Quite often, what strikes me about a piece soon after I’ve written and sent it into the world is how very weak it seems, in terms of completeness and accuracy, compared to life on the street. For instance, not long ago after finishing what I felt was a fairly nice blog entry, I treated myself to part of an afternoon in a used bookstore. Well before I arrived, not five minutes from home, I was struck by the rich variety of attitudes, mannerisms, postures, gaits, and facial expressions in those I passed along the way. Immediately I recognized, for what must have been the ten thousandth time, that my starry-eyed vision of the world has little if any practical meaning† in the lives of most people, while their own activities and affairs have everything to do with, and are in many ways similar to, mine. Granted, our approaches in some cases must be different. But considering the limits of human nature, how different can they be? And, most important, can I honestly say that mine are any more effective? Or are they only part of an ongoing conversation with myself, a gee and haw designed to keep me from going insane? Whichever, it’s clear to me that a great deal of it is habit. I think the way I do, and wrestle with problems the way I do, because my mind is trained along that course. In following that course, I meet with familiar obstacles and frustrations, which in turn reinforce what at best is a fleeting identity. Steal my memory, pluck a loved one from my midst, and watch me fall apart. All that I am, quickly becomes all that I was: an anxious child looking for a way to say how I feel. When I was eight years old, I stepped on a piece of cactus that had somehow made its way from my mother’s flowerbed into our front lawn. What did I do when the long needles penetrated my bare heel? How did I respond? With screams and blood.
I feel I should be writing that way now.
I handled a great many, and even sniffed a few, but I bought no books that day.
The store was busier than usual, considering it was after Christmas. Without trying, I eavesdropped on several conversations.
The eighth volume of Grolier’s sixteen-volume set of William Hazlitt’s Life of Napoleon was missing. At eight dollars each, I couldn’t afford the other fifteen books anyway, even though the edition was numbered and limited to 1,000. Wants and needs? As if anything were ever that black, and that white. Damn fool.
There were two young women upstairs, sitting near the railing. They were so beautifully subject to their sexual imperative that the books on the table between them were charged with fantasy and light. Their words reached my ears not as meaning, but as song.
Further on, not far from where I found the Hazlitt volumes, a young man was praising Project Gutenberg. One of the girls he was with replied, “Yes, but it’s not the same as holding the books in your hands.”
It’s not the same, in other words, as holding life — as holding a newborn baby, a flower, or a wet calf fresh from its sweet mama’s insides.
† I do not say practical application, because I think it does. For better or worse, how we live as individuals has a direct bearing on what goes on in our world.