The Medium of Less

If you’re a big reader I can imagine you’d want your kid(s) to be also. I think that really hurt my mom because she wanted me to love reading as much as she did. She would hang out on the couch with a book on dark winter nights and just lose herself. I liked talking with her about those books and stories, even if I didn’t like reading. I remember her telling me all about The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver–that was when Kingsolver was hitting it out of the ball park and was the next great thing on the shelves. Now she’s an old hand.

Anyway, I think, after all the specialists my parents took me too and all the poor results they had with getting me to enjoy reading my mom lost hope. I think I would have. What’s the point of trying to teach someone something when they try everything they can to NOT LEARN IT. The thing was, I was learning to read. I was playing card games and video games that included reading. Still, it wasn’t the TYPE of reading my mom wanted me to like. And maybe that’s the problem.

You might not know, but smartphone novels are now a thing. A smartphone novel is a novel written to be read on a smartphone. Apparently it’s very popular in Japan. See, most avid readers would be rather put off by reading on their phones for 5 minutes, let alone the time it takes to read a novel. But in Japan, apparently, smartphone novels are really big and lots of people read them while on public transportation and such. It makes sense if a writer can get an episodic form down that keeps people reading.

What I’m trying to say is this: just because someone likes a different medium by which something is diseminated doesn’t make it less.

Of course there are people who would disagree with me. Acadamia is a culprit in this type of thinking, oftentimes disparaging forms of literature that the institution doesn’t find deep or metaphorical enough. But the truth is, reading and the written word is metaphorical by nature.

So, it didn’t seem to occur to my mom to let me play more video games because it forced me to read. Instead she thought reading Brother Bear one more time would be the right way to go, which I hated. Of course she lost hope. She didn’t realize I was getting all the reading practice I needed from a medium she saw as “less.”

Context Is Everything

English is an inherently boring subject. When not paired with anything else English is just not interesting for someone who can speak it already, but can’t understand the written rules. It’s like chalk. Chalk is fun to draw with on the sidewalk, but if someone hands you a piece of chalk and says “No drawing, no writing about anything, just examine and play with this piece of chalk,” you’ll find yourself pretty bored. The same is true with pens and pencils… and English.

For example: Lets learn about English! No don’t write anything you like to think about. Don’t pass notes in class. Don’t write a story. Here. Look at this sentence about people you don’t know and tell me which commas are in the wrong place.

That sounds boring no matter how you put it.

And, by the way, I still probably couldn’t place the commas correctly 100% of the time. But I don’t think I’m the only one.

What I’m trying to get to is this: most English teachers don’t know how to relate how English works to the kids they teach. They want high school kids to read books like The Scarlet Letter (which sucks) and then write a compare and contrast essay about the characters. That book was so boring why would anyone want to compare those characters to anything? That’s how I felt at the time. I felt like the whole process was a waste of time, just like I felt that reading sentences and trying to spot the spelling errors was a waste of time when I was in 4th grade and sitting at a table with Amy and watching he point at each sentence and ask me, “Do you see anything wrong with this?”

I would probe her horsey face for the answer instead of looking at the sentence. I hoped she’d give it away but she never did.

I think for people to be interested in anything they need to first be interested in where it’s going. For me, that meant understanding written English so I could read Pokemon Cards.

After seeing Amy for a while, my dad and I once stopped at the Northgate Mall where there was this store called Wizards of the Coast. Wizards was a nerd place that had lots of computers for playing online games (this was sorta before online games could be owned at home) and lots of people playing different card games like Magic The Gathering, Star Wars, and Pokemon Cards. Being a fan of the Pokemon video game, I was enthralled by the cards–even if I couldn’t read what they did. My dad agreed we could buy one pack of Pokemon Cards each week as long as I did my homework that Amy gave me. Suddenly I had a goal. I had a topic that forced me to read.

What I’m getting at is this: Paint is no fun if you can’t use it. English is no fun for the same reason. I had no use for reading before Pokemon Cards. With the cards came a purpose. I needed to learn to read if I wanted to play the game. That’s like life as well.

4/23/15 Useless Bay

Cold feet over rough stones. The saddest part was that he’d never learned to swim. Across the the bay he could see little door lights or maybe bright shining through the kitchen windows of the houses–all homely, warm and welcoming–sparkle like unnatural candles.

They’d thrown him in as a joke but he was so far away he couldn’t see which doc he’d come from. So late now most everybody had gone to bed. Those lights were the ones people left on to keep the burglars away even though there weren’t many burglars round those parts. Still a completely dark house, he reasoned, was creepy even while you slept.

His bare feet probed the nighttime ground for barnacles rocks. Those things could cut you up real good if you weren’t careful–he’d seen it before. Lucky low tide was so low in the bay–that’s why it was called Useless. Couldn’t get a ship in here unless you’d want to do some serious digging. Excavation of the bay–now that would be a job. Luckily it wasn’t or he would have drowned.

The guys who threw them in were old high school pals. Real jokers, really. Always up for some beers and a laugh, but it wasn’t really funny anymore. Third year of college and when he came back to visit them they still called him Po’Boy Plunger because when he’d eaten a bunch of oyster at the yearly oyster celebration when he’d been 16, he’d thrown up so much it’d clogged one of the public toilets so horribly it had overflown and driven everyone else out of the mens side of the bathroom. He’d hadn’t been allergic to shellfish until that moment, he realized.

Now he was sopping wet on this spring day and dearly wishing he’d taken his mother up to go to the Snake River with her for spring break instead of seeing these guys. If he’d have done that he wouldn’t smell like salt and seaweed and whatever else was going on down below his feet–decaying fish, crabs, and bird shit, probably.

The fact that none of the guys even tried to help him out of the water, tried to figure where he’d gone or if he was already seemed strange to Paul. They knew he couldn’t swim. Knew the bay would be cold and that when they’d thrown him in it would an act of cruelty. But they probably knew it was a load tide to, and the splash and initial coldness wouldn’t be a big deal as long as he warmed up afterward. But when he hadn’t come back had any of them worried? Wondered. Paul’s phone was sitting on the table where they’d been playing poker. His extra cards stashed neatly between the leaves. Unless they took the table apart they’d never know why he was winning.

It’d always been like. They were all too stupid to know he was just stashing cards up his sleeve or between table leaves, or under his own ass. Then he’d scratch it and trade up cards for a stronger hand.