Sunday, July 22, 2007

Heavy-Handed Symbolism

It's bad when it starts to sound like a book.

Art imitates life, at least most of the time, but when my life started sounding like something I might read in a book — a book I wouldn't especially enjoy — I realized I had made some mistakes.
"Drew toiled away as an editor at a newspaper, where he spent his days reading what other people did — some other person's actions recorded into a news story which in turn reported who died, who arrested whom, who was elected, who was interviewed. On occasion, he'd edit a story that someone else wrote about something a third party wrote at a different newspaper. It wore on Drew, but he himself never left the office. No, he was held prisoner by his leather desk chair, his flat screen monitor and the humming overhead fluorescent lights. Somehow, their power combined to trap him in his windowless corner, his eyes darting from side-to-side until they stung."
And so the book would have read, this book that I wouldn't have liked, not only because I don't need a retread of how my working day plays out but also because where the book would be going next would just make me want to put out my eye with a freshly sharpened No. 2 pencil.
"It was at that point, then, that Drew realized that his work as an editor did more than earn him a paycheck; it came to define his very existence. For when the workday ended, he made no more effort to enjoy the world around him than he did while on the clock. He'd merely go to his house and perform a slightly more casual version of his job, reading the writing of others and only occasionally jotting down anything himself. Even more seldom would he actually offer anything of value, anything that gave insight into himself or the world he lived in, which day by day grew smaller and smaller. Drew wasn't living life. Drew had no story to write. Drew was merely reading and editing reports of the lives of others."
What a shitty book!

It's a book that does not deserve to be written, much less read. But as I drove home last Friday night, I realized the comparison was apt. Had I read a book about a boring, unsatisfied character who spent his days editing the stories of others because he had no story of his own to write, I would have accused the author of implementing some heavy-handed symbolism. But it's not symbolism, really, because this proposed scenario is accurate, and those cute little tricks authors use to further convey their story's meaning don't work in the world beyond the written page. Yes, I said it. I'm no atheist, but I don't believe life unfolds using literary devices like foreshadowing, callbacks, rising action, falling action or symbolism. I really am an editor and I am jealous of the people whose articles I edit, as they're going out and existing in the world and I'm merely sitting at my desk, existing in my office, perhaps waiting for the occasional email or phone call to be returned from someone interesting but never really doing much myself. And I really hadn't been writing about myself or anything that I could even attempt to make interesting.

Then I drove home.

Solo drives home are sacred to me, in the same sense that long showers and darkened movie theaters are. It's in spaces like these that I can filter out the distractions of "I wonder if he's updated his blog" and "Sure, I'll check my email again" and "I wonder if someone voted that I was hot or not" and really think, provided I've already shouted myself hoarse from "singing" along to the hits of New Order. Just me, my thoughts and a small number of stimuli that keep me too busy to get bored but idle enough for my mind to wander. It was during one of these drives a few months ago that I realized how much joy video games had once brought into my life and that putting a joystick in my hand might put a smile on my face. Shortly thereafter, the Wii arrived and brought with it a chance to toy with exciting new and nostalgic old technologies. Ask the roommates. If I'm not whipping a Wiimote around, I'm Dixie Kong again, for the first time since before high school. (Unlike ten-year-old Drew, however, I play in moderation. That helps.)

The Friday drive prompted me to solve my current symbolism problem in a similar ways. First — and this one relates right back to my sacred space problem — is to start going to the movies again. I haven't been since Paris, Je Taime, even though there's little in the world that makes me happier than stepping into a movie, even if it's one I don't particularly enjoy. It's almost better that way — talking about what a colossal failure it was makes for a better story anyway. If movie-watching is my religion, than a multiplex is my cathedral.

Second, I need to get back into music. I mean, I still listen to it, but there was a period early in college where I had taste in music that was a good five steps ahead of that of my peers. Some bangs-and-glasses hipster would be going on about some band and I could turn and tell them, "Oh, I had their album in pre-release. I got it through the paper. And did you know they're playing here? Tickets are sold out." I was a terrible snob about it. It was awful. But it was also so much fun, you know? Anyway, That's not so much the case anymore. When Moe got back from New Zealand, she asked me to burn her some CDs, "to hear what everyone was listening to while I was gone." Everyone — as in, the populace. The populace! Clearly, my tastes have grown generic. On that note, I'm making a promise to myself to get back into the swing of new and cool music and once again be that guy who hears about stuff before the unwashed masses do, just for the satisfaction of knowing I picked correctly. (I'm also going to cut back on the music snobbery, I'd wager aging hipsters stand a better chance at being decked than their young counterparts.)

Finally, in order to become an interesting protagonist, I need to do something. Change. Interact with other people. Advance the plot in a way that other characters won't. That's a rule that would seem to apply to literature and life both. I've been sedentary for too long here in Santa Barbara, both in the sense of not leaving the city often enough and not making the time I spend here any more worth anyone's attention. Now, when Spencer and Aly suggest that we head north or south — or even east, for that matter — I won't cop out with "I'm really burnt out from the work week," the excuse that's become my personal motto. A great deal exists between Los Angeles and San Francisco that I haven't seen and that I should see or should at least give a second look. And as more and more former regulars flee Santa Barbara to bigger cities, I have more reason — and means — to make a weekend of such a trip.

That's the plan, at least for the moment. Get out and do rather than sit home not. If all else fails, I'll just drive home and re-think it. At least then I could write about that.


  1. Though there's little in the world that makes me happier than stepping into a movie, even if it's one I don't particularly enjoy. That's almost better that way — talking about what a colossal failure it was makes for a better story anyway. If movie-watching is my religion, than a multiplex is my cathedral.

    Those statements are somewhat ironic, and very catholic. They made me smile.

    I sympathize with you, though. I'm kind of there myself. Hell, even if I did uproot myself, it was to move to the place that's been "home" to me longer than anywhere else.

    By coincidence, I also started going to the movies again, just a couple weeks ago. I used to go all the time, particularly in high school, but then stopped. Now I go.

  2. 1) We lost our fourth for Smash Bros, so if you're interested in getting in on that action we have an opening. I'll certainly be pestering you more about that, once Brawl comes out.

    2) Possibly planning a largish weekendish camping trip up to Big Sur after Labor Day, so if camping is a thing you enjoy doing, you're certainly welcome to tag along for that.

  3. Drew, what was Champignon's sister's name? I know it's not Chimera but I cannot stop my mind from going there and it's making me crazy.