Constant Havoc

Yes, I thought about this stuff before I put it here.

Month: August, 2014

Reading Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon

Gravity's Rainbow 004

Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon is my vade mecum, a guidebook carried constantly.

I read it first while still an undergraduate in the early 80s. We’d read Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49 in a class, and I liked it. I decided to read what was purported to be his best work, which had won the National Book Award, and I was not disappointed. I remember standing in my English professor’s little office, and she asked me what made me think I could possibly tackle such a book.

“Arrogance?” I quipped.

She guffawed and slapped her desk.

Gravity’s Rainbow is a puzzle to many readers. It confounded me for a very long time. I think the best way to describe it is entwined.

The book opens in a dream of a labyrinthine knotting of passageways and trails that lead steadily into a deeper place, a level further below, revealing still new permutations of existence than were readily available at first glance. People trudge through the space neither succumbing nor escaping. They simply move.

A master storyteller like Pynchon knows the opening must reveal the whole in some way. This opening language weaves in and out of various levels of understanding of the dream, and we’re alerted to the notion we will journey through a maze that will lead us deeper into the story, the characters, the themes, the words, and even ourselves as readers.

I don’t think there’s anything extra in this book. I have read it so many times I’ve lost count. That’s honest. I’m rereading it again, and it’s very clear this time through. I’ve had questions about the book for many years, decades. I am getting answers this time.

Yes, the language is convoluted at times. It’s serpentine, and it’s done for a reason. I think the times when the words double back on themselves and lead the reader to the place where he questions what he’s just read and where he is in the text are to push him out of his easy chair and into a new way of knowing, a new way of questioning how a book and a reader are supposed to relate to each other.

The scientist is observer and observed. The rocket is one with launcher and victim. Separation is a myth invented by our minds to control our environments. The reader is whole in the act of reading, and the book is not an object but a function in the equation. Connection is key. Singularity as opposed to duality seeps through the language. We are all whole in our beings as we move through our days. Verbs are vital.

“A screaming comes across the sky” is the opening sentence. There are only six words, and two of them function like verbs. They act on the reader. They move. “Screaming” conjures a host of terrors, nightmares, banshees. “Comes” sits there simple enough. Surely. It’s a small word. Or does it act in another way here? Where does it put us, the readers? Aren’t we left underneath the noise listening to it peak and recede, leaving us shaking in our boots and thankful for escape? We’re sorry enough for the poor sods under the rocket when it stopped screaming and left only dust and rubble, but really, better him than me, eh?

Our hero, Tyrone Slothrop, educates us as he hops across Europe. He’s an American lost and helpless amongst these tired Europeans. He grows in his knowledge of the trappings of his own life and its tie to the rocket, and he is transformed into the Rocketman when he is liberated from the ties binding him to his Earthly existence. He transcends.

I am enjoying this read through the book immensely. The words shine on the pages or the screen, as it is. Yes, I like my e-reader very much. I carry a library in my palm. The world’s books await. It’s a gift, and I like it.

I had so many questions when I read it the first few times. There was so much that eluded me, and now I see it was my own life I was questioning as a young man. I’m not young any more. I’m middle aged. Like Slothrop, I’ve evolved. I don’t fight the words. They lie there. I take them in. They work their wonders in my mind calling up all sorts of ideas and pictures and feelings and memories. Together, we make a story.

The night’s sounds trilling through my window while I read are just as much a part of the event as the book and I are. It’s all there, and nothing gets left out.

“Soup” should be a verb.

Gravity’s Rainbow soups its way into my being, and together we grow.

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Questions

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Is there a word for the feeling I have? I am alone, but I’m not lonely. My time is empty, but I’m not sad.

I don’t think it’s boredom, yet I don’t necessarily want to fill my time with any particular activity.

I glance at the computer. I daydream.

I eat. I nap.

I walked two miles this morning after my regular meditation, and I enjoyed both immensely.

I am alone right now, and I acknowledge my solitude. Still, it’s not really causing me any discomfort apart from this bewilderment I have at the lack of any concrete emotion.

I know what it feels like to be lonely. I understand that pain well.

I understand existential pain, too. I know the sorrow of simply being alive on planet Earth.

I don’t have any of that at the moment.

I’m blank, and it baffles me.

Is this peace?

There’s something in the knowledge that I’m alone that doesn’t frighten me the way it has before. I know I’m alone, and I left wondering where the sadness is.

Where is it?

Don’t worry. I’m not going to chase it. I’m just curious to know if I’m alone in this lack of emotion. This is new. Weird.

Sharing Thoughts

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I stopped giving medical advice to friends suffering from the common cold a very long time ago. Decades actually. I figured out no one – absolutely no one – ever took my ideas and tried them. They didn’t really want to hear what I had to offer.

Somewhere along the line, I took that knowledge and applied it to the rest of my life. I stopped speaking about many of my ideas for situations, unless I was asked. Even then, I would word what I said carefully. I would make it plain that my ideas worked for me, and they may or may not work for others.

I have noticed that few people hear what I say wholly. They hear what they think is advice, and they politely ignore it.

When did it happen? When did we stop listening to each other? When did we start listening selectively to reinforce our own preconceptions?

For example, I follow astrology, but I don’t pretend it’s a subject that most people wish to hear about. I don’t talk about it very much at all. I have studied it a great deal, and I am fully aware that the horoscopes published in the paper and on a vast number of websites are rubbish. It is a complex science, and many variables go into making an accurate assessment of what astrology reveals about our lives. Nowadays, people believe astrology is nothing more than the short quips written in the newspaper. That’s a wrong assumption. Still, I keep quiet.

For the most part, I am very careful with my choice of words when I write or speak. I avoid “you.” It erects barriers. It sounds accusatory even in benign situations.

I forget which book it was in, but the classicist Anne Carson wrote something to the effect that every word is a blow. By “blow,” she means a physical hit. Words can do that. They can reach across the space that divides people, and they can affect others positively and negatively.

Maybe that’s why we stopped listening. We’re protecting ourselves from unwarranted punishments and judgements thrown at us unnecessarily. Is it just defense?

On some level, I’m sure it is defense. There are other times when I know motives are more nefarious. People simply refuse to hear words that question their preconceptions. They fear they might be wrong about an idea. Being wrong requires contrition and change. Pride does not allow many people to acknowledge they may need to think anew.

And there may lie the crux of the matter – fear. It is powerful.

Fear walls us in. It divides us. It eats at our core and causes all manner of difficulties. Importantly, it blocks proper hearing. When we fear others may have ideas better than our own, we fear we may need to be open and vulnerable and change.

Fear is really quite simple. We learn it immediately when we’re born. Our first fear is that we might not be fed. It’s that primal. It is seated in the stomach.

Perhaps at the most basic level, we don’t listen carefully, because we fear hunger.

Would anyone like some bread and butter? Anyone?

Vision

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I want to live in a glass house without curtains.

Ephemera

I once heard that “may you live in interesting times” is a very old Chinese curse. We live in interesting times.

Our militarized police state sickens me. Young people of color are gunned down at random by police officers who seem eager to use their lethal weapons.

Access to clean water is a human right.

I am rereading Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon. In the last thirty years, I have lost count how many times I’ve read it. The words seem preternaturally clear this time. The book is so simple really. It’s just words.

Reading is the most important skill I possess. I learned to read critically at Oklahoma Baptist University and St. John’s College Graduate Institute.

I cannot read pulp.

I will buy the work of two living authors without knowing anything about the book in advance. The first author is Thomas Pynchon who has already been mentioned. The second is Anne Carson, a classicist. Her book Eros, the Bittersweet should be required reading for every breathing human.

I lived without a television for a very long time. I have one now, and it’s rarely on. I went through a period of years when my mental illness would not allow me to sit and enjoy television. Now, I can watch comfortably, but most of what’s on bores me.

Girls mature. Boys age.

Climate change is going to be worse for us than we currently realize.

I am optimistic about humanity in the long run.

No one knows how the spiritual realm really works. No one.

Contemporary cynicism is the easy way out.

A great many people fear careful thought.

I have not read all of William Shakespeare’s work. Some of it is rotten. I couldn’t stand Troilus and Cressida. His sonnets were divinely inspired.

I love being a peer specialist in mental health and working with other people who live with mental illness. We are passionate folk.

There are only two emotions: love and fear. Everything flows from those two.

Fear is the greatest threat to life. Fear eats passion, and passion is life. Embracing love eradicates fear. Maybe we are all here to learn to release fear and accept love.

Every person must have passion. It can come in a billion different forms, large or small. Nurturing passion is the most precious gift we can give another person.

Art

stairs

January 4, 1958

A work of art should not show. It should not teach.

IT SHOULD BE.

It should be like a fact that has many meanings, all as complex and mixed up as life itself, contradictory, unfathomable, mysterious. The meanings should be here. But the audience should feel — as they do in the presence of a work of nature, that they have to find them, dig them out, and interpret them for themselves, each putting on each his own meaning.

from Elia Kazan’s notebook for Face in the Crowd

as quoted in Kazan on Directing

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