Sunday, July 12, 2015

go wide!

It may have been the muffled, post-party alcoholic symphony in the upstairs bathroom that woke me at 4:15 this morning. My younger son had returned who-knows-when from what was probably quite a lot of fun in the midst of it. But now there were only wretched retching memories.

It was not yet light. I got up and then went back to bed. After a while, the retching stopped. My younger son had National Guard training today, but his car is still in the driveway and he seems to be in bed. I don't know if he is allowed to cut classes and if so what the penalty -- with or without the retching -- might be.

My older son and I went to a Chinese smorgasbord/buffet for dinner as my younger son headed out to his engagements. I was really, really tired of playing kitchen maid -- conceive it, prepare it, clean up after it -- so we went out and paid to have someone else do the scut work. Over dinner I asked him what he thought of books, both literally and implicitly. He said he seldom read anything in a book and a puff of sad wind passed over my plains.

I was not sad in some righteous-education sense. I knew all too well the frigid lash that "well-read" or "well-educated" can apply. Both of my parents were well-read and well-educated and were so taken with the realm that things like children tended to be more hindrance than focal point. Naturally, I thought something was wrong with me. So I got educated too, though I never found out what was precisely "right" about it... never felt my approval rating or peace of mind rise.

No, the sadness I felt for my son was more along the lines of the interaction between book and reader. Open a book and a contract is struck: There is the tale told and there is the wide open space of imagination and experience that is called on and called out. It has no edges and it can go and flow anywhere, enriching silly, stupid, or enlightening moments. There are no pictures, still or video, to limit the scene, no thin-substance actors with deliberately-tousled hair or uplifted boobs on display. No Wikipedia or Twitter or Facebook.

"Beautiful" and "ugly," "sad" and "joyful," "complex" and "simple," "hard-on" or "soft-off," "strong" and "weak" are suggested by the book. The book is the runway but the takeoff is the reader's. The same used to be true for radio dramas in which the only faculty employed was listening, imagining in harmony with the suggestions ... and takeoff. "Go wide!" the book seems to say and the reader does "go wide" in whatever way or at whatever pace s/he chooses.

To enthrone such a capacity -- to command and demand its exercise -- is too much. And yet to neglect it is equally demeaning. To untie, for some small moments, the socially-acceptable and limiting knots of life is a good idea. What if you could fly or disappear or have four spouses or receive a Nobel Prize or become the fastest gun in the West or invent peanut butter or come-to-Jesus or be calm, cool and collected in a situation in which you knew you were going to screw the pooch?

Go wide ... not because it's true, but because going wide, entering a limitless array of possibilities, is in accord with the way life works. It may not be true -- and it may be scary -- but at the same time it is true. Never mind what the book-savvy say, pay attention to what you say in response to the book in your lap.

Soon enough you can return to the dishes in the sink or the car's balky alternator. But there is no point in selling out the capacity to go wide any more than there is much point in trying to grasp and enshrine it.

Maybe, at some point, my son, like me, will decide that other things are just too familiar and ... well ... what about reading a book?


  1. A book is a story told 'round the fire. Now stories are told in 3D, technicolor smello-vision. I don't know if it's escapism or stretching the imagination. The imagination seems responsible for a lot of innovation in the real world, making the imaginary real. It seems contrary to zen practice, but like everything else, we'd rather do that than zen practice. I guess imagination happens, just like the world that seems so real.

  2. No sadder image than a toddler curled up with an ipad.