Trouble with reading books not in my voice, a voice I don’t identify with, is that I start skim-reading. My mind voice can’t smoothly follow the prose, so it stops comprehending what my eyes are sending it and I catch stray words here and there and am forced to skip back to the start of a sentence once I reach the end of it, which is less reading than it is looking at a black and white photo of a Twister mat and figuring out which direction the colors are going, left-right or up-down.
I’m reading The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt and it’s a female author writing a teenage boy but I don’t think that’s the issue. Most of the time I forget it’s a female author, so that’s good for a male first-person, but the choices made in the descriptive passages, what gets detailed and what doesn’t, feel very not me. I’m always very aware I’m reading, not thinking, not absorbing. Which is fine, styles don’t always have to be my style, but when I come back to try to write from reading a not-me voice, it’s difficult to return to my own dome. I try to go back over my own writing and I still read it the way I’ve been reading this book. Which is a very alienating feeling, like I don’t belong in my own head.
So I’m here to write for a minute to get myself freed of the cobwebs.
My wife talked me into ordering the baseball video subscription again, even though I’m jobless and trying at least semi-hard to avoid unnecessary expenditures. But she’s right, I do use it, I do watch it, and I write while I watch. It’s the whole genesis of this baseball novel, if you can call it that.
My Reds are off to a 7-2 start. I don’t think they made it to five games over .500 all last year. Everyone still expects them to finish last in the division, and it’s true some players are over-performing, actually a lot of the players are over-performing, especially the pitchers, but then again our superstar is underperforming so maybe it’s not going to be such a bad year after all. Still, though. There’s something about unexpected success that feels dangerous to me, like it’s unwarranted, undeserved.
I am very, very afraid of false hope. I got a copy of my high school yearbook when Ben’s service was held there in the gymnasium and in it I am listed with my friend Creagh as most likely to succeed and I thought it was a little ridiculous at the time but not ridiculous enough. Like, I was very flattered, but maybe I shouldn’t have been? Most of the people voting barely knew me, which is why I thought it at least a scant bit silly, because what would they know about what I thought was successful? Or was it supposed to be generic success, like Make Money Fuck Bitches? I could only look at my co-winner to compare. Creagh, we all knew, would be the doctor she wanted to be, and she is, and she’s fantastic at everything, and from an outside perspective she is a smashing success. She has succeeded, almost objectively, like if there were ever to be a definition of what success is, she would be it.
I don’t think many of the people voting on that survey knew I had accepted a scholarship to study computer engineering. Most of them just knew me in passing, knew me in the classroom, knew me at lunch. So I was flattered because I had assumed there must be something about me that registered with people as correct. The right type of person, living life in such a fashion to achieve… stuff.
I’ve always put a lot of faith in other people’s assessment of me, ever since first grade. Not kindergarten. Kindergarten I could read and no one else could, so I was in no mood to hear compliments on my intelligence from teachers–I just wanted some friends, not to stand out but to fit in. But by first grade I began to see some perks. I got to spend time in the hallway learning things other kids weren’t ready for, doing projects, reading books. Third grade I was allowed access to an Apple II where I worked as hard as I could to be clever in writing little newspapers I thought would make my teacher laugh and stories I imagined epic. An ego was born.
Fast forward to maybe my second semester of my first master’s program. My stories were falling flat in workshop. I didn’t have a clue how to write an academic essay. The first one I turned in, in fact, the professor gave back to me and said this is very interesting but I can’t grade this, I’d have to fail you, it’s not an essay. It turns out you can’t write an entire essay from the perspective of one of the characters in the book you’re analyzing, even if you throw in some citations. I got very nervous about this whole writing thing. Maybe if it had been my first choice, but already I had discovered I couldn’t engineer. What if I couldn’t English either? What type of success is that?
As much as I did not want the Cubs to win last year–mainly for the reason my father-in-law puts as Who cares about them now? They were the lovable losers, year in and year out. Now they’re the best and the mystique is gone–there was some gratification in their victory in the World Series, in that they built a great team, they won the most games, they were the favorites and despite whatever curses or demons that haunted them, they were finally able to live up to their expectations. For most teams who win a championship, for most athletes who get first place in the Olympics or at golf or what have you, that has got to be the most satisfying part, is that for at least one day you can stop questioning yourself about how successful you are. You can point to the score board and say well at least I know I’m better than that guy. Wimbledon says I’m the best, so I will take their word for it. Even moreso with the Cubs, who did win the most games but then again they were the Cubs, so as the playoffs began they could point to the scoreboard and say look, we’re the favorites, we’re the number one seed, and other people would follow their gesture and say Oh you mean up there where it says Cubs? Yeah, good luck with that.
So no, you can’t call me too excited about the Reds’ hot start. I’m too leery, too weary to be teased. My ego is not what it once was. The world does not revolve around me.
Then again, as I read Donna Tartt and remind myself over and over again, this won a Pulitzer, this won a Pulitzer, I have to bite my mind’s tongue to keep it from uttering the forbidden phrase: I can do better than this.