Robert (gurdonark) wrote,

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One nice feature of joining an extremely active community of people whose LJs I don't usually read is that one sees a huge number of posts and icons on the friends page that are wholly new. I have one big thing to say about this, and then a lot of very small things. The big thing I must say is that I am continually surprised when I review these userpix just how many LJ'ers look just like Tori Amos. If one accepted the evidence of userpix, LJ is an endless Tori, and if you think about Ms. Amos' prodigious output of burning sentiments of all sorts, there's a certain LJ rightness about that.

The little things I have to say about the diversity of people is that I am intrigued by the wide differences in people but also by the stark similarities in people. No matter how many different patterns the snowflakes may have--each distinctive unto itself--they are all pretty much snow.

I don't minimize the differences between people, because one of the thing I like about people (and I was self-controlled enough not to say "one of the few things I like about people") is that they are so intricate and individual. I feel as though each year I turn a corner, and there's a whole little universe of human interest out there waiting for me.

I think growing up in a small southern town makes one a bit of a gourmet of human contact. Where I lived, we didn't have cable television most of my childhood, the movie house tended to play only spaghetti westerns, and the local sports events were big community events. In this quiet world, one got quite adept at visitin', that art of making small talk with people about pretty much nothing as a casual pastime. Sometimes I fancy myself as a friendly but essentially distanced person, because I am not as outgoing as I might be. But I do delight in hearing people tell their stories, and in absorbing those stories into some giant life's plot that I have going in my head.

Everybody has a story. It sounds trite, but it's so true. I see folks who haven't circulated sometimes who imagine that the world is strictly divided into people who live monochromatic workaday lives and people who live interesting lives. But in fact, the world is full of endless stories and personal myths. I have found that this is true regardless of who or what or what ethic group or what kind or what education or whatever. In fact, one of the great liberations in life is when one realizes that so many people have something to tell us, if we can only have the patience to listen.

My late grandfather was a consummate listener. He had had to leave high school a year early, despite being atop his class, because his father died and his family needed support. He never got the engineering degree for which he wished (not surprisingly, perhaps, my uncle did and became chief engineer at an oil company), but he did build a nice career. He became a district manager for a railroad cross tie company. He spent his working life travelling from small town to small town through Arkansas, Texas, and Louisiana. He would drive to little rural saw mills, trying to find ties to buy for the tracks. He had an old-fashioned career which lasted most of his adult life for an old-fashioned St. Louis company doing old-fashioned things. He knew every bump in the road in every little town, and knew by heart each tiny cafe that offered a good cup of coffee and a good slice of coconut creme pie. He ordered his clothing from the LL Bean catalog, and always took immaculate care of his attire, which rendered him, arguably, the genetic opposite of gurdonark, despite the near relationship.

His true gift, of course, was conversation. His entire career, and perhaps his entire life, was built on learning and sharing the very human stories of thousands upon thousands of people. My mother and my siblings once drove to Houston with him to see relatives. We stopped along the way at each tiny woodlands town with a sawmill, and my grandfather would just sit down and visit with the folks. He wasn't trying to cut any deals--he just was sharing tales. Although we kids had visions of Astroworld and were a bit impatient with the whole thing, I marvel when I think back at how much rapport my grandfather had with his customers. He was one of those fellows who despite being a reasonably firm negotiater in business was always seen as a "square dealer". He did all the Americana things I don't do, like Rotary Club.

As I got old enough to fully appreciate my grandfather, I used to love and just ask him a question which would access his immense personal database on people he knew. An afternoon listening to his stories was like reading one of those warm, somewhat witty, but benevolent victorian novels, in which one learns all manners of minutiae about folks in the nearby hamlets. The folks he talked about were rarely the people we come to imagine are the "interesting" ones--few authors or actors or musicians or artists.
But the people in his stories were always so very interesting.
There were tales of folks who pulled themselves into good lives.
There were folks who "went bad", usually with alcohol, and never were the same again. I remember my grandfather saying to me once about how he understood that in other regions of the country, social drinking was the norm and caused no great harm, but in our part of the south, alcohol and personal problems just seemed to go together. This seems so anachronistic to me, but suddenly I remember that I am probably of the last generation or two of kids whose father actually literally warned them to stay away from a pool hall.

My grandfather frequently had stories of workaday careers he made sound intriguing, of sad losses of family members, and of interesting international relocations. The entire panoply of fortune and misfortune ran through these stories, but they never seemed sad, somehow. They seemed like some huge life-quilt, and all the stories were just strands in the tapestries.

I sometimes think that we sometimes did a better job in those days of assimilating and dealing with personal idiosyncracies than we do now, even though we "understand" more now. I remember B, the man who worked for my grandfather who routinely was called upon to do any form of weed-clearing, light construction or hard work that my grandfather needed done. B had the bad habit of gambling away paychecks, which no doubt caused his family great anguish. But B worked harder than any man alive, and somehow he was able to earn enough spare money to keep things together. When I imagine how I wish I could be, I imagine working as hard as B. I used to love to see just how effortless he could be at doing the hardest anything.
He was just a common woodman worker, but he had stories to tell.

I notice when I write creatively that I have no ear for dialogue.
Perhaps I do not listen well enough. I like to think that of all the skills one can cultivate, listening to others is the most pleasurable in the long run. It's like we have all these incredible novels around us, waiting to be told, if we only have the ears to hear them. We look at their covers, and they can look pretty unimpressive--but if we can get through the first few pages, then they can entertain us so much.

I went internet surfing last night to find more self-publishing resources. I found a wonderful website that does point by point comparisons of the major and minor print on demand folks. The good news is that I think I found a company that is both reasonably priced and permits me to submit a simple manuscript without all the bother of re-formatting into some abstruse format. But for this post, the point is that I found the reviews site through a surf from a site I read about in a book, to a site I found by googling that site, to a link in that site which got me to the review site, which turned me on to the small print on demand publisher. I feel as though in real life, we also learn so much by surfing peoples' stories. I tend to "have my interests" and to wall myself off into my interests. But what incredible human hyperlinks I could find if I could only just let the mouse fly and surf through peoples' stories.

Life is one long novel, and I worry I skip too many chapters. People are all people, which is refreshing, somehow, but their nuances are so different. It is comforting to see the snowflakes fall; it is intriguing to catch some in one's hand and see their individual patterns. I want to spend less time hurrying, and a bit more time just reading.

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