Sunday, November 7, 2010

i finally learned how to read 1

Growing up the only things I ever read were comics and the Book of Mormon (BoM). Any other prose piece I approached after this suffered as a consequence.

At the time, I was under the impression that the BoM was not only an accurate historical record but that it also held the keys to unlocking the mysteries of the universe, and that through diligent examination of the text, it might be possible that I could obtain a set of those keys for myself.

However, there was a barrier obstructing intercourse with the heavenly host of God's chosen, even before locksmithery became a consideration. When attempting to read the BoM one will immediately be struck by how prosaic its stylistic trappings are. Faced with the intense boredom (a despondency which I was never brave enough to articulate) that my personal attempts at exegesis provided, I was left with little recourse but to turn to the four colour worlds of wonder that were contained within the pages of my first love and not so secret shame: comics (it is likely that I would have found comics without the BoM, but it feels more satisfying to tell the story in this way).

The novel, or dare I say, Literature, was a foreign animal to me, immune to my then inadequate systems of taxonomy and nomenclature. People read for fun? What a strange concept. When I opened a book that didn't have pictures, either the fate of my very soul was at stake or it was an inconsequential piece of fluff that warranted no further examination. Amidst the sublime bouts of boredom that my religious studies afforded I came to experience reading as hard work. An idea only reinforced by my high school's curriculum. The required reading material was a slog, a journey that I was unwilling to embark upon. It's possible, maybe even likely that the assigned materials were literary masterworks, but I lacked the imagination requisite to extract any type of joy from their pages. I completed one novel before I was 21 and I can't even remember it's name. A tragedy.

Everyone needs stories. They help us to make sense of the world, and though my meandering accounts of my oh so fascinating life appear nonsensical at times they provide me a cathartic balm. I appreciate your patience. It's all for a good cause. In my formative years I found stories that spoke to me in comics, sure they were mostly power fantasies and unapologetic escapism, still they were a fun and easy read. How this balanced up with my strict tolerance for only soul saving works (read: the BoM) I can't say, all I know is that they needed a lot less energy to get through than "real" books. Frivolous entertainment is a token of 20th and 21st centuries, in many ways I am a product of my environment. In many ways I am a walking contradiction. I've built a slight immunity to things not always making sense.

The reason why all this matters, at least to me, is that I am irresistibly drawn to being a writer and not just any writer, a writer of novels (there'll be some comic book scripts too don't you worry). I can't explain it, and I've given up trying to. Wouldn't it be something to write the first great globalization novel, the first post post modern literary masterpiece? I must be wary of doing this in search of the intoxicating appeal of external validation. Art is probably best produced for autotelic reasons. I have made peace with being a starving artist, but I have yet to produce any discernible art. I want to live the artist's life, which means an everyday commitment to my craft. I don't get tattoos, I don't like long term commitments, but what I like and what I need are not necessarily dancing partners.

No good story is complete without a conflict and mine is this: how can I write novels when I don't even like reading them? This statement was true until somewhere in the range of one week ago, at which time I can say without exaggeration that I had the most transformative experience of my artistic life. I like novels now, and inexplicably it's all thanks to TV.

I finally learned how to read!



Istok said...

Awesome post. Not much to add as I was not brought up in a religious family (my parents fled eastern Europe as the fall of communism was in full swing). So for me,as I was growing up, religion was a cultural thing, not a spiritual one - in the part of the world where my family originated, the main cultural groups are genetically identical, and are divided by religion, and a history of war. Orthodox, Catholics and Muslims in the one region divided over time through, but with common ancestors. My parents always held strongly to their religion, but only because their grandparents and great grandparents fought, died, and committed atrocities, and were victimized on the basis of their faith. it's an interesting thing to see two people who are fiercely loyal to their religio-cultural group, but at the same time Atheists with a high degree of education and intellect.

The thing that grabbed me from your post, however, was not the main theme of discussion, but rather the part where you mentioned an inbuilt tolerance for contradiction.

I've been thinking a lot about that exact thing lately, and I'm of the belief that the suspension of disbelief to which you refer is possibly the same mechanism in our brains that has allowed for the advancement of culture and technology - the ability to perceive things that are not currently possible, and to have sufficient belief to embark on a journey of making them possible. I'd say that's the selective/evolutionary advantqage of that mechanism, with the downside being the gullibility of the masses, as evidenced in religious communities of every denomination.

Arthur C Clarke's third law of prediction springs to mind: any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

Loren said...

That's an interesting theory. Makes sense to me. It's appropriate (if the human story were a Greek tragedy) that our greatest attribute could possibly destroy us. And that's probably true for both sides of the religious/secular divide (in a way). Science has provided the tools (atomic weapons, planes etc) and as history has illustrated religion provides the ideological impetus to annihilate people who don't fall into line. Faith can be used for good or ill. It can lead to amazing discoveries or blind obedience to supposed authority. The ability to abide the unknown, the paradox and contradiction is an amazing gift, but one that comes with a price. On balance I don't no if the benefits outweigh the costs, but I'm willing to live with even this uncertainty.

Justin said...

Our quality of life is in direct proportion to the amount of uncertainty we can comfortably live with. The more uncertainty you can live with, the more you'll learn and the more you'll strive... conversely the more you have to be certain about everything, the less you will have.

With absolute certainty, we would be bored out of our minds. In fact, life as we know it would cease.

Uncertainty means variety. A person who values certainy more than variety has a boring life.

Sorry, I'm listening to Tony Robbins right now.