Reading Stuff to Fill Your Personal Void
June 8, 2011
June 8, 2011
Ever notice the kinds of stories people tend toward? After a while you can almost fit a story to a person. You could line people up and make it into a game show: “Name That Story.” What I’m saying, specifically, is that we tend to read things that match us, or fill the void in our lives, or in some way mirror our personal problems. It seems to be the problems aspect that dominates our choice of story. I’ve seen friends who are in relationship trouble just ooh and aah over stories that were sad like their own lives were sad. It’s a response thing. We’re like little rats in the Skinner Box. We are stimulated to like or dislike through our specific neuroses and narcissistic tendencies. A woman I know who has been cheated on by a spouse “likes” all sorts of stories where people are being treated even worse than she is. It must bolster her spirit to know she isn’t alone in her misery. Just get away from him, I’d like to be able to say. Of course I can’t. And she reads on. There’s a guy I know who’s a serial cheater and is drawn to stories of great undying love. A thing that he, as a serial cheater, will never have for very long. It’s all quite interesting. I did an experiment on myself. I re-read stories that I initially despised, or that bored me, or that I thought just stank. And in some cases during the second reading, the story took on a positive new light. Some of them actually mesmerized me and had a glow. How can this be? I thought. You hated that story. What is happening? Is your taste slipping? It was like when I studied Interior Design. One of our teachers told us to never look at anything ugly for very long. Notice it and move on, he said. He said that if you look at it consistently, say in a showroom window, every day as you get off the subway, that after a while it will seem less ugly. Then bit by bit it will start to grow on you. And you will have creamed your taste. And what is worse than an Interior Designer with creamed taste? Nothing. It’s a career-killer. So when I read over the old stories, and started to like some, and some a lot, I had to stop and mull this over. And I realized that the ones I now liked had somehow worked on me like a form of therapy, or cocktails, or some magic mushroom. They created a distorted false reality. But one which I obviously needed. The stupid story about the wise-cracking tough gal, that initially seemed cliché, suddenly took on a strength and power I hadn’t noticed on first reading. Of course on the second reading I was feeling terribly vulnerable, and it had been snowing for weeks, and I didn’t have a lot of new work being published, and my back had gone out, and I couldn’t find an agent for my third book. And my place was so dusty. So this tough gal was just what I needed to buck me up. I just adored her gum-chewing, ass-scratching tough girl toughness. I tried it out on my husband. I lowered my voice and cracked my gum. What the hell is wrong with you? he said. Well that immediately reduced me to tears. Then I thought of the tough gal and I bucked up a bit. If I were single, I could dress up and go out and look for some guy to make me feel gorgeous and all that. I’m married. I have to make due with what I’ve got. So I go to the books and get my little fantasy jolt from the heroines who are doing just fine, thanks. Of course as soon as the weather turned nice, they seemed like jerks again. And I threw them aside without so much as a backward glance. Thank god. Because like the Interior Design guy said: You don’t want to cream your taste. It’s a career-killer.
Susan Tepper has published 3 books. Her latest is a novel collaboration with Gary Percesepe titled “What May Have Been: Letters of Jackson Pollock & Dori G”.
Susan Tepper was gracious enough to give my blog some lovely reading fodder. While I enjoy her fiction stories, this op-ed piece was a nice change and a welcome addition. Thank you, Susan!