On living as reading

I used to operate on the idea of writing your life. I expected my students to become authors of their own experience, to revise the stories they’d inherited in order to align with a more authentic becoming. Becoming, of course, was a movement away from being, once I had denied this classic imperative: “be yourself.” To be is not to be, since whoever you are is an isolated thing that you then already are not. As soon as you define yourself, you aren’t that person anymore, and so I replaced “to be” with “to become.” (I’ve yet to figure out when to quote something versus when to italicize it.)

I suppose I also moved from infinitives to gerunds to point out the activity of existence; i.e., being over “to be,” becoming over “to become.” The -ing points us to a present happening, one that is immediately unreal as soon as you try to usher it into the reality promised by a word. In other words, since that’s all we have to try to help the universe understand itself in this inky form, I am presently nothing. This would delight me if there were a me to delight. I can’t be delighted, I certainly can’t become delighted, and I don’t know if being or becoming delighted is any different. Welcome to the playful dance of language (mostly) mourned by the likes of Derrida. They seemed to treat it as though it were a problem, this slippery signification; as a result, deconstruction always comes off as such a pitiful dirge when it’s really a waltz. Of course words matter; they make worlds. But the earth quakes, the world moves, and our words only seem fixed. Let them break. Words were meant to be broken. They are always being broken under their own unbearable lightness anyway. Who are you to deny their nature? They want to escape themselves as much as we do. We shouldn’t be surprised by this. We made them that way.

Or did they make us that way?

Let us go then, you and I, to the point of this piece: Living is about reading your life. You’re catching up with your story, and all you can really do is make meaning of it; you can “wish to understand it,” which, according to Graham Greene (as I’ve quoted countless times before) is the same as loving it. Living in love is surrendering to forces you know you’ll never comprehend; it’s being ignited by those very same forces into a passionate quest to nevertheless work to understand them. To engage them, meet with them, become them. To read them without judgment and instead with wonder and curiosity and patience. To forget and remember and then finally not have to remember that you are always already dancing, always already in rhythm with the universe, one with it.

So suspend your disbelief. Get lost in a good book – why not the one you’re in right now? – and let yourself be surprised by what you discover. Resonance happens in those moments when you make out the words clearly; you see yourself in them, and just as you think you’ve figured it out, the story goes on. Lucky you.

Reading is living is loving. A holy trinity.

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