Thursday, June 02, 2005
Go, went, sago
From the backyard, near sunset.
What do you see?
Each year I challenge myself to read two books in French. This is a cumbersome exercise because it involves writing down and looking up words along the way. Spoken language is far less rich than the written word and consequently, I am unfamiliar with many of the words and expressions used. (Oh, and this is charming - in French, there is a whole 'nother way to conjugate verbs in the past tense that is ONLY used in writing. Sometimes the verbs look completely different. Imagine, for example, the word "go", which is "went" in the past tense, but when you write a story, it is "sago". Neat, huh?) I improve in baby steps. I usually remember a word after I've looked it up five times and become so filled with hatred for my inability to remember it that it finally finds its slot in my brain. But I improve nonetheless.
For 2005, I have already completed my goal. I had a clever scheme this year that I would ask my 14 year old Quebecois student what book he enjoyed reading (thinking surely I could read easily at his level), and when I did, he turned me onto a well known horror writer from Quebec, Patrick Senecal. Think Steven King. He happily lent me his paperback copy of Le Passager (The Passenger) so that I could talk to him about it at subsequent lessons. As it turns out, this writer appeals to a broad range of ages, and the language was difficult, but I managed to read it without having to look up many words.(Yay) Also, I was sucked in so completely by the plot and taken to such a pinnacle of suspense at the end (my heart racing, my mind spinning, my foot nervously tapping) and then Pow, he pulled the rug right out from under me. Right there, on the second to last page was a revelation that changed the entire story, that the character you had been with the whole time, hoping for his success, praying for him to get out of his predicament (you know, like James Caan in Misery) and then it turns out that the James Caan character is really the bad guy, in fact he's crazy and he just made Kathy Bates up. He smashed up his own legs. The plot is much different from Misery, but it had the same kind of theme, how you watch a poor innocent guy get haplessly sucked further and further into some kind of terrible nightmare. I felt used and dirty, like a big sucker but I had to laugh and say "You got me!"
But then again, maybe I am just a big sucker. Maybe I too easily suspend my disbelief. Last night, while watching an episode of "Sex and the City", a kind of powerful scene happened at the end, I sighed and said "Wow." (because I was moved and all) as the show went to commercial. Serge chuckled and looked arch and said (maybe a tiny bit condescendingly), "It's not real, that really didn't happen. It's fiction." And I said, "What's the point of getting involved in the story if you can't suspend your disbelief, it's much more fun to just pretend it's real - yeah I know it's not real, I just forget about that while I'm watching. And anyway, something like that probably happened to someone sometime, so it could be real too, you never know. I mean where'd the writer get the idea in the first place?" He said he couldn't forget that it wasn't real - he wasn't like that (one of his favorite phrases, always reminding me that he's not like me) and then laughed again and mocked me by making the "surprised" sound that I had made while watching a halloween episode of the Simpsons. (That had sent him over with dripping sarcasm. It's a cartoon, Rick. How can you get scared by a cartoon.) Written, cartooned, narrated or filmed, it's a story and I'm a sucker for any of them.
Often times, the stories bleed into my everyday reality and I will try to see the world through a character's eyes. After having read my uncle Tom's books, I see the sky in a whole new way. The old way, I marveled at the chemical reactions, like the sky was a huge testube in the atmosphere's laboratory, interesting but kind of sanitized. But now I think of the sky as a woman who might have something to say or teach. And so, you may be asking, why make something up when there's already a perfectly plausible explanation? The difference is that it's more fun to imagine that there is a lady in the sky with fingers of lightning and beautiful white cirrus cloud hair. The "reality" result is the same; clouds form, rain falls, weather systems develop and dissipate, but my perception of it, my weaving a story around it quite simply makes the events more interesting. This is not a new idea. Read "Life of Pi" or go rent "Big Fish" to get a similar theme.
And so, my friends, I leave you today with this. It's ok to imagine, pretend and invent. You are not crazy. You are enriching your experience on this Earth. Go ahead, live your fantasy.