I handed the girl my books and my discount card. She looked the titles over as she rang them up–a bit too much attention for my taste. Then, yes, a remark; I was tuned to its inevitability and tightened up a bit. I don’t remember it exactly: “I love this one. Jane Eee-ree. Have you read it?” My discomfort was then instantly doubled, and I choked out something like: “It’s on my daughter’s summer reading list.” She made another comment as she handed me my receipt, but I had withdrawn my attention at that point, and her curious speech patterns had garbled it anyway. I was dizzy with awkwardness. Was it a response? Something new? Taking it further? I smiled and offered a placating nod as I headed for the door.
O the thoughts I had. O the comments I formulated. O the irony I mustered. And of course it was a chain store, a floating ship of corporate mega-death. And so on.
It’s been three days and I can’t forget her smile. It was ceaseless, endless. It was present, fixed, from the moment I saw her see me approach the counter. It was, to use the formerly fashionable post-structuralist phrasing, “always already there.” And it was obscenely authentic. Not polite. Not professional. Joyous. She seemed happy to be there doing what she was doing. Happy helping me. Happy to talk with a stranger about books.
She loved Jane Eee-ree. I have no way of knowing what reading is for her. Because, for one thing, I didn’t ask her, even though I had the opportunity. She spoke of love. I offered distracting excuses for being there. Something about her radiated a truth about bookstores and why people read and why reading is a way to love. I’m the one who wanted the corporate exchange: just give me my empty abstract product and leave me alone.
I told myself she was in some way a “special needs” person, as if I needed to give myself a satisfying and condescending explanation of why I was so uncomfortable. But, really, after three days to think about it, I’ve stopped plugging up my feeling with that kind of explanation. She was memorable. Fiercly memorable. I can’t forget her smile. Her profession of love. Her Jane Eee-ree. And as my misery wells up I tell myself other things. I can’t leave it alone. I know she is too happy with what she does and with her Jane Eee-ree to ever start wars, cheat people out of their money, snub, back-bite, hold a grudge. A philosopher and sage had the good sense to hire her for that job. On and on I go with the things I tell myself. I know I’m still being condescending, but guilt does that. Not really fair to her. Truth be told, all I really know is what she told me: she loves Jane Eee-ree. That prompts me to offer one last truth: I have never actually read Jane Eee-ree.
I thought about the link JB posted on FB a while back on the loss of capacity for deep reflection and sustained concentration that perhaps can be attributed to how we now receive “information” via computer. After I had just re-read my little vignette (alas, it’s what I do).
I read it quickly as if I was reading it for the first time; I read as it is, as text on a screen, not from a book cradled in my hands and my glasses off because it’s close enough to my eyes. Computer distance. Whipped through it. And I found myself wondering, “What was that?” None of the flow of causal sensation was there that had motivated me in my writing and revising. Very little visualization prompted by the descriptions. I was not immersed in the “concerns” I had originally tried to sustain.
So how much of that is due to my finally being able to process it as just a bit of writing, without “projection” (Jeff beaming), and how much of that is due to the mode of my reading?
I found myself thinking about what I needed to do in the writing to cause the reader to have to slow down, to sink into the world of concern a bit. More description? More “mimesis” of action? More ellipsis? More of an introduction to my “voice” as a companion?
It sounds like you are talking about pacing. I think the pacing is spot on. I think of Jeff’s “exposure” of his “morning in the life of…” piece. Was the pacing too slow in it? No, not at all. Is yours too fast? Nope. I like it as is.
Perhaps you find yourself desensitized at this point because that thing which was in you stimulating this piece is now released. The joissance (certainly misspelled) that was its creation is over. You are sated.
It’s had its way with me and moved on. I feel so used!