Sunday, November 6, 2016

I Love It

A strange thing happened to me when 2014 gave way to 2015.

I started to love everything.

It began over the winter break--a week in Oregon after my first term of MFA studies had wrapped up, and through two weeks of travels east to visit family and friends and a stop over in San Diego when we got back to the west coast. In the mornings and evenings and on planes and between times spent with people I came to see, I read When Captain Flint Was Still A Good Man, the debut novel by Nick Dybek who was in his first year teaching at Oregon State. I was in throes of trying to decide whether I should take his class--if I could justify bucking popular convention and not only teach two sections of English Composition the following term, take workshop, and take a seminar on literary magazines, but also add a third class with an intensive reading list.

The thing is, I loved the book.

Moreover, I loved what it represented to me. It explored themes of father-son dynamics and friendship, coming of age in a small town community, economic disparity, life-or-death decisions thrust upon people in no way equipped to make such choices. The novel represented so much of what I had tried to accomplish through my writing at so many different points in my life, all wedged within in the voice of a young male first-person narrator.

By the time our last plane of the trip touched down back in Oregon, I had fewer than fifty pages to go in the book, and my mind had been made up. If this author were teaching a craft class about writing first-person narratives--moreover, a class that's repeated departmental pleas for more students attested had a low enrollment--wouldn’t I be a fool not to take it?

I took the class and discovered more books that I loved. Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived In The Castle, William Maxwell’s So Long, See You Tomorrow, Junot Diaz’s The Brief, Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. Not since a freshmen year seminar fourteen years earlier, when Professor Chris Wixson hit me with a one-two punch of Jeanette Winterson and Patrick Marber had I so readily loved such a high percentage of what I was reading, proclaiming I loved each novel and that each would surely influence my own work.

Meanwhile, in my class on literary magazines, I read a book review of W. Todd Kaneko’s Dead Wrestler Elegies, written by Brian Oliu, published by Diagram, framed as a series of short poems all its own demonstrating a real passion for and knowledge of pro wrestling, that I not so much read as devoured. And yes, I was in love again.

A friend lent me a biography of Jim Henson, written by Brian Jay Jones, that I read over morning cereal and coffee. Sure enough, I fell in love, too, with the story of a reluctant puppeteer who just wanted to crack into the television business, and ended up redefining the modern landscape of puppetry.

I loved Interstellar so much I saw it in the theater twice. I loved WrestleMania 31. I loved Beat the Champ, a new album from The Mountain Goats.

And there came a point when I began to question if I were loving too easily--affected by my recent engagement and overwhelming feelings toward Heather; anxious to appreciate everything that came my way during this grad school adventure, a self-professed two-year sabbatical from real life. Had I, whose claims to (modest) (Internet) fame were rooted critiquing and nitpicking a cappella performances and pro wrestling matches gone soft?

Maybe so. Or maybe I had just stumbled upon a treasure trove of work that it was a joy to consume, and a community of people with similar enough aesthetics to drive me toward more of the good stuff.

Whatever the case may be, I decided that loving too much wasn’t such a bad thing. Whether that capacity to love were truly drawn from internal motivations or the inherent quality of the work around me, who was I to question it? Who was I not to sit back, and drink in the beauty?

I loved the world around me.

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