“Reading is a conversation. All books talk. But a good book listens as well.”
Lately I’ve been reading and re-reading Ocean Vuong, and as I do, it occurs to me that my time away from the book is as much a part of reading as my time looking at the pages. Reading is when a line of his floats back to me, and I share it in conversation. Reading is when he mentions buffalo, and I remember my own camping trip with a buffalo, and I imagine, buffalo. Reading is Ocean Vuong, reaching into the world, participating, noticing and wondering and opening to how he’s being touched. It’s me reaching back. It’s more off the page then on it.
I wonder if anything is really just one thing. One of my friends is planning a long trip that will take her away from her partner. When I mentioned that, she said, “Yeah, but that’s part of being together.” Missing each other. Being apart. Michael Chabon, in writing about being a father, says (I’m paraphrasing from memory) every minute of exhaustion and every wiped smear of poop is a kind of intimacy. It’s not that being a father isn’t shiny birthday moments: it’s just so many other things, too. My friend is “working on his book” when he’s at the page, writing. But if you want to understand “writing,” he says, then he’s also “writing” when he’s swimming through the same emotional turmoils as his characters. He’s writing when he’s sitting there, feeling stuck and not stopping. He’s writing when he’s resting. And if he just sat at the page putting words after each other, he wouldn’t get very far.
I once helped someone build a human-powered vehicle for a festival in Santa Rosa. When humans powered it, we put so much torque on the central driveshaft that the three-quarter-inch metal sheared straight through. We stood around, impressed by how much power we were playing with. We ran our fingers over the break’s smooth fracture. The lead designer went back to his plans and started scribbling new ideas. We ate lunch. And all of that, all of that, was building the contraption that, the next day, could carry us.