07 September 2011

Origins, Part 2

...So I was a very good reader. The voice I heard on the inside when I read was commanding and in control of his words. That voice was experienced. Of everything I forgot in the coma, I never forgot my reading abilities, never forgot a single story I’d read.

I was reading by the age of 2, able to sound out words that were in front of me and with each new word, I’m told, I was curious about its meaning. By age 6, I was as fluent as someone twice my age. By 12, I had been reading my father’s medical textbooks for several years.

Something about sticking my face in a book made the world seem smaller, more controllable. I wasn’t an asthmatic when I was narrating the story, I wasn’t having trouble making friends because the characters in the book were my friends. After all, they were sharing their intimate thoughts and important events with me.

Even non-fiction read like a story to me. Some all-knowing storyteller sharing information about the world around me and I imagine it unfolding before me and it made sense.

And poetry became like a musical story to me. It sounded like song, it sounded like the emotions I was feeling as I read the story.

The thing is reading isn’t something you do with words. It’s something you do with your eyes. The saying goes, “you can read him like a book,” and that is a skill, I think writers develop: the ability to read people like they were books, to open them up and see something intimate about them that other people just don’t see on first or second account:
You shall no longer take things at second or third hand.... nor look through the eyes of the dead.... nor feed on the spectres in books,
You shall not look through my eyes either, nor take things from me,
You shall listen to all sides and filter them from yourself…. (Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass)

And that’s what reading is; it is a filter through which you gain experience.
I remember a while back there was all this to-do about James Frey’s A Million Little Pieces, not being 100% auto-biographical. And to an extent, I agreed with the controversy around it at the time, though I never read it. After all, it seemed logical to be authentic. It seemed like if you’re going to sell something as autobiographical, it should be autobiographical. You don’t get to make up parts of your life for the sake of selling a book.

But I’ve recently been writing a lot about the fictional characters who were my friends, the fictions I told myself as a child to get me through the tough times, the times when I learned so much by playing pretend.

That line seems a little more vague for me, a little less well-defined. What if the fictions in my life were as much a part of my self as the autobiographical events? What if the filter through which I read everything was equally part of my character? What if the reader is really an undervalued character in each story? A quiet character who only traditionally gets his say at the end, only gets to say whether or not it was a good read.
But that’s not how it is. Fictional accounts and stories, not just in books, but also in movies and television and theater, change us. They affect us and make us part of who we are.

The line between fiction and non-fiction isn’t like the line between reality and delusion; it is more like the line between psychology and neurology. Our personalities, our self-images are certainly effected by the electrical impulses that fire in our brain, the memories that reside within, and the genetic code that guides the placement of every molecule.
But the definition of who we are is also effected by our imaginations and our perceptions and those are developed through the things and people we read, the filters we build with a cross-hatching of fiction and non-fiction.

The poet, as far as I know, constructs that filter better than anyone. Their realm is both the non-fiction and the fiction, the real and the imagined. They accomplish in language what others can not.

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