Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Condiments

Thanks to those who commented, empathetically or otherwise or only in spirit, on the last post. It's good to know that others are struggling and writing along similar paths, with similar hopes. Heck, it's good to know people are writing.

Yesterday was a rare thing for me:a non-writing day. Some days I only work for 20 minutes, but I almost always do something. The heat, humidity, lack of hot water in my building, trip to Markham, etc., etc., utterly defeated me. It is tough to get much active done in these, the swamp days of summer.

The upside is that my reading, semi-passive as it is (I know, I know, active engagement of the imagination, but it's still easier than coming up with the story by myself) is way up. Under normal circumstances, although I am a fairly avid reader, I rarely sit myself down on the couch with a book. Instead, I read throughout the day in all the spare squishy moments that would otherwise be boring. I read on the subway, bus and streetcar, and while waiting for them. While waiting for my endless medical and dental appointments, while standing in line, while on the cross-trainer at the gym. I read during the lulls at the library (many) and the school where I teach (few). And when I'm eating alone and when I can't fall asleep at night. Sometimes I read on escalators or in elevators, but that usually ends badly (on the wrong floor).

Sometimes I wonder if my incidental way of reading is not respectful enough, or not attentive enough. I get a lot out of what I read, and get a lot read, but I wonder if the calibre of my reading could be upped by sitting in silence on my couch with the book instead of dangling from a strap on the subway, half in the lap of some guy who is sweating through his Pink Floyd t-shirt. I wonder if I am treating books too much like a condiment of life, instead of a full meal.

Maybe it is ok because I love condiments so much? So much that I have been known to eat salsa with a spoon because I don't much like corn chips? So much that, when people complain that veggie dogs don't taste as regular hot dogs, I ask, "How do you *know*?" because I put so much ketchup/onion/mustard/bbq sauce/corn relish/pickles on that I can't taste the actual weiner? And that's the way I like it.

I am not very good with appropriate proportions. If I like a little of something, I don't see why more isn't better, and if I like literature, I'd like to get as much into the day as possible. Truth be told, if I waited until I had an unfettered hour to read, I wouldn't read much. Better to get 7 minute snatches of Salinger than no Salinger at all.

Except this week, when writing, the gym, socializing, even talking on the phone require far to much sweating to be worth my while. So I sprawl about and read. I am still working through Barthelme's *60 Stories.* Two stories a day, I find, is about right. Fewer and I lose touch with his unique sense of reality. More and I lose mine. Also lots of *The New Yorker* (I'm finally up to date!).

And I finally finished *Jane Eyre,* which I bitched about losing months ago, found, and then promptly forgot to read. And then I did read it, and was startled to hate it greatly. Or hate *Jane*, anyway. It is a surprising reaction. I'd been so looking forward to it. It's one of those books, I know, that many girls read when they are 12-13, fall in love with, and then are disappointed with as adults, but I read it first when I was 21! Clearly, I have matured greatly since then, or something, since this time round, I found Jane to be insufferably grasping, condescending, socially ambitious and man-crazy. Really, everyone she encounters, from her cousins to her students to the servants, are too coarse and too far beneath her to even be described. Only Rochester and St. John are interesting, because they are high-born *men*. Ugh. What a bitch.

When I mentioned to my mother that I was starting this book, she remarked, "Isn't it stupid?" and said that she's only found it worth reading "twice...maybe three times" whereas truly good books are worth rereading annually (my mother is a bit of a terrifying reader). I tried to argue based on my memory of the novel as a dreamy romantic fantasy-adventure. In a certain mood, perhaps it would still be for me, or someone, but not in my current state of social realism. Now that I've done this about-face, I'll have to call my mother and concede.

Perhaps I try it again in another 5-6 years. This time, my favourite parts of the novel were the only bits I still liked much, and those were the descriptions of the various houses, especially Moor House. Now, though, in light of my new insight into Jane's materialism, the detailed descriptions of property come in rather a different flavour (bile?) If I were still in school, I would write a paper entitled "Architecture and Avarice in *Jane Eyre*", of which the title would be the best part and on which I would receive an A-. But thank goodness I'm a graduand, so I won't. I'll just reread *The Catcher in the Rye* (I don't read it annually, but close) now while the library is slow, and on my break and on the train to Don Mills and home again. I'm hoping, by the time I actually get home around 9pm, I'll have read about half that novel, and that it will be cool enough for me to get to at least the salad course, and write.

Far away in my well-lit door
RR

1 comment:

kt said...

nice post. :)