Smelling the Roses

(or Why I’d Hate People Less if They Read More)

I have a low personal-turbulence tolerance. Or at least I did. I very accidentally on purpose engineered my life to buffer me from the world with an impenetrable wall of placid people. I hand-picked them for their blood-pressure. Then I filled the moat with their cheerfulness and serenity. Not that they’re boring mind you, they’re brilliant and essential, but my long-time chosen companions are polite, or at least willing to simmer down when it’s required. They are self-possessed and disinclined to get all lathered up unless a 911 call is imminent. They aren’t petty or caustic or prone to capering. My old friends do not get arrested.

A sense of humor was always a must, but they had to have all their dials and buttons firmly in hand. None of my friends was ever likely to go to eleven. I was content to be the eccentric in the bunch, my brand of rebellion being all talk and no warning labels. I am as safe as toast.

Then I got this crazy idea that I wanted to be a writer. It felt almost inevitable. I had lived in books and stories. I had narrated in my head nearly constantly since I was seven years old, but it wasn’t until recently that I realized not everyone did this.

So I sought them out, the writer people. They are magnetic, imaginative, and a good few of them have unpredictable fuses so microscopic they might as well be stored in lead-lined boxes and labeled ‘Explodes on Impact’. They’re argumentative and dramatic and sad and wildly happy and, well, exhausting. I’ve learned much about myself. I’ve fiddled with my own settings and expanded my capacity for feeling things. But I’m no match for them – all those writers I’ve come to cyberknow. They’re mostly all crazy and I’m still just slightly burned bread.

So why do I stay? Why do I suffer fits of outrage and boil in arguments and pine for acceptance and thrill to their encouragement? It’s certainly not what I thought I’d do.

My recent vacation sorted all this out for me. I also learned what my pre-writing friends have in common with the writers I’ve latched onto: they don’t take things for granted.

Large anonymous crowds do not bring out the best in me. If I’m honest, I don’t like people much. Civility, appreciation, and common courtesy have, as a result of Global Warming I’m sure, melted into the highways and sidewalks. They have taken a terrible trampling. As much fun as I had on the trip (think bushels and barge-loads) I’ve never been so disgusted by people in all my life.

My limits were tested in minutes, not hours or days, by rude, sulking, intolerant people paying good money to shuffle past me with grumpy, hang-dog expressions on their furloughing faces. They barked orders at their fellow human beings, who were obviously working diligently in the service of their holiday. No ‘please’. No ‘thank you’. They talked over presentations they’d stood in line to see, and didn’t turn off their cell phones – even when asked to. They didn’t clap for the performers efforts (which were excellent) and they didn’t smack the snot out of their surly children who sighed “I’m glad that’s over” within earshot of those who would be wounded by such comments.

I think, although I could be wrong, that the writers I’ve forged bonds with wouldn’t do this. They notice things. They appreciate things. And they love to tag experiences with superlatives, from both ends of the scale.

I’d suggest that a decline in recreational reading in our culture is contributory to what upset me so on this trip. When you open the cover of a book, you agree to swim the minutia therein. Appreciation for what happens or how it’s told is all there is in a book. There’s no laugh track to goose you into a response, no eerie music to herald the suspense. You have to do it yourself. A book is a transaction with the devil – the one in charge of all the details. And he’s a good tutor. Readers are better students of life.

Writers collect details, because they have to – it’s the raw materials they work with. They’re less bored, and subsequently less boring, than a great wedge of society pie. I think I love them. I can’t think of anyone I enjoy who isn’t appreciative.

All of a sudden, the polarity of my friends seems maybe a little less so.

8 Responses to “Smelling the Roses”

  1. carol Says:

    I agree. On the whole, readers are more interesting, better informed, wittier and I think, far better looking than non-readers.

  2. chris johnson Says:

    I’ve published books, but I’m still not sure if I’m a writer with a big W. (I’m still waiting for my union card to show up in the mail.) But I do find life interesting, on the whole, so maybe I qualify.

  3. William Haskins Says:

    chris, the very fact that write about something that you actually practice— something enormously beneficial to children whose lives you touch—qualifies you for the capital W and much more.

    great column, jamie.

  4. dolores Says:

    My life would be so much saner, quieter and duller without my writing friends.

    Lovely column!

  5. JJ Cooper Says:

    Nicely put, Jamie.

    JJ

    JJ Coopers last blog post..Dialogue

  6. Stew21 Says:

    Nicely done, here, Jamie. I found myself nodding and agreeing throughout.

    I find I’m far more accepting of writers’ eccentricities than any amount of ungrateful, unappreciative commentary. Writers and readers seem to say more with less, which is something I appreciate in them. They also challenge me to exercise my brain, with their wit, intelligence, view of the world, and the language they use to describe it. I love that! I love writers, too.

  7. Jamie Mason Says:

    I’m so glad you guys enjoyed the piece. It was a fun resolution to the head-scratcher of contrasting my non-writer friends with the inmates I’ve grown fond of.

    Rude, boring people are good for something after all – helping me figure stuff out!

    And Chris, you most certainly qualify – and not only because you bought me lunch. You’re the Ambassador of Sante Fe and your descriptions of the place can only come from a dedication to appreciating the little things, and then bothering to relate that appreciation.

  8. magnetic materials Says:

    Turner Diaries Redux?

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