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The Cereal Box Compulsion September 5, 2011

Posted by The Typist in 504, books, literature, Odd Words, The Narrative, Toulouse Street.
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You know the one: sitting at the table without something to read at hand and you devour every word on the Raisin Bran box while absentmindedly spooning the cereal into your mouth. And you find yourself wondering, just before lunch, what it was you had for breakfast.

I was catching up on Stephen Elliott’s Daily Rumpus emails and he mentioned a story about how to avoid the cheap literary trick of a middle aged character revisiting an old habit or haunt and wondering why they don’t do that or go there anymore. He pointed to a story, Thom Jones’ I Want To Live, as an exceptional example of how not to do that.

I search for the story and discover the book that contains it on Amazon (but I don’t shop on Amazon, at least not for books) and the appearance of the story in Harper’s Magazine. I click on the Harper’s link but of course it’s behind a pay wall. I could subscribe, I am reminded, for as little as $16.97 a year, about what I might pay for a Very Good or better copy of the book on Alibris with shipping. Or I could subscribe to Harper’s online.

I used to read Harper’s faithfully for many years but somewhere along the way I let the subscription drop. It was always worth the cost for the stories, for the essay by Lewis Lapham when he was editor, for a thoughtful and well written exploration of some current event. The problem now is that current events bore me. Politics bore me. Peoples bore me/literature bores me, especially great literature,/Henry bores me,/with his plights & gripes/as bad as Achilles,/who loves people and valiant art, which bores me…

Where was I? Oh, yes, why I don’t read magazines much unless the cell signal is poor at the dentist. Keep me away, please, from anything having to do with current affairs. Anything datelined Washington, D.C. leaves me regretting I threw out my moldy copy of The Anarchist Cookbook and grinding my teeth furiously. I have a new subscription to The Believer and each copy lives on my kitchen table, ensuring I do not have to resort to the cereal box. I love my Oxford American. Beyond that, I simply can’t seem to sustain a magazine.

My sister takes The New Yorker and dutifully passes them on to me for the stories and poetry. I subscribe to a few literary journals and now The Believer and Oxford American (the last a gift from my sister). Perhaps it would not be a bad idea to resubscribe to Harpers. There aren’t many places left that publish stories and poetry, and they will not survive without subscribers.

Or perhaps I will buy another book. I spend far to much on books lately (My mother calls. I take my mail at her address. You have another package, she says gaily, with the unspoken message that a virtually blind 87-year old has had to wrestle the damn thing out of the postal box in her building’s lobby). I have a pile that I am beginning to transfer onto a special shelf, the ones I have yet to read.

I look forward to the day in late October when I will turn in my badge and Blackberry to Moloch when I really should be looking forward to another job. If I didn’t have a decent severance, I would be scanning the online job listings instead of typing into this screen but I need a sabbatical very badly, and relish having a chance at least to catch up no that pile of books. As I suggested earlier, perhaps I will turn this circumstance into a true sabbatical dedicated to reading and writing, but I have not yet conjured a plan to make that possible.

Everything I have done in my adult life-journalism, politics, IT and lately the corporate grind of banking–have worn my out beyond my years. I divide my day into coffee, try not to drink more coffee so late in the day [fail], and a drink or two at the end of the day to take the edge off the coffee. Why does the father in the television series The Wonder Years always come home and make a drink? Why does every middle-aged character done slogging through another day always make a drink? To take the edge off the coffee that made their day possible. I think of the Wonder Years because the character was one year ahead of me and I always identified closely with the show, but now I am the father.

I still can’t make up my mind between Harper’s and another book, but one thing is certain. I will buy one or the other even though I am over budget (again) this month, for the same reason I purchased a membership to the New Orleans Museum of Art last Spring when I thought my job would end in May, and another to the Ogden just this month. Come October I will have time on my hands to fill, time that will be spent well, and best spent at the only thing that keeps my day from starting with a drink instead of a coffee: studying the craft of writing and writing. Only by that resolution can the rest take care of itself.

Originally intended to publish tomorrow so as not to crowd the earlier piece but since it slipped out onto Facebook and Twitter (with a link back) I might as well let it go.