Part of the reason why blog updates have flagged off has to do with the dead battery in my camera. I feel funny about posting an entry without an image at the top, about filling this space with no visual stimulation at all. Only words to paint pictures. People seeing this big block of text and hesitating. TL;DR.
“It’s true that you might be socially isolated because you’re in the library or at home and so on, but you’re intensely alive. In fact, you’re much more alive than these folks walking the streets of New York in crowds, with no intellectual interrogation and questioning going at all. But if you read John Ruskin, or you read Mark Twain, or, my God, Herman Melville, you almost have to throw the book against the wall because you’re so intensely alive that you need a break. It’s time to take a break, get a little dullness in your life, take Moby Dick and throw it against the wall the way Goethe threw von Kliest’s work against the wall… There are certain things that make us almost too alive. It’s almost like being too intensely in love – you can’t do anything.”
That’s a quotation from Cornel West, a modern philosopher whom you’d probably know to see. I just caught a documentary on Netflix called “Examined Life,” and it’s the type of film that always gets me thinking – perfect for the state of mind I’ve been in all day, one that demanded I write a blog entry at some point, picture or no picture. I’ve fired up a little CBC Radio 2 classical stream on the iPod dock. I have a soft spot for Radio 2, since Radio One and Radio 3 get all the attention.
It’s occurred to me lately that perception is just a presentation of the boxes that we pack for ourselves, the stuff we keep around to deal with everyday life. I run a newsfeed service known as Netvibes, which essentially corrals all of the websites I read with any regularity into one page, separated by tabs for e-mail, news, friends’ blogs, movie news, movie blogs, movie critics, op-ed columnists, and professional wrestling. Over on the news tab, I have feeds coming in from the CBC, CNN, the Vancouver Sun, the Globe and Mail, and Wired among others. The movies tabs contain similar collections, and so on.
I typically always have one of my GMail accounts open at all times. Ditto my Twitter and Tumblr feeds. The rest is an ever-changing hodgepodge of pages that I need either in the moment or over an extended period of time. These are largely the boxes that I’ve packed for myself, the lenses of perception through which I view the world and fall into the tricky assumption that most of the world is exactly like me. I’ve surrounded myself with news sources that cater to my interests and blogs and columns written by people that I identify with. Twitter and Tumblr are a steaming kettle of fish. I put an exorbitant amount of stock into trending topics and media that garner a shitload of notes. “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air” is currently trending, and I need to find out why. The world clearly thinks it’s very, very important, and since I’ve probably spent a collective month all told watching “Fresh Prince” episodes, I clearly do too.
What I’m getting at, I guess, is that using the Internet creates the illusion that I’m finding out more about the world, that I’m connecting with it more effortlessly, when all I’m really doing is perpetuating my own outlook on things most of the time. It’s not that I’ve lost my ability to think critically, more like I’m not putting it through the same sort of exercise regimen I did while going to school. It scares me a little, sometimes, being out of school, because I have so little discipline. The opportunity to waste away intellectually is one I may just eventually succumb to, and then… what? I don’t know. See? I can’t even put a capper on that thought, a real zinger.
Which brings me around to that West quotation – it’s all well and good to pick up Melville and throw it against the wall in a fit of living (and what a dent my unfinished hardcover edition would make), but what is that living amounting to? I’m not sure I want all that learning if I can’t share it with other people. Okay, sure I do, but what good does it do me? The way I learn has always bugged me – I’m able to absorb a lot of information at one time, but without the opportunity to exercise it I find it exceptionally difficult to hold on to. I need to talk about it with people, to circle the idea through dialogue before I pounce, to inject it with the jolt it needs so that it won’t pass away through neglect and disuse. That’s what school trained me for, after all.
I had some people over last week, to watch a movie. We did, and it was fun, and a conversation started up afterwards. I had a feeling of euphoria the entire day following. Back in Ottawa, I learned that I was a born host. It didn’t matter how many people were coming over. I made the place look spotless, put just the right kind of music on, the right DVD in, the right snacks in bowls on the coffee table, extra beers in the fridge. I wanted people to know that if they came over to my place, they would be guaranteed a warm, fun environment, and they’d want to come back. Like my apartment was a Denny’s or something.
I still feel that way. I want to share my life with people, and not simply in a romantic sense. And I want to do it now more than ever, in part, because I’m no longer worried that my opinions about the world are unfounded, even if they are opinions I’ve unpacked from the boxes. But there’s a little twinge of something in me these days when I tell people about the latest thing I picked up at the antique store, and not just because buying antiques was something I didn’t do back in university. The twinge has to do with the fact that I’ve started filling my life with… stuff. And I’m really the only one who uses it.
A couple of weeks ago I was having a conversation with a girl I work with. She was selling her record player, and I told her I might be interested in buying it because I was thinking about starting a vinyl collection. “Don’t start a vinyl collection,” she said, as if I’d told her I was thinking about moving into the shittiest flat in the Downtown Eastside. She made some good points, and it got me thinking about collections I have going already – particularly my movie collection, which sits at several hundred discs on a bookshelf. I’ve been adding to it by one or two discs a week for the last couple of years. It’s almost full.
After that conversation, I looked at my movie collection and thought to myself, “When is this going to stop?” What do I need all this shit for? I asked myself similar questions about seven or eight years ago, back when I briefly (very briefly) thought about giving away most of my worldly possessions. I travel and move around a lot. I should be working to streamline things, not add more anchors. There are DVDs on my shelf that I haven’t even watched yet, or have only watched once since buying them 10 years ago. They’re only there because in the back of my mind I’d rather they be there than not, just in case.
I’m sure there’s a condition involved. I always think of the words of Seymour in “Ghost World,” a character I’m afraid of turning into on a fundamental level: “You think it’s healthy to obsessively collect things? You can’t connect with other people, so you fill your life with stuff?” I don’t think it’s an obsession I can’t shake. I’ve already cut back on my disc purchases. Getting Netflix a couple of months back actually made things easier; it turns out I have few qualms with loading movie after movie from the cloud, even if they’re lower quality, and it’s a lot cheaper than shelling out money on discs.
I just read that last paragraph back. This has turned to babble. So be it. I was originally talking about throwing Moby Dick against the wall. Being overcome with the feeling of life to the point where I act out on my own in some way, alone in my apartment on a cold, rainy Vancouver night. I guess my version of tossing novels around lately has been to crack my laptop open and post something, anything – a picture, a post, a review, an e-mail. Something that makes a spark, that encourages the babble of others. Artists still bring fits of life on, but not in the same way the people I know do, through the communication of their own truths, dug out from conversations, from electronic flares shot off unexpectedly. Expressions that take me by surprise.
In a couple of weeks I’ll be making the rounds again. Bought a 60-day pass this time. Back in the faces of old friends grown half a year older, some more. Thinking of heading down the West Coast after all is said and done. I’m fantasizing about a dusty motel somewhere on the ass end of Los Angeles. I don’t even know where that is. But I know I’ll write while I’m there, smoke a cigarette, read a book. And toss it.