Wednesday, April 20, 2016

elbow in the ribs

I like reading fiction, even though I don't do much these days and real serious mowers-through-pages would laugh at my book-per-year count.  I think more than I read at this age.

I read whatever passed in front of me from age 3 or 4 (depends on whom you ask in my family) to first grade, where my school's librarian was tasked with helping reading-inclined kids find books to hold their interest.  She put me in touch eventually --maybe 3d grade-- with Heinlein's kid scifi.  My family got me Hardy Boys mystery series books, not often enough really, I read each one probably 10x minimum, eventually had a bunch of them.  My aunt, who taught French & Spanish when first starting out as a public school teacher and who spent 2 years living in Spain, used to give me Tintin cartoon panel stories in Spanish to supplement the standard Spanish we got at that school in each of grades 1-6.

None of this was my family trying to fast-track me for Excellence in Education, a/k/a Admission to Harvard.

It was just them, trying to keep me occupied, because I was otherwise going to pester them with questions about everything.

And it wasn't limited to reading.  I used to take things apart and put them back together again, too.  Sometimes I'd get stuck and have to go tail-between-legs to my grandfather, " I can't get it back together again, what did I do wrong?"


Using tools was as instinctive as breathing.  My grandfather didn't have to teach me how to use a screwdriver or wrench -- their application was obvious to me.  The phillips head screw was pure genius to my kid mind.  "Look at how it stops the screwdriver blade from slipping out as you turn it!"  Incredible.

Around age 7 I thought I was going to be a mechanic or designer of mechanical devices.  I'd taken apart and reassembled enough things to want to be the person who designed the complex machine arising from all those parts. 

There were limitations.

For example, like everyone I've ever known, I had to be taught to lock out the wrist when trying to hammer a nail.

From the elbow, not from the wrist!

It took a little practice, but soon the hammerhead stopped denting the wood instead of driving the nail.


I read so much my friends thought I was a human computer or something.  "What's the point of all that reading?"  "Don't you get enough reading from school work?"  "You mean you don't read comic books?"

I did read comic books for a couple years around 2d or 3d grade, I'd ride my bike to the 7-Eleven and get an Iron Man or Green Lantern comic book, but they were good for maybe 5 mins of reading fun.  What a ripoff!  After maybe five comic books:  I wasn't spending my scrounged quarters on such a waste.

Obviously I was wary about the wily fabricators and marketers of quick-buck wares even at an early age.


Juvenile fiction gave way to stories about explorers and mountain climbers, people who were test pilots for aircraft, race car drivers, astronauts.  I got my first car and then all reading turned toward learning how the internal combustion engine works, how to improve its power output and delivery to the wheels, how to work on engines and drivetrains.

Around the same time, I was also trying to become a good golfer, albeit of the public course-tshirt-Budweiser variety instead of countryclub-Izod-G&T variety.  I read a lot about the history of the game, its great players, the changes in equipment over time, the development and refinement of the golf swing, the common flaws of learning golfers, shotmaking strategy, whole-game strategy.

Then I went to college.


At some point in my extended collegiate tenure, I restarted on fiction reading and went through many of the novels I'd speed-read for easy-B grades in English during grades 7-12, this time reading them slower.  My first college English class was Intro to Short Fiction, using the Norton Reader, packed full of short stories we never read or discussed in class.  I read through all the stories in the Reader and then read novels by several whose short stories I'd really liked.

In the summers I'd read a lot of fiction.  I had my plow-through-the-pages period at the same time my college & grad school workloads had me reading tons already.  Apparently being forced to cram lots of science-related information made me want to keep shoving material into my mind, just not the scientific kind.  More the imaginative kind.


During my own personal progressive era, I read a lot of the stuff people might now call meta- or post- whatever.  Several "difficult" writers, a good number of "difficult" books.

Unlike the politics I explored and tried to inhabit during that era, the fiction had some durable value.  Some of the work I read in that era formed my thoughts/views today.

In contrast, the political experiment was excellent learning, but gave me nothing to chew on later, instead offering plenty of examples of what not to do, how not to be, and/or which conclusions one should not draw from the evidence.

I did take some value from the work called The Tunnel, which I read during the halcyon days of my progressive political journey.  Gass is an example of a word-artist, a term that I generally use sarcastically but in his case, and in that of a few others, it does apply.  But it applies so extensively to Gass that it almost is about words-as-words, rather than words-as-conglomerate.  I suppose I should be startled a publisher finds novel-esque cohesion in the work, but then, I never understood why Jackson Pollock was considered a genius for literally hurling paint at a canvas.


The point:

A publication from the squishy-left, culture-maven-aesthete perspective will always find a way to remind you that the truest values are those of the progressive, and in so doing will remind you of the historical demons progressives have battled for millennia:

Gass emerged from rural Ohio and turned himself into a writer to save his soul from sure destruction. According to Gass, his father was a racist and an anti-Semite, and becoming a writer was a way of discovering the opposite, the path toward mental freedom and a means of understanding the world. “Good little clerk, my father hated workers, blacks, and Jews, the way he expected women to hate worms.” But those ugly childhood years set the table for a lifetime of literary examination.

Normally I'd hate to remind Ben Weissman of a simple fact, but I'm forced to do so in order to drive the point home, to not dent the wood with the hammerhead.

No matter what family you grow up in, your parent(s) will have flaws. Even the most treasured pansexuality-approving, all-races-loving, dripping-with-kindness Lovable Hippie facade parent will have his/her bugi men. And among Salon's readers, even if your parents were gay themselves, and loved all expressions of sexuality including overt displays designed to offend the prudes and progress our society, they'd have their own demons, hating on rednecks and everything else that William Gass had to endure from a redneck father.

Remember: rural is BAD, people. Uncultured, unabashedly smallminded and bigoted, lacking parchments and all their indicia of refinement. Thank Yahweh Mr Weissman grew up with parents who taught him rednecks are bad.

But more importantly, thank Mr Weissman for finding a way to suggest that reading William Gass is the same as knowing it's far better to despise rednecks than it is to be a redneck.


Harold Caidagh said...

My demon is WAY WORSE -- so I'm morally superior for MY hatred of MY demon!

Is that the kernel of it, Chet?

Chet Redweld said...

My demon is pure coarseness. Therefore, in hating such demons, I demonstrate pure refinement.

That might be a better measure of it, Hal.

Harold Caidagh said...

Metastable allotrope of carbon, finely chiseled.

Got it.

Paul Behrer said...

Y'know, Chet, it strikes me that the olecranon is sorta like the head of a ball peen hammer when it pokes you in the ribs. Not flat-headed like those nail-driving hammers. Actually takes more precision, right?

What's the point of a ball peen hammer in an era when most first-worlders are busy seeing plastic as the future, like Benjamin Braddock's father's friends trying helpfully to guide his career path? I guess you can use it to destroy a molded plastic piece?

Karl Franz Ochstradt said...

I think it's funny the Salon guy's name is Ben White Man.

Charles F. Oxtrot said...

Doesn't Benjamin mean son of the South?

H.M. Lohmann said...

Unmistakably a coincidence.