Reading and experiencing altered states

Thursday, June 17, 2010

6 AM. I certainly missed doing this, yesterday. And more or less wasted the day. I haven’t yet got used to that “do something else” part of the routine. Stirred up a bit of discussion yesterday. The distinction between discernment and condemnation isn’t all that clear to some people. But I don’t want to keep on about the subject unless that’s on the Upstairs agenda. What do we talk about today, Papa?

You notice your broken sleep, your uncomfortable feeling of fullness, your lack of physical zest this morning. Too much eating isn’t all that different from too much drinking or too much of anything.

I do know that. Thoreau once observed that he could put his body out of tune even by drinking too much water.

And you’ve become aware that too much reading, too – especially too much reading of a certain kind, what you call chewing-gum reading, does the same thing.

Yes, I know. I like John Sandford, have been reading his novels for half a dozen years with great absorption because I like his good characters even though I don’t like the portrayal of violence.

Sandford, Dick Francis, John D. MacDonald – though he isn’t quite in the same league, being more serious than them even though a writer of what is usually hackwork – Robert Parker. You get these addictions. Why, do you suppose?

I suppose it’s my equivalent of television.

True enough, but not the whole story. They serve another purpose as well, that you are somewhat aware of but not enough. They provide a variety of the same experience you get when you’re writing fiction, but they give it to you on the cheap.

People watching television are like people doing anything. It all depends on their mental state while they’re doing it. You can watch TV actively, or passively. Books, too.

Now, it is true that books by their nature tend to require more activity than television. You read a story, it unfolds before you, but it only unfolds because you allow it to stimulate visualizations in your mind. Television actually produces the visualizations, and all you have to do is follow in its train. It’s the difference between sight-reading music and hearing the music played. In one case, you are providing the connection between concept and internal realization of the concept; in the other, the concept has already been turned into sensory data, which then provide the internal realization. Real-ization: making it real.

And your influence on our fiction was to bring fiction to – well, you say it. I sort of get it already, but I can feel that I don’t have it just exactly.

What you call chewing-gum fiction is fiction where the actual experience of reading the story is absorbing enough, but at the end you aren’t left with anything. You haven’t been moved at any deep level, you haven’t learned anything about yourself or the way things are. There is lore which may be interesting, and, indeed, often that’s the bait, but it is only intellectually, not also emotionally, connective. You have been interested while you read, and you don’t regret the time spent when you are finished, but mainly what you have done is spent a few hours with your conscious attention absorbed and your deeper consciousness elsewhere. Just like playing Free Cell! The time may not have been wasted internally, but there is certainly nothing to show for it mentally or externally. The main thing you get is several hours suspended in a state partly in ordinary consciousness – for of course you are still dimly aware of your surroundings – and partly in the state to which your imagination can bring you, when writing fiction or reading.

But if you write, you have something on your desk at the end of the time. If you read, you don’t.

Now, maybe you don’t want to be a writer, or maybe you would like to be, but you can’t: You don’t have the talent, you can’t find what it is you have to say, your life doesn’t support it somehow – for whatever reason. There isn’t any reason everybody should be a writer, any more than that everybody should be a painter, or a carpenter. But a lot more people than want to be a writer want to experience that state.

[At this point we went off into a long discussion of Hemingway’s writing, too long for this space, and anyway included in Afterlife Conversations with Hemingway.]


One thought on “Reading and experiencing altered states

  1. Perhaps we’re outgrowing the phrase ‘altered states’. TGU doesn’t use it in this post, they simply mention (and contrast) ‘states’ most of us might recognize:
    – listening to music vs playing music,
    – the (possible) relative ‘creativity’ in watching video vs reading vs writing.

    One could add many more:
    – walking in the woods vs driving on the freeway,
    – playing with a child vs making a professional presentation,
    – sitting in meditation vs watching the news.
    We all experience many different ‘states’ daily, including new ones from work here on the blog, reading Frank’s books, communicating with guidance, etc.

    I’m finding it more and more meaningful/useful to see my life as a continuous flow … to see the values and challenges in the different ‘states’ while working to make that flow as seamless as possible.

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