Monday, May 21, 2018

A Curious Thing

Like most boys of my generation, of my part of the world, I learned to read in the first half of first grade, when I was about six.  But I don't remember not knowing how.  And I don't remember when I learned that I liked reading ... but certainly by grade two I was reading, because I have memories sitting in Mrs. Nichols' class reading a book.  And I remember writing fiction by grade three, as I remember doing it in Mrs. Zachariah's class.  I've read constantly and ever since.

When we begin to read, everything is new.  The stories are all new, but so it the non-fiction.  We decide to read a book about dinosaurs, and everything in that book is new.  We read about ants, or the human body, or stories about Abraham Lincoln, and every page contains something we've never seen before or heard.  Knowledge is fresh and exciting as it pours from hundreds of books into our heads.

Then, a curious thing happens.  We begin to fill up.  Stories become old and familiar.  Facts about what the heart does, or who travelled across Asia to China, cease to be special.  But it's no problem, not really.  When I went from Elementary to Junior High, there was a whole new library, a bigger library.  And it happened again with I went to High School.  And then, even before I graduated, I found the University of Calgary Library.

Of course, we have the internet now.

But if we keep reading and reading, another curious thing happens.  As we dig deeper and deeper into something we love, more and more we keep finding the same old stuff, over and over.  Where once every page was fresh, now whole chapters just repeat things we already know.  We find ourselves reading whole books and learning nothing new.  Nothing new at all.

Most, here, decide that's pretty much it.  Oh well, that was interesting; but it seems done.  I know everything I'm probably going to know about butterflies.  Or gemstones.  Or D.H. Lawrence.

There are those who will tell you that it's impossible to know everything ... particularly if it is a very deep subject, like engineering and medicine.  But see, these things have their specialties too.  And eventually, when reading a whole book only yields the odd sentence or two that tells something new ... it stops being worth it.

Or rather, it starts to frustrate.

Because, if the reader is anything like me, the answer is no, what I know isn't enough.  It isn't.  I started reading content about D&D in 1979 and burned through just about everything in about six years.  By ten, every book, every new game, every adventure, just sounded like more of the same. And I know that many reading here know exactly what I mean.  But I wanted more; I always wanted more.

If TSR and game stores couldn't put books on the shelves that would tell me what role-playing was, well, there were books about role-playing that had nothing to do with games.  And if the company couldn't tell me more about medieval life and people, there were books about that too.  And if the company couldn't explain why there was no economic system, there were books about economics. And about games.  And about anything in the world that I could think of that might eventually come back around to giving me something new that I could know about this game.  Because for me it wasn't butterflies, or gemstones, or D.H. Lawrence.  It was D&D.

Again, with reading, something curious happens.  We read and study and follow and collect our collective bits of new things, until we finally get right out there on the frontier ... where we stand and everything behind us is what we know, and everything in front of us is what nobody knows.

From there, we're on our own.  From there, the process is to stop looking for new things in books, but to start making new things with our hands.  Because no one else is left, but us.  If we've done our work right, we're ready.  We're not following, we're leading; and we have a responsibility to think and work and make things well.

Yet ... well ... it's not as though we had any choice.  When I picked up those first books as a boy, I might have been led anywhere.  I might now be making any thing.  Somehow, through twists and turns, I would up here.  With this obsession.  When once I read with delight, now I make with delight.  And write it down with delight.

So it goes.


JB said...

I feel you.

Fuzzy Skinner said...

I can definitely relate to this. For all of the faults of AD&D 2nd Edition, its authors encourage the reader several times to go to their local library if they want more information on heroic archetypes, or medieval titles for nobility and clergy, or various diseases. (And you've certainly done so without prodding from TSR; a brief glance at the wiki is a testament to the breadth of your research.)

A quote from Frank Zappa that I feel is appropriate: "If you want to get laid, go to college. If you want an education, go to the library."

G. B. Veras said...

One of my favorite stories is a short story from Jorge Luis Borges in which one character makes the following statement: "It doesn't matter read if not reread."

The story is "A Weary Man's Utopia" (Utopía de un hombre que está cansado) which was contained in the book "The Book of Sand" (El libro de arena)... I think you can find this short story in the internet if you wish to do so.

The story is so short I can't explain much without spoilers but Borges' short stories could be fresh content if you didn't read anything yet.