The stories others remember 

Today for class my professor had us text our friends and family and ask them, “what’s your favorite story about me?” She then had us put away our phones and wait.

After awhile, we were to pick one of the responses and think about why that person remembers that story, and what it says about you. The idea was to deconstruct why we tell each other stories–to see the stories we tell at parties as a (true) mythology of ourselves. This is how we cement our personal identity in a group.

My sister told me her favorite story was the time we were playing hide and seek in my grandmothers house. It was my turn to hide, and the grown ups were telling me ideas on where to go. Now, my grandmother collects dolls. Three-foot-tall, life size dolls that live in the corner of her living room. My sister is counting down, and I decide, hey, I’ll be a doll.

So I posed in the back, smiled, and waited. My sister hunts around the house for a long time–she even makes eye contact with me and keeps looking. She actually thought I was a doll.

I thought for awhile why she remembers this and what it says, both about me and about her. It was funny, sure, and I do love making her laugh. But why does she tell other people this story? What trait of mine does it show, in disguise? 

I realized that this story shows that I don’t shy away from a challenge. Yes, a “safer” hiding spot would have been under the table or in a closet. But I chose to be a doll, the more interesting and difficult path.

This class literally just ended about 10 minutes ago, but I can tell this will be something that sticks in my mind. Why d we tell stories? Funny stories, cool stories? What does it say about us and our relationships? How is it that we bond through storytelling?

Telling stories is, of course, what I plan on spending my life doing. I guess it had never crossed my mind why stories exist in the first place. It had always seemed so obvious, just an integral part of humanity. It is, I think, integral. 

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A shelf of unread books

When the Used Book Superstore opened up two miles down the road, I began buying books by the dozen. Books I’ve never heard of, in genres I’d never read before. Classics, like Gone With the Wind. Collections of Shakespeare and the full Sherlock Holmes.

I don’t think I’ve read a single one of those books.

When I began working at the Globe, my trainer told me that if you walk by the arts section, there are always bins full of books you can just take. They’re books they’ve already reviewed or have decided not to review, and instead of tossing them they just let you take them. Advanced copies! Unpublished gems! I would take one every day, maybe two on Fridays.

I haven’t read any of those books, either.

It’s not that I don’t like reading–I LOVE reading. It’s just that it takes up a lot of time. I used to devour books, but now I read them at a snail’s pace. It took me six months to finish Life of Pi, only reading snippets while on the subway.

It’s not that the books are boring, either. They’re on subjects I like, like poetry, art, religions, even on writing itself. They’re fun fiction stories with grabbing back covers. I just haven’t gotten to them yet.

And so, I have a shelf of unread books. Well, shelf might be the wrong word…it’s more of a full bookcase. I have four (!) bookcases in my bedroom at home: one for my absolute favorite books, one for books I loved as a child, one for miscellaneous books and Harry Potter, and one for books I’ve yet to have read.

It’s a disease, really. I’m addicted to hoarding books.

I recently made myself admit that I wouldn’t ever read half of the books I have acquired, and donated about 15 to the library. At least there, there’s a fraction of a chance that someone will read them, as opposed to my room where the chance is practically zero. My next book won’t be Art: Unraveled, no matter how cool the cover looked while walking past the arts section.

I don’t know why I do this. I don’t hoard anything else. I go through my closet at least once or twice a year. I never buy anything I know I won’t use, except books.

Maybe it’s because I want to be a writer, and books fascinate me. Maybe it’s because I want to be the kind of person who reads everything, even though I just don’t.

Well. Maybe this summer I’ll be a big reader. If I have time, between work, Nano, blogging, German (am I still pretending to learn German? I haven’t practiced in so long), cooking, and everything else. Well, this is why I never get through books. They’re low on my priority list, even though I love them.

I think I put things I enjoy at the bottom of my priority list too much.

James Patterson and the State of Fiction

Hello again! Today I bring you my final Emerson Pub Club book review of the semester, about James Patterson.

As a teenager I loved James Patterson’s Maximum Ride series, but as they went on (and as I grew older and more interested in books) they began to frustrate me more. Going into this post I intended to pick Patterson apart, to list his inadequacies, to rant about how I couldn’t believe people think he’s a good author. During my research though, I had a change of heart.

Turns out, Patterson may be a genius.

You can read my post here.

Potterheads Rejoice! (But Maybe Not so Much)

Check out my thoughts on Harry Potter and the Cursed Child and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them:

http://web.emerson.edu/undergrad-students-publishing/2016/03/25/alumni-author-spotlight-frank-gao-2/

I would prefer not to.

“I would prefer not to.”

The famous words of the resistant Bartleby Herman Melville’s short story “Bartleby the Scrivener,” are a quiet rebellion against society. It is not an outright refusal, it’s a preference. His words mark Bartleby as an individual who has his own ideas, exactly the sort of person the capitalist lawyer cannot understand nor control.

Bartleby is a scrivener—a low-tech copy machine.  He does nothing all day except copy papers, until he chooses to do nothing at all. He even refuses to quit, or leave the building.

I take this as an Office Space lesson in what the workforce does to people. When there’s no outlet for individuality or creativity, it bursts out of the seams in a destructive mess. If people can’t use their minds, their minds will use them.

If there’s no way to do anything fun, or engaging, or individual, one will eventually “prefer” not to do anything at all.

Bartleby’s job could be done by a 6 year old with good penmanship. A lot of jobs could be done with 6 year olds with good penmanship, or 6 year olds who can use a phone, or 6 year olds who can figure out a cash register. No wonder a lot of us feel useless.

Perhaps if Bartleby went for a nature walk after work, or took up playing guitar, or tried art lessons, or cooking, he would not have felt the need to rebel. Maybe if he unleashed his creative individuality in a healthy way it would not be fighting him from the inside for release. If Bartleby felt respected and important and alive, perhaps he actually would have preferred to work during work time as long as he could be himself during his off time.

Perhaps not. Perhaps I am looking at an old story with new values, with the knowledge of the severity of mental illness and a 21st century appreciation for creativity. But I do know that if Bartleby were alive today, the lawyer would have more tools at his disposal for dealing with who is likely a man dealing with depression. Then again, Bartleby would have more tools to express himself with. So if today’s world is easier for both parties…why do I and many like me relate to Bartleby?

Is it because we all feel useless and unappreciated? Is it because we are all individuals, ready to burst out of our skins? Is it because no one is ever satisfied, and everyone would prefer to just sit on a couch doing nothing? Is it because we’re all depressed? All caught under the thumb of a unforgiving world?

I suppose I understand Bartleby’s preference not to. I understand, but do not agree.

I prefer not to be like Bartleby. I prefer not to prefer not to.

I prefer to live.

A Thoreau Pilgrimage

“Our life is frittered away by detail. Simplify, simplify.” Henry David Thoreau.

My friends tend to be a bit cynical. Nothing is sacred—when I brought up that I was reading Thoreau in class, they immediately took to calling him nothing but an over-read hippie living in his parent’s backyard, who didn’t even live off the land like people think he did. He was a Ralph Waldo Emerson-wannabe whose 200-page-long rambling was somehow called a masterpiece.

Well…sure, yeah. But the thing to remember with Thoreau was that while he appreciated nature deeply, it was never his mantra to leave civilization altogether. After all, a lot of his work is quite political. He did love Emerson, and actually lived on land owned by Emerson (not his parents). However, beyond the cynical retaliation my generation sometimes tends to have, Thoreau is a pioneer of minimalism and the positives of solitude.

“Simplify, Simplify.”

My grandfather once gave me a shirt two sizes too big with that quote on it. He’s also given me about three different copies of Walden, and once mailed me a copy of Civil Disobedience, with his own highlights and notes in the margins. He’d often sketch trees, birds, lakes and mountains in the corners of the pages before giving them to me.

I think he saw introversion in me from a very young age. He too is an introvert, and spends quite a lot of time walking alone in the woods, fishing, reading, and sketching. He once sent me a letter with the only “I never found a companion that was so companionable as solitude,” written in it, another Thoreau quote.

It’s nice to have someone like that to look up to. Someone who won’t call you anti-social for wanting to be alone, but who will actually encourage it—in healthy doses, of course. I do think he was smart to tie nature to my ideas of solitude, though. Being alone in nature allows for all the positives of being alone without any of the negatives. You don’t feel lonely or unproductive when in nature.

While I think I have the “solitude” part down, I still have to work on “simplifying” things. That’s alright. Perhaps this summer I’ll go back to Walden Pond. Maybe being in that sacred place will help me understand, just as it helped Thoreau so long ago, and my Grandfather when he was my age. Perhaps this is our version of a pilgrimage.