So I’ve got this stack of books I’ve read. They’ve all been put down–like one does with a lame beast–but not put to rest. They sit there in the corner of my office, leering at my dustily.
Every time I skim the titles, hazy recollections of plots and characters are jarred loose, and the jagged memories spawn a few mental loops. And before I get back to work I have to tidy up my head-space all over again.
Most of these, but not all, are from my book club, which insists on picking head-pounders on a 4-6 week basis. It’s great stuff, and I keep up… mostly. The rest are those things that the zeitgeist blows before me, things that seemed important at the time. Malcolm Gladwell n’at.
What is noticeably absent from the stack is any coherence, some evidence of a course of study, a systemic exploration of one particular topic or pursuit of a skill or expertise. In other words, no proof that I’m making any progress as a human being, nothing that might result in the enhancement of my well-being: financial, spiritual or otherwise.
I suppose that being a better person will have to wait. But at least my regrets will be fueled with much fine phrasing and many pleasant, if borrowed, bons mots.
But back to those mental loops. Do you know this one? This phrase?
The idea that we’ve got all of these “open loops” in our brains was popularized by a management guy name David Allen in his book Getting Things Done. (Never read it!) Mr. Allen recommended that you close the loops – the nagging, spinning, stresses in the brain – by either taking action, or noting them as to-do’s to be dealt with in a prescribed manner at a later time. “Inbox Zero” would be the goal. It’s worth checking out. A clear head is a good thing to find.
So this stash, the aforementioned stack of great works before me, is a source of many mental loops. But if I blog about a book, write up a morsel or two, encase a few insights in digital goo, I can cross it off of the list for good. That way, I’ll have something to refer to in docile, grandfatherly, later-life senility. I can put the damn thing aside and say with confidence: “Yes, I’ve read that, and here’s my take-away…”
But where to start? Something spicy, something hot, something like…. Middlemarch! Nothing brings the heat like George Eliot!
In all seriousness, I cuddled quite contentedly with the first chapters of Middlemarch this summer, letting the prose fill a few delightfully importuned hours as I sailed north on uncertain seas to gaze upon glaciers. (A family-filled Alaskan cruise, it was.)
But all still-afloat boats reach harbor eventually, and once back in the lower 48, I had to slice through the next 500 pages as though the America’s Cup was within my grasp, finishing mere hours before book club commenced. Whew. Ms. George has many words.
But good words. No slagging here. And she got me on one point, one character, one not-so-pleasant denizen of her tale: Mr. Casaubon.
Mr. Casaubon is pushing past 50, dried up like an old prune in the telling. (I assume that a little yoga, kale and botox would have brought him back ’round.) And he’s dying with work undone. His study is packed with so many papers, sketches and outlines for a great work, yet unfinished. It shall be called… The Key To All Mythologies! But the thing is (spoiler!) that it’s all a load of shit. Just a bunch of half-formed, ultimately uninformed speculations about the ancient history of mankind from the point of view of one pompous old pampered Englishman. Why did he never finish The Key? Because he wasn’t crazy, he knew it was never going to quite add up. Finishing, publishing would have been proof of failure. In a moment he’d go from local genius to provincial crank.
And I sit here, a few feet away from my own box of thoughts, my stack of scratch paper and napkin-scrawled noodlings. And I wonder if it’ll ever amount to anything, if a decent tome or two might someday arise from the pile, if a song worth singing will find voice. Sigh.
Yes, I too am another maker of many notes, a twirler of many mental loops. But I’d still like to put a few down (bang!) before the end catches up to me.