of the mesa.  Now, he has nowhere to go but that long spiral downward to impact.

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