When I was a college senior, I took a course titled “Fielding and Byron.” I remember telling my professor something along the lines of, “I just can’t get into Tom Jones.” She looked down at me and replied, “You’re not old enough, not ready. Read it when you’re thirty and we’ll talk.”
I was insulted. How condescending! A sophisticated 21-year-old English major like me – well versed in the ways of the world…I could write my own damn picaresque based on the last two years alone...if she only knew – was “old enough” for anything she could throw at me. I even wrote my major essay on “Tom’s Naiveté.” That'll show her…
…that I was the queen of Unintentional Irony. She was, as usual, right, even though I “got into it” quite well just three years later. That professor has been a colleague and is now a friend, and we had a big laugh about that exchange a few years ago when I reminded her of it. Sometimes you’re not ready for a book; it’s just that simple. And sometimes you’re ready again, and again, and again and it’s new every time.
While we may well be able to do dispassionate analyses of our favorite flavor of art (and – burn me as a heretic – sometimes I doubt that we can ever put ourselves outside our analyses), and while we may be ashamed to admit it, we do see ourselves in books, paintings, songs. As a writer, I struggle with taking myself out of the work so a reader can put himself into it. But this entry is getting away from me.
If you’re reading this, you’re probably old enough to remember records. The kind you played on a turntable. The kind you stacked on a spindle and let drop while you lay on your bed and thought about your life in all its miseries and triumphs. Maybe this is something only girls do, but I doubt it. I know enough audiophile men to suspect otherwise. Perhaps you’re back there in your head right now, thinking of a particular song.
If so, track it down soon and play it. Listen to it the way you did back then. Notice the differences in the places it touches you, in the messages it holds. Let go of the part of your intellect that says, “Well, this line doesn’t exactly capture my existential ennui” or “You think your heart is broken now, singer, wait until you express those feelings to the person in question and see how you feel then.” Close your eyes. Be patient. It’s going to be a very different song, but the experience of listening while open to reverie is liberating.
More, soon, on my playlist….