Tag Archives: Lydia Davis

Cheaper than Therapy

24 Jul

Why do we do it? Why do we sit in our chairs, on our sofas, on the trains, in our tubs, reading? What do we get from it? Escape? Yes. Knowledge? Yes. A journey, laughter, trivia, insight, bragging rights, skills, information, communication …yes. All of these things. And more. Reflections of ourselves mixed with glimpses of a changing reality. A vision of the world that was, the world that is, and flashes of the world that will be.

Reading Varieties of Disturbance by Lydia Davis has brought this out in me. Her structure and simple poignancy has the effect of a whisper, confided to me amidst the secret rooms of the Changing World Society. I feel as if I have been privileged with a glimpse of an abstract shift that our reality will take in the future. The change is intangible and elusive, yet it weighs heavy on me as a reader. Only Davis knows exactly what the end result will be, as she is the one creating it when she writes. There are other writers that also have this effect on me- Borges, Calvino, Perec, Amis, Noon (the list is organic. Ask me this evening and it will be different)- these writers make me feel as if I am witnessing the creation of a new way of thinking, a new way of existing with the world. They create works that break all of my expectations and change the way I understand literature, the way I understand reading, the way I understand authorship, and the way I conceive of what could be.

Another reason I read is frankly, it is FAR cheaper than therapy.

In all seriousness, through no other medium have I been challenged to examine myself and my place in the world than through literature. During the past few years, as I have really decided on what I want to do- how literature fits into my life and how I fit into the world of literature- the amount of reflection needed to enhance my approach to literature has been astounding. As a writer (and mind you, I don’t consider myself a writer, there just isn’t a better term to describe what I do since, technically, I write papers), tackling the challenges before me in my writing style means tackling my personal hang-ups. (Passive voice, anyone? Try analyzing your own self-confidence.) It is an ongoing process, but being assertive in my writing means being assertive with myself. And that could have cost me thousands of dollars if I tried to work on that through the mental health care system.

And yes, there was a point to that which relates back to Lydia Davis. Her stories expose my own inner workings as if I am trying on swimsuits in an abandoned airplane hangar: vulnerable, exposed, uncomfortable, and yet somehow, NOT ALONE:

The Caterpillar, a one page story about an attempt to save a caterpillar that starts out valiant and ends half-assed, embodies all the responsibility involved in “being the change you wish to see in the world.” When what you are trying to help or change or influence is out of sight, how does one keep it from becoming out of mind? And at what point does something become insignificant enough for me to simply. not. care.

Passing Wind. Read that story and just try to tell me that you have no idea what she is talking about. Go ahead. I DARE you.

And finally, because I have to wrap this up sometime, Head, Heart. A 73 word story that is so simplistic, heartbreakingly honest with the depth of the emotion it deals with. This is a story that would have had zero effect on me 10 years ago. Since then, I have come to know two forms of love that are so deeply affecting that they are accompanied by an irrational fear of losing what I have just discovered. This fear has manifested itself in some crazy ways- I now have nagging worries in the back of my head regarding choking hazards, bridges, faulty electrical wiring, bad weather driving, feline forms of S.I.D.S., and an aversion to my husband using a chain saw. My head knows that these are irrational. My head knows that somehow, if the worst were to happen, life would find a way continue, even if, at those moments, I wouldn’t want it to. My head knows that I should STOP WORRYING AND ENJOY THE MOMENT ALREADY!

My heart doesn’t have ears, so it isn’t listening.

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