Ahh the public library - the chosen hang-out for the homeless and freelance writers. I took a nice chair in a well-lit corner, pulled up an ottoman (they have ottomans at the Boulder Public Library, I shit you not) and started to read a bunch of the wonderful magazines and newspapers I'd never gotten a real good chance to connect with, back when I had an actual productive source of employment and didn't just have a whole span of nothing to do in the middle of the day.
I flipped through today's New York Times. You know, there's no better thing than an actual real-life dead-tree newspaper. I love the sound the pages make when you turn them. The sort of gray curtain they lift up between you and the world. I can't really stand reading text on a computer screen for very long. (Then why am I writing a blog? I will not answer that question.) My eyes get tired and, inevitably, I get sucked into another rousing round of Desktop Defense when I really should be reading about the world's great tragedies. Maybe fifty years from now I'll be telling my grandkids about how newspapers used to be made out of paper.
And then I opened up the latest issue of the New Yorker. You know, after a lot of moving around, after a lot of uncertainty, after the stress of being unemployed - this was it. I was home. I know these writers, these topics - and more importantly, I knew the slightly snooty, supremely well crafted voice of the New Yorker. And what I like best, I reveled in the curiosity of it all. I mean, in the New Yorker you find some of the more interesting tidbits in the entire world.
So I read that magazine with a broad smile on my face. I couldn't wipe it off. For one, there was a wonderful short story by George Saunders, who, if you haven't read him, is in my top three living authors list (which, to give you all fair warning, is probably ten or fifteen names long). For two, there was my favorite New Yorker Cartoon EVER. And then there was a really cool article on Turkmenistan, which was ruled with an iron fist by an absolute psycho - I mean, this megalomaniacal psycho put all those other psychos to shame.
But there was something else. It wasn't that it was peaceful. It was that it was familiar. I was at home with these, these - magazines. More than I was at home anywhere else.
And I thought - do I belong, then, to an invisible nation who loves to read the Times and the Review and the New Yorker and anything else and everything else? Are we lurking out there, in tweed, sipping coffee, criticizing other people's grammar, just waiting to find one another?
Or are we, this invisible nation, people who just press our noses up to the glass of a fancy dinner party served in a fancy manor that is the New Yorker? We can all see the beautiful, urbane people telling their jokes and sipping their wine. And maybe, for a second, just for a second, we can fool ourselves into thinking that we actually belong inside, at the table, perhaps to Hertzberg's left. We think that, given the time and the openness, all those wonderful erudite people would realize that our witty quips were explosive, that our taste in books impressive, that our grammar is - profound. But maybe not. Probably not. Definitely not.
It's more complicated than that. How can I try to lay claim to a community of media, of things that are necessarily mediated and one-sided? To stacks of paper? To a group of people who just, by fancy or by pretense, like reading the same damned stacks of paper.
I thought about this in that thoughtful way that sometimes plagues me. It was very picturesque. Here's me standing on a bridge, looking soulfully down at the rushing river water. A good young American boy. Contemplating the world. Here's me walking with some friends - what's that? an invisible burden on this young man's shoulders? Oh no! Can anyone say bildungsroman? And here's me, in front of a computer, crafting a blog post.
And yet, more than anything in the world, I just want a nice chocolate chip muffin.
Ain't life sure funny sometimes?