I’ve received some excellent submissions for guest posts this past week from several authors. However, the time crunch from the New York trip barred me from properly editing any of them for use tonight. Look for a post from @DMSolis next week and perhaps Mani Afsari after that. (all others TBA)
In the meantime, here’s a response to those who say that they can’t focus on reading a book these days. Submit your writing to this week’s Theme Thursday (the pitch is nice and easy this week!), and contact me if you’re interested in writing for NQOKD! On with the show!
Obvious errors exist in popular thought. The problem with general opinion therefore is not that errors are hard to spot but rather that they are hard to fix. The reasons an observer wouldn’t see the flaws are obvious: either the person is not looking, or the person is caught in the illusion of perspective. However, the internet amplifies the multifaceted voices of complaint in our society by providing easily accessible communities; errors are seen and noted. The reasons a person doesn’t fix the flaws (beyond simply not seeing them) are also obvious: enmeshed as an observer is in the populace, the effort to affect popular opinion is either cloaked by the myriad other flaws or seems sisyphean, impossible and hellish.
My Google reader (which I love) often asks me, “Where do Arianna Huffington and Thomas Friedman go to get different perspectives on the news?” But if you follow that rabbit hole, you will quickly discover that the difference between you and Thomas Friedman is not the information at your disposal but what is done with the information that exists. If any disparity in material exists at all, chock it up to experience, which can only be an accidental difference, remedied by effort and fortune.
The difference between genius and banality is not new with our electronic age. The only newness is the democratization of education, which impacts the ability of genius to make itself known, not the existence of genius itself. That is, education does not make a genius, but a genius does with education what others do not; a genius does something novel with the information at his disposal. The happy happenstance of his education is just as accidental as Euripides and Homer imply war is to the brave or as I’ve said trial is to the lover.
The definition of brilliance applies when discussing an article @namenick linked the other day that discusses an author finding reading more difficult as he ages. The first half reads like a Bing.com commercial, discussing how our hyperconnected culture has drawn and quartered our attention spans, the second half like an English major’s journal who has bumped up against philosophy by the mere chance of his course of study rather than steeped himself in its purging scald.
Objects of mystic adoration across cultures and history all share an ability to focus. Meditation is as central to Christianity as to Buddhism, tied necessarily to all forms of prayer across primitive and advanced religions. Heroes of the Chinese tradition share their remembered aura of stillness with the monks of the West, and the diverse pool of flawed folk heroes from Monkey to Agamemnon and even as far back as Gilgamesh share an inability to reach stasis, to stay still even for a moment.
I, for one, share this inability. I remember distinctly as a sophomore in high school cursing my brain for moving as quickly as it did along connections only sensible to me, for never shutting up even for a moment. I remember loud music and screamed lyrics drowning out finicky thoughts and rumors and wonder. I remember many addled nights where my disquiet hindered oncoming sleep, nights I apologized to various lovers because I just had to get out of bed and write down what was on my mind. I remember nights before I kept a journal where I just lay in bed and stared at the dark ceiling, attempting to will my mind into stillness; I also remember failing at many, most, or even all confrontations.
But the community with which I share this trait keeps me company on the seemingly lonely and interminable road: humanity in general suffers a deep and resounding disquiet. The phenomenon itself may even be pandemonium, but more often than not the noise is as null as good or evil, as gray as white or black. The strength of discovering it lies not in assigning it any value but in recognizing its universality.
Popular opinion would have us blame an external force for the disquiet in our minds, but educated readers should notice that generation after generation toils under the same mental noise. Technology does not tempt us further into disquiet than we would naturally go but rather empowers several methods of engaging in noisiness that would not exist otherwise. Humans found means of distracting themselves before technology, and even with it, many of the age-old tricks to manufacture distractions exist. To take a lesson from several sources, we must turn inward and silence ourselves to find peace rather than impose quietude on others hoping to one day silence all the world; we must because one of these paths is attainable, but the other is not.
Reading, however, does not require a mystic silence. While Proust searches for lost time, his reader dreams along through a lifetime of adulterated memories, watching lesbians fondle each other through an open window or hanging on the edge of a suspended love. While I could make some quip about how you quote an author quoting an author talking about dreams and how far distanced from reality your reader is by the time all those disconnects are added together, I will merely say that the inclusiveness of the writing experience heightens the entertainment value of reading and obscures exactly that which one is meant to learn from the narrative.
Reading only requires that during our endless hours of sedentary time we pick up a book rather than any type of computer, or maybe even open an ebook rather than a web browser. We make choices about how to spend our time, and surprise surprise, we tend to focus on entertainment rather than sustenance. So the next time you, Mr. Ulin, sit down to read, ask yourself about your priorities. If you fail to pick up a book, ask yourself whether engagement is as high on your list as entertainment, realize that it is not, and keep your grumbling to yourself that you’re not who you wish you were.