Post Election: Finding Clarity in Books

I’m reading Freedom by Jonathon Franzen, and from the perspective of forty- year-old Patty, he wrote:

“There’s a hazardous sadness to the first sounds of someone else’s work in the morning, it’s as if stillness experiences pain in being broken. The first minute of the workday reminds you of all the other minutes that a day consists of, and it’s never a good thing to think of minutes as individuals. Only after other minutes have joined the naked, lonely first minute, does the day become more safely integrated in its dayness.”

Reading can be that way. The first page feels daunting as you’re afraid you’ll lose focus and stop. But once other pages have joined the first page, you feel more comfortable in the rhythm of reading. Pages cease to be individuals and the story forms in your mind in a continues string. It feels complete and relaxing as it guides you through the author’s world. That’s a satisfaction I can only get from reading books. Social media, the other place where I “read,” makes me feel lost in a thick forest, blinded by sticks poking me in the eye and scratching my skin. It’s ironic that a novel would give me more clarity than things happening in real life. The longer I stay on Facebook, the more exhausted and frustrated I become, like I’m beating myself over the head at the same time saying, “Stop hitting yourself, stop hitting yourself!” Like an obnoxious middle school bully, only I’m the bully and the victim. I go on Facebook because I want to educate myself about what is going on with my friends, in the world, in our country, since the election results. I want to know what Donald Trump is saying and what liberals and conservatives have to say about it and about each other. It seems important to be up-to-date on politics, but a few minutes on Social Media I somehow feel dumber. Even my long-time trusted sources like CNN and New York Times somehow feel compromised.

I don’t want to do this to myself, I wish I could stop. You must know what I’m talking about. Most articles I don’t have to read past the headline to get the point. Even the articles I manage to get through most of, however painful, are tossed aside when I inevitably think, OK I get it, heard it before, can’t stand this, or UGHHHHHHH! A voice inside my head is constantly screaming. Social Media is so murky, so swamped in hateful opinions and fake news, that after five minutes I feel the need to shower. I put my phone away and demand myself to open a book.

Reading books is escapism. It makes me feel productive when I don’t want to run or write or get out of bed yet. It’s better for my brain than TV. It’s better for me than most things.

The characters in my book feel all the same things people do in real life – they are complicated and flawed, feel anger, frustration, betrayal, ecstasy, remorse, guilt, pleasure, and so on, but in a far more poetic and concise world depicted in the power of the writing. In Freedom, there is the emotional eloquence and tight complexity and profound conclusiveness lacking in real life. The sense that I’m heading somewhere with intention, and I can see with confidence a little ways ahead. I trust the writer and the narrator to lead me down the right path. Contrarily, Social Media and our current political state is a world of millions of untrustworthy narrators luring you down a million different paths with no intention and to no end.

Unlike depressed forty-year-old Patty, most mornings I actually enjoy breaking the silence. I love the sound of Taylor making breakfast in the morning. My head fills with a whistling tune, the day’s begun! I look forward to my first sips of coffee and feel brief sadness when the moments over. I want all of life’s moments to be like the first sips of coffee.

But on the morning of November 9th, I woke to a silent apartment. Taylor had left for work at 5 AM and I’d slept through his departure. I woke to emptiness in and around me. I did not want to get out of bed, well aware of the pain and hazardous sadness that breaking the silence would entail. I could have stayed in bed all day, preserving the last moments of my round, glass globe that no sound could breach, that had been shattered but not yet fallen. It held a threatening, splintered shape. A slight disturbance would cause its crumble, and I knew I would have to be the one to break it. I knew there was no point in wallowing in denial so eventually I stood up, shattering the glass, and started my day. It was odd to see people at work, the construction men across the street, the baristas next door. Portland continued in laceration. Right now it’s like our country is stuck in the state where minutes remain individuals, November 9th marking the first minute. Since then, we remain counting. Counting minutes, counting days, counting pages, an unguided story. We are not yet safely integrated.

What’s amazing to me, though, is how the paragraph by Jonathon Franzen stood out above all the trying opinions and articles I’ve read on Social Media since the election. When I read it I stopped, looked up, and breathed. Then I read it again and again. I read it out loud. I wrote it down. And every time I read it it gave me clarity and filled me with hope. Hope that one day I’ll be able to write a sentence as true as that one. One day my writing will make someone else pause, look up and think – yes. Hope that I, as a writer and a human, can and will rise above the noise around me – all the meaningless noise – to notice and articulate such a small, nuanced part of our day that no one thinks about – no one who is stuck in the noise would bother to think about – and make it more important and beautiful and profound than anyone thought it could be.

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