A welcome to readers
As a resident of this planet for more than four fifths of a century, I have enjoyed both successes and disappointments in a wide variety of vocations, avocations, and life experiences. This blog satisfies my desire to share some thoughts and observations--trenchant and prosaic--with those who are searching for diversions which are interesting, poignant and occasionally funny. I also plan to share recommendations about good/great movies I've watched and books and articles which I've found particularly mind-opening, entertaining, instructive. In addition, I can't pass up the opportunity to reflect publicly on how I am experiencing the so-called Golden Years. Write anytime:
Friday, February 7, 2014
BETTER THAN HEROIN, (they say)
Here's a truth I discovered early in my life, one that I continue to employ regularly. In the Paris Review, Mary Karr said it well. "[R]eading is socially accepted disassociation. You flip a switch and you're not there anymore. It's better than heroin. More effective and cheaper and legal."
Wow! Flip a switch is right. I don't venture out of my apartment for any appointment these days without a book in hand. Haven't for years. For me, it must be a real book, makes no difference if it's hard or soft bound, must have paper pages, and so it can't be an electronic version. Not so fast, Mark! I don't diss all electronic books because I can--and must-- immerse myself in a narrated book on tape when I have to perform any repetitive or mindlessly boring physical activity (e.g., treadmill, recumbent bike) for half and hour or so at a time. I confess that in the gym or doctor's waiting room I do not read Jung, Kant, Plato, or Shakespeare to escape the drudgery or the fear--those authors require concentration and focus and a Wikipedia close at hand. Rather I go for authors who write what I refer to as "chewing gum for the mind" e.g., Nelson deMille or Vince Flynn, Ken Follett, or Daniel Silva.
In the gym setting, it takes but a few seconds of listening to a favorite reader from Audible Books to transport me, entirely, to another place, time, and mental state. These days I am listening to volume 17 of Patrick O'Brian's 20 volume series of historical novels featuring Aubrey-Maturin. I confess that this is my second time through the series because the narrative is exciting, and because because the narrator's ability to use a variety of British accents simply ripens the story's effectiveness in transporting me back in time, up the rigging, and into a life filled with hard ship's biscuit full of weevils, the taste of lime and Maderia, the smells of tar and gun powder, and the sounds of holystones scrubbing the decks during the morning watch.
The novels are set in Napoleonic times, in the British navy, far removed in time and place from my treadmill at 24 Hour Fitness. I listen with deeply padded earphones that eliminate the ambient noise of crashing weights and screams of Zumba enthusiasts. When my trainer arrives to announce that it is time to begin our session, and touches my shoulder to get my attention, I jump as if hit with a cattle prod, as I struggle to return to Denver from the deck of a 64 gun Man of War in the South Seas c.1814.
My hyper anxiety in the waiting room of a dentist, urologist, cardiologist, or Emergency Room is almost totally relieved or abated if I can sink my conscious mind into an adventure of espionage or become a participant in realistic military action. So necessary is this kind of reading to my mental health that I have mustered the courage brazenly to turn off a waiting room television set, or at least get its volume muted, so that I can concentrate on my of escape from reality via print. I am unable to remove all distractions, unfortunately, such as the telephone calls being made by the receptionist to remind other patients about their upcoming appointments--usually in a loud and strident voice as if increased volume would somehow guarantee attendance at the scheduled time (think Lily Tomlin without the humor). And don't even get me started on people who use their cell phone in the waiting room to discuss shopping lists, recipes, school problems, personal problems, or politics.
So I've figured out how to cope with the realities --and dangers--of my life by flipping the switch, by changing where I am and what I feel by immersing myself in a book. Disassociation has proven to be an important and inexpensive key to improving my mental health. As an added benefit, reading has allowed me to travel without having to deal with the long lines of security checks at airports, to participate in derring-do without putting myself in actual danger, to love-woo-wed-make love, eat sumptuous meals, and to participate in life and events long past.
Forget the X-rays and drills, the diagnosis, the blood draw, the tread mill's endless challenge. Just flip the switch...