Wednesday, October 20, 2010

It's the best thing in the world--

--when you realize your high school education failed you and you're luckier for it.

In my case, I didn't "have to read for class" a great many classics: Slaughterhouse-Five, Lord of the Flies, Catcher in the Rye, 1984, The Great Gatsby... What in the world did I read in high school?

But side-stepping that indicting question, I just finished Salinger's Catcher in the Rye, a marvelous little book about an intellectual kid growing up in 1940s-50s era New York searching for whatever it means to live a genuine life. Though I'm not sure old Holden Caulfield realizes it, even by the end.

There's a scene in which H is talking to his kid sister Phoebe. She's asked him does he like anything at all, and he can't concentrate on answering because he's thinking of a boy who committed suicide--jumped out a window to escape bullying, to keep from giving in to bullying, really. And the scene, coupled with a line from the next chapter, a quote from Wilhelm Stekel about living and dying... it got me thinking.

About bullies, for one, who've been around for ages and ages. And about kids, who've been around just as long. And about the fact that everybody out there is trying to find out what it means to live a genuine life. Especially in this age when everything's so excruciatingly temporary, finding an "identity" can get a little hairy. And it's hard to find out who you are and how you fit in when you're focused only on you. 'Cause then there's no context for you, and things get pretty ambiguous without context.

So it's only when H sets himself aside and watches P go round and round the carousel--when he stops thinking about those hard questions and just lets the world be--that he sort of settles in.

I guess it's harder when the world is so linked to us, all personalized and networked, that we can't really set ourselves aside even for a minute. But I wonder if living genuinely has to do with those moments when the world is too darn big and wonderful to think that we or even our biggest problems could be the center of it. 

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Something like the way a body moves…

I have envied those who seem at home in the movement of their bodies. Who walk into rooms and their minds and bodies are equally present, and they know unconsciously that they are powerful in their fullness.

After reading The English Patient I feel that same sense of slight envy turned suddenly to genuine hunger for more of Ondaatje’s rich and unconscious presence. Because there is a sinking that follows in watching Ondaatje move about a room—whether it is Italy or Naples, the desert of Libya or the gardens of a lover’s body. A sinking which is more akin to what I imagine melting might be like than falling into a river. In river-sinking there is too much flailing. And still, at the bottom of the river, I am discrete from it.

But sinking into prose like Ondaatje’s is transcendental, because I am suddenly not merely watching that powerful figure of story as it moves quietly through time but am part of it. Nor am I jostled out of it until the prose stops. And it doesn’t bring attention to itself, even in stopping. These are the best stories, I feel, that come in and go out and leave the mark of their presence in my mind like a bold streak of silent light.

And if I missed them when they walked in, I can always tell when they go because these fully present people leave their absence behind.