Sometimes when I finish a novel, the fictional world to which I've escaped seems to fade from my consciousness as if the fabric of its reality dissolves. I love movies based on books, but I've never yet seen a movie that did as much with a novel as my own imagination. I know I'm not alone in this trait. I read a critic named Rachel Lindley who posited that while reading a book one's imagination is one's "screen", but in fact, the nice thing about novels is that they can be both more and less cinematic than watching a movie. My own imagination sometimes "fleshes out" entire scenes in books, while in other times, I "see" only so much of the story as I wish to see. When the last page is turned, the book's characters stay with me, but I return to my own personal Kansas.
I think it's tempting sometimes to see one's own life as the mundane life and life in the novels as somehow more "real" and "exciting". Kansas becomes some metaphor for the humdrum pounding of existence. I'm tempted to say that what strikes me the most about my own particular life is my extreme unimportance, but it would be more precise to say that my importance is limited to a very few, narrow spheres. I am important to my wife. I'm important to my family. I am important to a select group of friends. I don't think that it really matters whether I am "important" or not. What matters is how I live and what I do.
Sometimes I think it's possible to hypnotize oneself so as to minimize the roles one can play in doing the things one considers important. It's easy to overlook the challenges that one can take on with one's own limited skills. I drew myself up before the mirror yesterday with an accusing look, when I remembered a kindness I promised to do someone that I have procrastinated doing for a few months.
It's so easy to come to see everything going on in the wide world as so remote. I listened yesterday to a story of young Chechen women who, in a misguided effort at martyrdom, suicide bombed a rock concert in Moscow, and felt not only horror but so much distance from this situation. I worry that I listen to the public radio, soak in the story, but it is one more novel, to dissolve when read.
On the old "Mission Impossible" television series, the tape on which a top secret assignment was given always ended with "This message will self-destruct in sixty seconds". How many of the things in my life self-destruct just after I hear them?
It's not as though one's own slice of Kansas lacks challenges of its own. After all, Kansas itself had the Grasshopper Plague of 1874. In August of that year, swarms of grasshoppers came out of nowhere and swept across Kansas, eating every bit of vegetation in sight. Food had to be shipped in from the east in order for Kansans to survive the winter. The next year the farmers in Kansas harvested a bumper crop. As one pundit noted, though, all this may explain why one of Kansas' nicknames, "The Garden State", never caught on.
I think that the events of September 11, 2001 helped remind a lot of folks that people in this country do not stand "outside history", in some cloistered space, free of danger. I think that the Iraq war, the election which placed Mr. Bush in office and the careening rises and falls of the economy since 1998 have also helped add to the sense that history surrounds me rather than merely being an NPR story.
A friend remains unemployed after a year and a distant friend fought in the recent military actions. Aside from the news, though, two of my extended family members battled serious illness in the last year, making this business of living seem very real and immediate to me.
I think it's tempting to me to want the hermetically sealed existence, in which I do only things I enjoy or are good at doing. This provides me with yet another novel, a fictional world I can self-create, drawing on the props of real life. I notice on LiveJournal that when something I post does not resonate with someone, or irritates someone, then I feel a little sad. It's as though I wish my weblog experience could be nothing but affirming exchange of the purest ideas. But this is a devaluation of other people. It's tempting to make the weblog process just one more hobby, constructed only for my own amusement and vanity. I prefer to think of the people who post as people, who exist other than for my personal amusement.
I like what I call the "musical comedy" or "novel" aspects of the weblog. But as time goes on, I treat my weblog less as an entertainment and more as a platform for reflection on what I think about things. I find that the "daily journal" aspects of the weblog almost matter less for me, because my personal Kansas, located in Texas, consists of little more than too much work, inordinate amounts of good fortune, a good deal of light play, and more than a measure of silliness. When I post what I think about things, I learn from others how their thoughts differ from mine. This seems to me a healthy dose of reality.
In all my life, I feel the need to click heels together and return to what is real. The self-hypnosis which transports me to Oz features some nice views of horses of different colors. I think, though, that even if my life features little more than a bike with a little basket rather than horse-drawn carriages in Emerald City, I must ride as best as I can.