Monday, March 14, 2016

First Drafts among the Petroglyphs

In many ways, reading reminds you of your childhood attitude toward ocean swimming. Depending on your mood and the mood of the surf at the time, you'd inch your way into the water or you'd wait until a wave appeared to be about to break, then dive directly into it, The degree to which you become a follower of a particular writer becomes the degree to which the writer entices you into the world she or he has created.

At this stage of your reading life,you're not as likely to inch your way for more than a page or two, liking instead the equivalent of the mounting wave, about to overwhelm you unless you decide to dive under it and experience the force of it, breaking on top of and about you, then tugging at you with its tidal pull and slight tang of iodine, inviting you to experience its moods.

The writers you are drawn to have some way of making their world intriguing and beguiling, at the same time offering up the faint tang of menace and the tidal pull of agenda. You love the notion of characters driven by needs to explore, discover, invent alternate realities and appear indifferent to ordinary responses to ordinary circumstances. 

Thus, while you see the delusions of Don Quixote, you also see the ordinariness against which they are set. Even though that remarkable romp of a novel had the effect of pounding surf on you when you first read it, you recall carrying the book about with you, pausing in secret places where you thought you were safe, trying to make sense of the scenes.

You were a boy at the time, on the cusp of being pulled away from everything you'd taken for granted, wrenched from the familiar to places you'd heard your parents talking about, expecting such places to be at least comfortable, but discovering they were older, with peeling paint, snow, and the smells of cooking cabbage. 

No wonder Don Quixote saw a shadowy, romantic reality. The people where you were teased you for your California accent, which was unlike the accents you heard about you, or the individuals who spoke in them, and who called things such as avocados and grapefruit that you'd known all your life and considered ordinary to be things seen in books and films but not in person.

You were beyond being able to articulate much less express the early aspects of the reading phenomena. Until you were eight or nine, reading a book meant traveling to another world in another time, with remarkable characters, then returning to Los Angeles, to California, to places where place names were often Spanish, fruits and vegetables were diverse and tropical. 

Then,in those years, reading meant returning from the place and people of the stories to people who seemed suspicious of you, and where you were questioned, often challenged by individuals who wanted to know if you'd ever eaten such things as eggplant and sweet potatoes and kohlrabi and cauliflower.

Since those tumultuous times, you have understood how reading is not limited to returning you to such specific locales as Los Angeles or Santa Barbara or even California, but rather to an altered state of mind, the alteration coming from the decisions the characters were forced to make, the circumstances in which they were forced to make the decisions, and their attitudes coming out of the crucible of story. 

You have understood how different your reasons for reading are, how, although you may indeed read now to avoid boredom as you did when you were younger, the boredom is of a different origin, and the takeaway is more substantial.

Reading will do that for a person. You are now able to look, for an extreme example, at petroglyphs, those mysterious and mystical symbols of spirals, animals, and stick-figure humans, etched or carved onto rocks by shamans who were likely at the time stoned on some substance where they were in one way or several not in the level of reality we think of as everyday reality. 

These shamans were describing stories or accounts given them by imaginary individuals whom they may have thought to be spirits. These petroglyphs were every bit stories or records with some authorial intent, learned by men and women thought to be of elevated vision or perhaps of a kind of vision similar to Don Quixote.

Difficult to assess how long our species has been relying on some form or other of a story to preserve cultural information and to make sense of the various aspects of the worlds we call reality and the worlds we call vision. Through reading and years of wadding up sheets of paper, and, in more recent times, of pressing delete buttons, you've tried to identify the worlds about you and to make sense of them, to identify the characters living as squatters within the shell of your humanity, to listen to them with the hope of finding out from them some of the more hidden agendas they carry.

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