Wednesday, February 1, 2012

From The Margin to The Imagination

After bursting out the gate of the new year, I have already penned four un-produced short films all using my thesis as the foundation.

I've been juggling my free time lately between researching for a feature screenplay I'm aiming to write, and delving deeper into the dark, unexplored territories of my thesis. Both activities have caused me to slingshot myself into academia and plow through my never-ending stack of books I've set aside for these particular projects.

It always feels good to strike another text off the list, but out of this I've discovered a smaller, simpler pleasure.

I buy all of my books used through Amazon and other resale shops for purely economic reasons. I get a lot of books from libraries with their logo stamped on the inside cover, or straight off the shelves and out of the homes of academic-types who for whatever reason have decided they could afford to abandon these pieces of literature and part ways with them.

By the time I get them, I normally just put the new arrival on my shelf and get to it once I'm ready for it.

Well, for some reason, the last four or five books I've gone through, there's been extra gifts inside. The previous owners have left, like a footprint in otherwise-perfectly untouched snow, a mark of their own. A signature of their behavior, their history, and their personality on their journey through this text.

As the inside cover of this particular memoir reads "Christmas '93-- Kurt! Have a very Merry! -E" It made me wonder about Kurt and E's relationship, how they know one another and why E was in such a hurry to write the message that she would have forgotten to write 'Christmas' and the end of her message. And why would Kurt abandon this book? Was E hasty in everything she did, which was the eventual downfall of their relationship? "Have a Merry!" Kurt reads. He smiles at E for thinking of him and giving him a gift in the first place, with this kind, although not quite thought out personal message inside. Years later, Kurt would decide to sell some of the stuff he'd accumulated over the years and find a box labeled BOOKS in the attic. He'd open it, find the book and read the inside cover. "Have a Merry! -E" A wave of all the bad memories would sweep over him and that ill-written phrase would suddenly become the symbol of what their relationship was; a series of failed expectations and misunderstandings. "That bitch. She couldn't even write this message without screwing it up," he thinks to himself. He tosses it in his 'sell' pile.

Maybe I'm over analyzing it, but it's certainly intriguing to retrace the steps of the previous reader. Empty back pages of the same book are defaced with pen scrawlings by Kurt, of words that are obviously foreign to him. The list reads 'Epistomology, embrosse, hermeneutic, prologomenon, peroration, tropes, funicular, desuetude'

"I'll write these down and look them up later," Kurt most likely thought. Kurt's a life-long learner, just like me, you see. But I doubt as he was writing these vocabulary-expanding terms down that years later this stranger out of Chicago would be reading the intimate process of admitting defeat. It's exposing and truthful-- to write down such a thing. It's a practice encouraged in elementary school, and although I'm guilty of the same, it's a painful thing to examine.

Had he known some stranger would be reading the list of words he wrote down to learn, and most likely forget again, I have high doubts that he would have written them down so with something so permanent as pen. Your secret's safe with me, Kurt. I won't tell.

Other things I've stumbled across are these small reminders to the reader; scribbling ideas in the margins, circling phrases, or simply just a check mark next to a favorite paragraph, as if to say "AHA! This is EXACTLY what I was hoping for out of this book!" What I like is examining these particular bits of text and asking why this particular text might have been important enough for someone to choose over everything else.

Oftentimes it makes sense what their train of thought was on the note, and you may even connect with this great ghost reader and share the same idea, but the odd ones are the truly intriguing puzzles. It's like trying to play that Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon game, trying to connect the dots of this person and try to understand their thought process.

I just think it's a fascinating little subplot of someone's life that you only get with reading a used book. It's like finding someone's journal and reading their deepest darkest secrets, or voyeuristically observing someone's actions. The markings of used books can be a goldmine for these little incites into the human condition and I just love that.

It's the difference between admiring a young face, and really appreciating an old weathered one. A young face can be beautiful-- but lacks any depth. It is what it is. It hasn't cried enough tears or smiled enough to tell any other tale.

An old weathered face is much more interesting to look at. If you can get past the culturally-engrained mindset of judging things based on their beauty, and really force yourself to examine the terrain of their face-- every scar, every wrinkle, every imperfection, you'll start to see a tale of where this face has been and what they've endured. That, to me, is much more intriguing.

So to all the Kurt's out there, I hope that this is never read by you and that you stay naive enough to keep scribbling away in the margins and then casting your messages off to drift in front of the next pair of eyes that is lucky enough to read them.

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