The airborne toxic event

This morning, I connected with a college student out in Claremont, Calif., and we talked about ideas relating to what one should do after school. (A mutual friend set up an email between us, noting our similar inclinations toward, as the mutual friend put it, “life mastery.”) I described following my dream of being a writer and how, despite the lackluster pay, I feel fulfilled as a late-20s professional. To wit, I’ve never held a job in my life that I haven’t loved and that hasn’t transcended the term “job.” I enjoy my work.

But the point here is that, among other things, this cat was asking me about how to redevelop the student press at his school. I told him what I’ve told many others: The story, as a tool, is one of the most powerful pieces of technology ever conceived by humans. It’s one of the great things that separates us from the rest of the planet (one of the good things, mind you, as I tend to err on the side that believes our species’ distinguished skills are hindrances in the great development of Earth). But, hey, stories matter. That’s at least one reason why you’re reading this now, scouring the blogosphere for a morsel of narrative.

I write this to say that I was thinking about that conversation all day. The power of stories, of encoding and decoding cultural messages. No one really talks about this shit. It’s important. We’re a society that “likes” memetic story arcs without actually taking a moment to engage with them. And, OK, that’s fine, but when the bell tolls you’ll find me on the sidelines of this contemporary muck, trading stories and laughs and insights with the people who truly get it — the fringe characters who’ve always been gripping the great wheel of American morality.

One final note: I haven’t read a novel in months. Today, I picked up Don DeLillo’s White Noise, and even just the first 50 pages or so have reminded me again of the power of great storytelling. This is a chilling, remarkably realistic book about the recent history of the American family writ large, the cognitive dissonance inherent in trying to carve a path through the bullshit of our culture. So far, it’s excellent.

Here are the other books stacked upon my coffee table:

  • A Whale Hunt by Robert Sullivan (finished, excellent)
  • River of Shadows by Rebecca Solnit (almost finished, excellent)
  • Our Band Could Be Your Life by Michael Azerrad (halfway through, insightful insofar as I enjoy the bands he’s writing about [e.g. Dinosaur Jr, Fugazi, etc.])
  • After the Tall Timber by Renata Adler (working my way through, very cognizant of the genius within… She’s a journalistic icon)
  • Deep Work by Cal Newport (just a few chapters in… This is something I need to, uh, deeply work on… Really insightful so far)
  • Stories I Tell Myself by Juan Thomson (almost done, this is the memoir of Hunter Thompson’s son… It’s angry and sad and reflective and optimistic at times, but it’s not my favorite piece of HST reading by any stretch)
  • The Meadowlands by Robert Sullivan (see A Whale Hunt above… Sullivan is my new writerly interest; he’s incredible)
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