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Sunday, July 11, 2010

Marking the page

I try to read a lot, although as my kids were playing in the Shark Pool I set up in the front yard, I found that reading was a bit complicated. It was complicated not just because my 1 YO Laney wasn't interested in getting wet today, and was insistent on climbing the steps to the house, and climbing back down, and back up, and back down... but because I'm still unable to see out of my right eye.

Yet as I'm reading -- with one eye -- I come across a section in the Book I'm reading, "The Forgotten man: A New History of the Great Depression," and come across page 65, where the author, Amity Shleaes is describing the impression of the Harvard Teacher Felix Frankfurter on Franklin Deleno Roosevelt. Shleaes writes that Frankfurter and Roosevelt were having a discussion one day, and "one of Frankfurter's biographers reports that the pair talked about reading, and Frankfurter suggested to FDR that he indicate a significant passage with a line in the margin, like the great English historian Thomas Babington Macaulay, rather than underscoring line after line."

Much like in her final column for National Review, Florance King, of "The Misanthrope's Corner," (a column I never much cared for but always forced myself to read) before she started writing specifically for the online version (as you can see here) noted that when she reads she likes to highlight with a highlighter all the things she finds worth noting. And, for that reason, it's important to purchase books rather than borrow them.

That's a problem I have, because I don't feel as an RT I make enough money to be spending $30 plus a week on a new book, which is why most of the books I read I get from my local library, or from Melcat, which is a neat data base where all you have to do is register at your local library and you can get any book that is available in any participating Michigan library for free.

In a way I feel cheap borrowing books, yet that's what I do. I occasionally make a donation to the library, like a few years ago I spent $80 to go on a cruise on the Badger even though I'm not a particular fan of such cruises. It was a shoreline cruise, and my wife and I ended up bored and spent our time watching a movie until the cruise was over. It was $80 well spent, yet I would rather just give the money than get a prize for it.

Yet I borrow books from the library all the time, or from Melcat, and I still find myself marking the pages so I can find what I was most interested in, or the points that were the most useful or worth remembering. Yet, since they're not my books, I find what I do, like what FDR was taught, is make a little indication with the lead of a sharpened pencil. In that way, the entire library is my library, with my markings in every non-fiction book I've read: history, philosophy, psychological, or whatever the interest of the day.

My markings are so subtle that you probably wouldn't even notice them. As a writer I find it is important, if even completely necessary, to mark pages. I need to remember the train of thought that rushed through my mind while reading a certain passage, and by making the mark I can go back to that spot later in the day or week. If I remember what I was thinking, I write something, as I am today, based on that thought, or that comment. Or, if I cannot remember what I wanted to write, I erase the mark. So, usually by the time I return the book all the marks are erased, although still subtly there nonetheless.

The problem I have is that there are times when I get way behind. I find that I'm able to read yet not have time to write, so I may have a whole book marked up and it's time to return it to the library. I find reading is easier than writing because I do most of my writing online, and yet when I'm with my family I don't like to spend my time online. So now I'm returning a book that's marked, and for that I feel terrible. Yet, I feel I can always go back and erase them at a later date, yet I seldom do that. Once the moment has passed, the idea is gone. Once a book is returned, I seldom ever take it back.

Trust me, I don't steal passages from books, but as any writer in my day or in the past, where we need to come up with a new idea to share every day, much of our ideas come from what we read or are influenced by our daily lives. And stacks of paper build up in our "idea's" folder. Andy Rooney talked about his "ideas" folder, boxes and boxes that collect dust atop his desk, that he ultimately never looks at.

I have said folders too. Although I try to go through them once in a while. Usually I find that by the time I get back to an old note I either wrote about it already or I find it obsolete. And sometimes I find that what I noted about years ago is something I no longer agree with, or my handwriting is so illegible that I can't make it out by the time I reread it. In that case I decide it's not worth spending my time trying to recall an old idea, and I just scrap it. It's not like I don't come up with new things to write about anew on a daily basis anyway.

Yet then, you might ask, why do I bother taking notes in the first place. Because, like reading, it's a need. I have to take notes. I have to write, even if it's in the margins. It's like a plague. You can't control it. Just like Stephen King says you cannot control what you write about, you can't control writing in general. Like, you can't control thinking. Writing is like thinking.

When I started this blog I didn't think I'd be able to come up with something new every day. When I was in Advertising School I decided it's not possible to sell enough of something that you'd make a million bucks off it anyway, so I decided that advertising was futile anyway. Yet, as those who make a good living off selling ads can attest too, advertising is a good, yet competitive, living. And I was the fool for thinking that way. I think that was just my way of justifying the excuse that I didn't much like advertising as a career.

You can watch any show on TV and think, "Gosh, how do they keep coming up with new ideas." You can say that while reading a Stephen King book, or while reading the comics section, or by simply reading a column or a blog. How the heck do we keep coming up with new things to write about. Well, if you're creative, if you think, if you read, if you want, if you need, if you have an opinion, if you like, if you hate, if you love, if you smell, if you think, if you are, if you therefore, if you am, then you can come up with a new idea for just about anything.

If you stop. If you smell the roses. If you take time away from socializing. If you socialize. If you don't become too rapt in your selfish deeds, then you can certainly take the time to come up with an idea to write about. Yet if you do, if you are interested, if you care, if you want, if you need, if you love nature, if you love to write, if you are about something deeply enough, if you live to read, if you are interested, then you certainly will need to read and when you find something that interests you, that sends your mind swimming in a million directions all at once, you'll need to get your highlighter out. Or, in the case of me, where you're reading books owned by everyone but you, you'll have to mark the edges of the page with a little dab of lead.

I'm a slow reader though. I might read a little faster eventually now that I have my wandering eye fixed (yet not today, as I'm reading with one eye shut), but I don't know. I think the reason I'm such a slow reader is that I don't just read to entertain myself: I read to know, to learn, to educate, so I can make a difference. I think that's the bottom line for any blogger or writer: to make a difference. Yet, anyone can make a difference. As I wrote a while back, even Hitler made a difference if you think about it. That kid with the good intentions who threw a mallet through Mr. Jensen's window had good intentions too. Yet what I'm referring to making a difference I'm referring to educating people to think the way you do. To getting them to appreciate the world the way you do. To getting them to make decisions by thinking and not by social pressure or by feelings. To think. To write. To read. To know. To show. To see. To smell. So see the roses and not just know they are there. Anyone can come up with an opinion, yet only a few of us have the ability to show that opinion, and to get people to think. I'm not even sure I'm one of them, yet I'd like to think I am. Don't agree with me just because, and I don't even care if you do agree with me, just think. Like, is the hypoxic drive a hoax or a reality. Just consider the thought that it could either be true or not true.

I remember when I was 10 I was walking with my brother who was nine. I remember walking downtown from my grandma's house. We had no goal in mind, other than simply to get out of grandma's house. We told her we were going to the high school to pick up cans and bottles and to take them to the store and maybe get some baseball cards or candy. Yet we never went to the high school because we already had money. We went straight to town. And, I remember David saying on the way, "Hey, Rick, I'm seeing things today. I see the steeple of that church. I see that person looking out that window. I see that this church is 120 years old, and I think it's really beautiful. Don't you ." I think that I read that way, and when I think of things like David said then, I like to mark them with lead.

"Come to think of it," I said to David back then. "I see that church too. We walked by here 100 times up to this point in our young lives and we never really saw that church before. Isn't that weird. I suppose this is our first day of life. This is the first day we really SAW Things." I know that sounds kind of awkward for a 10 YO so say, yet it's true. It was the way it was that day, and that was the day I started thinking. David started thinking too, only a year earlier than me. And I remember talking about this revelation with grandma later in the day, and she said, "And don't ever stop appreciating what you see, because it's special. Most people don't see what they see. Most people don't know what they see, and then they just take it for granted."

I guess that's the kind of way people think when an old ballpark is going to be imploded. I think that's how people thought when Detroit Tiger Stadium was going to be closed, and people actually went to the ball game and simply closed their eyes and listened so they could enjoy the milieu of the old ballpark, feel it, live it, become a part of it. I think that's something special, and I think most people miss it.

And I think when it comes to the Great American Documents I think most people tend to take them for granted the same way, and yet some of us smell it and read it and don't want it to ever change. Yet some of us believe those documents are growing and changing and need to change with the changing times. Well, that's fine if you're one of them, but I've always been of the belief that if you see a problem it will ultimately correct itself so long as you don't do something stupid. I think, therefore, that doing nothing is much better than doing something stupid.

Think of it this way: you can't change nothing, yet once you do something stupid, it's nearly impossible to un-change something you've changed or added. I mean, just look at how hard it was for our founding father's to obtain freedom, they literally had to swipe it away from England via a war. England imposed it's rules on the colonists, and the colonists didn't like those rules, so it had to literally free itself from the clutches of England to impose it's new Constitution. And that's why I think it's so important that our children learn about natural rights in schools, and about the founding documents, and how hard it is to change. Because as we add new laws, we may soon realize we don't like them and want to change them back, yet we can't. We can't because once you give someone something for free, and they like it, they certainly aren't going to WANT to give it back. Doing nothing, therefore, is less stupid than doing something you might regret, no matter how smart or intelligent of an idea it seems. If you're going to change something, you better be darn sure you know what you're talking about. Or, in other words, if you want to change something that effects everyone because you think you know what's best for everyone, you're assuming you know all. I guess that's idealism. Idealists think they know what's best for everyone. Realists know perfection is not possible. And I think the founding fathers were realists. Yet I'm sure the founding fathers also wrote in books. Actually, I know they did. Thomas Jefferson didn't mark his books up, yet he did write "TJ" in all his books, which you can now find in the Library of Congress.

And writing in books is probably stupid. Yet, my grandma always said that writings in books makes the book more valuable, not in the money category probably, but in a historical sense. Have you ever bought a book from a yard sale, a book written in say 1910, and opened it up, and saw the writings inside the cover, "To my dearest, loving dad." And you think back to whomever wrote that, whomever bought that book, gave it to her dad as a birthday present because she loved him. I guess that's just me. I have a couple old books like that. I can't help but to not only read the history in the words in those old books, but to think of the history between the words, and to think of the travels that book went through.

That's just me though. And, even while some pencil markings might make the book less dollar worth, I still do it and will probably never stop. And hopefully no one will ever make me, lest I'll have to start buying my own books. Well, I'd prefer to have my own library. I'd love nothing more than to have a leather chair among an old oak desk covered with a glass top with some old civil war dollar bills and old baseball cards of Alan Trammel and Lou Whitaker and Lance Parish and Pete Rose under the glass for anyone who wishes to visit my library to see. And I'd like some old pictures for the walls, and... well, I love libraries. If I was a material person and not a frugal one, I suppose I'd spend the money and live within the memories and write all day long. I'd do that if I could, yet one has to work for a living, and spend quality time with the kids, and, well, the only reason I was able to write this filth was because on this 87 degree day my older daughter is at her friend's house, and my son is at his friend's house, and my 1 YO and wife are sleeping before the evening activities.

So, I know I'm not alone in my love for books, and my yearning to read every one. Yet, for some reason, I get through so few a year. I get through so few because, here I'm on page 65 and I've spend more time writing this nonsense this afternoon as I spent reading all day. So, on with the highlighter... and the lead.

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