Sometimes you start out with something with no other intention than to complete it: it’s an obstacle in your way of a larger goal, and there’s not a real way around it. What you may see as a task to get done, however, is really a key to your personal Pandora’s box, and what you may gain from that experience is greater than what you expect.
One of the things I think made a huge difference in a previous relationship was the ability to think and talk about our experiences. Often, when I’m enjoying a film, book, or piece of music, I’m not thinking much into it, and while I enjoy things that make me think, most of the time I don’t have much thought about stuff. It’s either “I enjoy it” or “I don’t like it,” which allows me to tolerate a lot of mindless stuff as well as enjoy stuff I may not personally relate to. The problem comes from what matters to different people – a film I enjoy or a story I care about may have no interest whatsoever with the person I am with, and what is important to someone I am with might just be something I enjoy but can’t exactly relate to. I remember a couple of instances where she had wanted me to read or watch something, and I did and enjoy it, but because I didn’t take anything about those activities into consideration or because things hadn’t properly “digested” (where the thought actually builds up, and meanings reveal themselves), the conversation we had after became uncomfortable and jarring, and exposed a difference between us. (To be fair, she was much smarter and mentally faster than I was – I need time to build on that thought, if there is any; she had opinions formed and deeper experiences than I, which was one of the many things that attracted me to her.)
Since she left me a few years back, I’ve been on something of a cycle. Whether this cycle is intended or whether I am the cause or just a passenger on this cycle, is unknown – and probably doesn’t matter as much as the fact that it does happen. What is consistent about this cycle is its continual influence on my worldview: One moment I’ll be looking forward to the future, focused on my tasks and generally enjoying life, the next minute I’ll be looking back on my life, at all of the “mistakes” I made and how these keys things pushed people away or hurt others, or simply kept others from understanding me. A story that had no meaning to me before suddenly has greater meaning because of what the person asking me to read that story was really trying to communicate to me; hidden subtext in a song commonly played takes a whole new meaning and has a greater impact because of why it’s played. To this day I can’t listen to the song “Nothing Man” by Pearl Jam and NOT think of her or what she was trying to get through to my bone-headed mass back then.
This brings me to my Literature class. While I’ve not asked formally, I suspect that my professor had much more intent behind the stories we read for class than she tells us. While they serve a particular aspect of the lessons she intends for us, I also believe she’s trying to communicate a lot of thoughts and beliefs to us through them. I won’t point a finger to an end goal or jump ahead to where I think she’s trying to lead us – when communicating with others, it’s best to let them finish what they are trying to say first, whether that communication is direct (such as this blog) or indirect (such as a list of works by other people for you to read.) However, because it is making me reflect and examine myself in how I view the world, it also allows me to review and understand the views of other people who may not be as accepting of these gifts.
One of the things I realized in class yesterday came from all of this. We had a couple of short stories this week that opened a wide debate on the viewpoints of women in the world. One of the things my professor likes to ask is whether we enjoyed a story and why, and when asked about these stories one of the bigger complaints was how they made us think.
To me, any story that gets you to think, whether it’s fiction or whether you agree with it, is a good story. It’s easy in this media-filled world of distractions to become dismissive and thoughtless in what we take in, especially with the amount of fluff-filled stuff some entertainment brings. (You don’t believe me? Tell me about the deeper meanings and intricate values of “The Smurfs.”) It’s easy to forget that for many creators, whether they’re musicians like Pearl Jam, artists like Picasso, writers like Stephen King or Anne Rice, or Directors like Steven Spielberg, there’s usually something behind their creations, that they’re often trying to break something to their audience, and while they may use “fluff” to keep it interesting and entertaining, often they’re focused on the core messages. The same thing applies to those who share these stories with us: while there may be an obligation behind the works chosen, there’s also something the person sharing this experience is trying to share with us. While we may not have a direct connection to a work like “Sonny’s Blues” (James Baldwin) or “Greasy Lake” (T.C. Boyle), we do have a direct connection to the person – in this case, the professor – sharing both with us. We should learn to appreciate and understand those things that do challenge our viewpoints, even when they’re a “slog” (they’re difficult, if you’ve never heard the term) to get through or when they’re viewpoints we disagree with harshly. The fact that something makes us think should not scare us; it should empower us, it should teach us, and in turn give us a greater appreciation of having read it.
If anything, we should be appreciative of the sharer for the experience, and mad at the “fluff, ” not because it’s useless and entertaining, but because we often forget to appreciate that stuff which is not.