Archive for April, 2016

In The Pipeline

Sunday, April 24th, 2016

An article crossed my e-desk the other day suggesting that a third of all high school graduates never read another book in their lives. While this research has been discredited by some, the data do suggest that reading is on the decline in the USA. It made me wonder how much poorer my exposure to ideas would be if I didn’t read, and further, how we become exposed to new ideas in the first place.

These thoughts took me back to a conversation I had with my friend about a play we were working on. This was a community theater production of “Cinderella,” which was put on at the Tapiola senior center to benefit the local fire department. We essentially had to start from scratch to produce this play. We had a space to work with, but no lights, no set, few experienced people, but a very experienced director.

While we were in the middle of all the work and frustration that are inevitable when a project like this play happens, one of the actors and I had a discussion about why we do this sort of thing. I believe it comes back to the same reason we read… to be exposed to new ideas. Theater, if done properly, transports the audience to a different world, and exploits their natural curiosity to present new ways of thinking about things. As we discussed it, we agreed that the effects on the audience are difficult to predict, but that the intellectual stretching that occurs is probably good for most of us.

And why do we need to be stretched? I can imagine our hunter-gatherer ancestors lived dangerous lives, and when the came upon a situation where food was plentiful and safety was present, that they tended not to want to rock the boat, so they settled down and avoided changes that might return them to the danger they had been avoiding. Modern people seem to have inherited this trait. Once we get comfortable, we’re reluctant to change. But is that good for us?

My belief is that it is not. That the roots of ethnic hatred, racism, and fear of “the other” are all tied up in this clinging we do to our way of life. My advice? Read a book that challenges you. See a play that makes you think; that makes you want to talk to someone about something you experienced in that theater. The costs for this important exercise are low, but the potential benefits for our species are high.

My current book is “Infinite Jest” by David Foster Wallace. I’ve been reading this long book for months now. David is not kind to his readers. He keeps several story lines going at once, flips between them without a clue for his readers, has numerous footnotes that can go on for a dozen pages, and embeds footnotes within these footnotes. His voice changes often enough that I get lost and have to reread in order to figure out where I started to lose the thread. But the story? Oh my does David tell a story! I’ve been introduced to a world I never knew existed, and have become friends with folks that seem doomed to repeat the errors that tossed them out of society like so much garbage. I predict I’ll finish this book, but that it will be a struggle to the end.

Meanwhile, I’ve taken the suggestions of several reliable friends for books that I should read. With my e-reader, it is easy to bop on over to Amazon, order the book, have it delivered, and bam I have another book in the pipeline. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it) I’ve had several books back up since I’ve been working on Jest. Once I’ve finished it, I predict a floodgate of new interesting books in my future.