Friday, November 14, 2014

We Tell Ourselves Stories in Order to Live

I once stood at the end of civilization, staring at the non existent horizon. The 2am night around me, stars glowing overheard, I just stared and thought. How the ocean never really ended, it was our perception that ended. For centuries, men headed west to find El Dorado. "Westward, the course of civilization makes it way" my dad always used to say. Of course it was still in my head. It's those stupid things that stick with you long after you are no longer with a person. Here I was, at the peak of my time in college, staring out across the black pacific ocean and not knowing exactly how I had deserved this. How did I get so lucky that now, I can just walk to the beach. I can walk to the end of civilization and just say to myself "eh, the weather isn't that great today".

I never got why we needed to read literature really. I was always a reader, I read copiously in elementary school, all the way through high school and into college. Harry Potter captivated me and never let go, all the way until senior year. When Harry turned down Ginny at the end of book 6, it felt like I was doing it. When I finished book 7, I had to start reading the series again right away, knowing the depression about the series ending was just around the corner. It affected me, in a way that a personal loss affects you.

That same year I stood on the black beach, I really grasped it. Maybe it is a part of growing up. Maybe it was finally putting an articulation on a concept that I had felt all along. But an Irish Literature professor begged us, to read Yates' poems and ask ourselves, "Why did he write this? What compelled him to do so? There must have been something, he was just burning to say. He had to get it out. These are emotions, stripped raw of all unnecessary words and fluff. Please, when you go home, read this and listen to what he is saying!". I'm not sure anyone paid attention to him that day, but it's something I'll remember for the rest of my life. Poetry was the essence of life; emotion distilled into words, conveyed over unfathomable distance and time to anyone who wants it. "This is not your school work, this is life! this is everything". I won't forget Edna Duffy.

Fiction has this tremendous ability to bring humans together; it allow us to live through the author, participating in experiences we'd otherwise not get to do. The best video games are ones that tell human stories. All the games are fake, so we respond to real emotion inside the narrative. Multiplayer allows us to have a different story every time, never the same twice. Hamlet is read 400 years after its penning, because it speaks to our inner most fears and desires. We still grapple with our mortal coil, and if we are compelled to act in line with tradition or in the way of the times. I will never be a Caribbean woman, but after reading Annie John, I can begin to know what it is like. The problem arises when people think that they have learned all the stories.

Another teacher I had, a TA, said that if it was available, I had to take a class from Candace Waid. She was one of the smartest professors here, he said. So when I saw her name listed next to the "So, Socal: American Literature" class, I signed up for it knowing nothing about it except that Paul was one of the funniest and most effective TAs I'd ever had. The day I walked in, I almost regretted it. But I'm glad I took it. Phillip K Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and Joan Diddion's Slouching Towards Bethlehem have stayed with me for years afterwards. I'm not even sure why. I think about it a lot. It's Diddion's prose, her pessimism, her disillusionment, her matter of fact tone that I think I'm drawn to. She writes plainly, yet captivatingly. She talks about California in a way that stirred emotions: of feelings of hopefulness and betrayal. She talked about it the same way Hunter Thompson talks about Las Vegas. Of the glitz, glamour, and sheen, and the rusty undercoat threatening to show its face at any moment. Of how human civilization made its way to the west, in search for perfection. Now that we are here, are we perfect? Sometimes, it seems like the weather makes us think so.


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