Saturday, March 08, 2008
Everything is So Dangerous That Nothing is Really Frightening
...so saith Gertrude Stein. And it's true. Looking back, most of our recollections of childhood and adolescence will have us wondering how we ever survived this long. I'm comfortably into double-digits as far as near scrapes that come to mind. And those are only the ones that one evaded back when we were young and stupid and didn't know what else was going on in this great wide world. One result of this is to react the way Stein does in her quote, or another is to work on insulating oneself from possible harm, and to keep an eye out for nascent threats. Based on my rather non-scientific observations, the latter reaction tends to result in spending most of one's time looking out for the start of a bad trend, for ulterior motives, for things that might point in a dark direction, any of which could result in having to take decisive or evasive action. After a while, such a focus tends to make one more than a bit on the cagey side. One looks ahead, as in chess, two moves, four moves ahead, and with each jump further ahead in time, the possible moves that act as threat are squared, then cubed. After a while, you're jumpy as a caffeinated hare and just as frozen as all these perceived threats close in.
Lots of such people exist. I'm sure you know the sort--they find gated communities attractive, drive as big an SUV as possible because they're safe (though they put drivers of smaller cars at greater risk of injury), they go to jobs they don't like because the money isn't bad and the benefits are good, they spend most of their time cultivating the company of people they don't like and who don't like them, generally out of an idea that such networking will be beneficial regarding one's social standing.
If there's one thing I've been unlearning, it's just such a habit of fearful squinting so many moves ahead. It's a habit I've gained over the past 15 years; of doing silly things like trying to get on in offices and trying to play things their way. While I was doing so, I found myself walking more and more into the middle of things that I actually was wanting to get away from. Rather than gaining independence, I was more and more tied to the opinions and whims of people that didn't know what language people spoke in Scotland or that the main job of our President is to uphold the Constitution, not do whatever it takes to make it more comfortable for us to get cheaply-made knickknacks made in Indonesia just like those ones they used in Trading Spaces. And at 38, I'm too old to have people like that always around thinking up new ways to make my life uncomfortable. I've got crap to do.
Speaking of Stein, while at the bookstore today (I'd gone out simply to take some Auden back to the library and suddenly I'm at Half Price) I found two rare Stein novels, evidently republished not long ago by Dalkey Archive: the never-anthologized Lucy Church Amiably and the behemoth and not-published-since-1934 (and then only in abridged form) The Making of Americans--all 925 pages of it. In her inimitable way, she writes in a letter to Carl VanVechten, that
Lots of people will thinkmany strange things in it as to tenses and persons and adjectives and adverbs and divisions are due to the french compositors' errors but they are not it is quite as I worked at it and even when I tried to change it well I didn't really try but I went over it to see if it could go different and I always found myself forced back into its incorrectnesses so there they stand. There are some pretty wonderful sentences in it and we know how fond we both are of sentences.
This passage alone is a good example of Stein's hatred of the comma.
Much reading tomorrow, methinks.