by Jonathan Coppe ’18
Hatmakers in Chile don’t get a lot of break time. Child laborers in Nepal sometimes have to sift through piles of hypodermic needles.
It’s important not to read too slowly. Savoring words too much kind of ruins the overall effect. It’s like every time you get to a new word, you’re trying to reinvent the wheel, to draw out its meaning all alone, as if it were the only word on the page. But you can only catch a ball if you see it flying through the air first. Same thing with understanding words. Savoring the words makes the words into the story and the story into the words. No, the story is the story, and the words are the words (or the poem or the play or the…).
I’ve been doing that a lot with life lately. I go out to the bar every week. I’ve got a group of friends I read books with. (“Book club” sounds too much like something your grandmother might be a part of, so we’re just “a group of friends”). The occasional movie. Lectures if they’re available. A museum or concert or play when I have the time and money. I fill my life in various ways. I’m sort of realizing that I don’t enjoy it, though. What I do at those things doesn’t quite rise to the level of enjoyment.
The other night at the bar, Dave says to me, “Man, you’re always talking about stuff we could be doing. You never do half of it, which is its own issue, and I’m not complaining but sometimes I just think that even if you did do it, you’d just spend the whole time talking about more stuff you could do. And that’s kinda funny, but it’s also kind of a waste.”
We were all sitting together around a table, and I guess I was talking about taking up golf or something. I think I laughed it off and let somebody else take the floor. Eventually the conversation drifted to global poverty and the working conditions of the third world. I got the general impression of things listening with only half a mind, but at that point I had largely abandoned the conversation.
I felt a little offended at the idea that I was somehow a bore and amusing and depressing all at once. How could Dave sit there and tell me that in front of everybody? (Truthfully, I probably would have taken it worse if it were just him and me.) But, no, I saw that Dave wasn’t trying to mock me and it’s certainly not that he doesn’t like me, so the anger faded pretty quickly.
I guess I also realized that he’s right. I mean, he’s not really right, but he managed to help me realize something, which makes him about half-right. Last time I went to the theater, I found myself downright exhausted by the end of the play. I wasn’t rested or excited or cathartic. I was just tired. I think I went home and had to put on music to unwind. That didn’t have anything to do with the play, though. It was all me. I spent the whole play trying to feel something.
It’s not that I’m emo or depressed or something. Feelings are a regular part of my life. But I guess I was operating on the assumption that if I wasn’t consumed by intense passion and wonder and awe from the moment I stepped into the theater I was somehow doing it wrong, and because of that I realized that I missed out on the whole play. It didn’t do anything for me because I was trying so hard to make sure that it did.
And then I realized that that’s kind of been my whole life. I’m bored and frustrated because every time I do something I need it right then and there to make me feel totally alive. But it’s not that this thing or that thing is living. Living is the whole sentence—or the whole paragraph or book or—it’s all the words put together and their total effect. You live life more when you care less about whether you’re living life. Neurosis is savoring the words. Living is reading the whole sentence. I think I’m going to try to remember that the next time I go to the theater.