Sometimes, the only way to get things done is with a little bit of subversion. At least that’s what I’ve discovered at ye old meditation center. My supervisor and I smile and smile and then rub our villainous palms together once our office door is closed. But if we’re villains, we’re villains of good, if such a thing can exist.
I like a little bit of subversion in life; it keeps things interesting and, as in the case above, is sometimes necessary. Which is why this additional excerpt from Munro’s introduction struck a pleasant cord in me. (As an aside: If you don’t read introductions to books because you find them pedantic or unnecessary, reading Munro’s intro to her Selected Stories will surely change your opinion.) Here’s what she says about reading, which strikes me as quietly subversive:
…I don’t always, or even usually, read stories from beginning to end. I start anywhere and proceed in either direction. So it appears that I’m not reading–at least in an efficient way–to find out what happens. I do find out, and I’m interested in finding out, but there’s much more to the experience. A story is not a road to follow…it’s more like a house. You go inside and stay there for a while, wandering back and forth and settling where you like and discovering how the room and corridors relate to each other, how the world outside is altered by being viewed from these windows. And you, the visitor, the reader, are altered as well by being in this enclosed space…You can go back again and again, and the house, the story, always contains more than you saw the last time.
This reminds me of how, when we were kids, my older sister used to read the ends of books first in order to find out what happened. I vaguely recall her once saying that this was because it defused the anxiety she felt about what was going to happen, allowing her space to enjoy the rest of what the book had to offer. And indeed, why should we read from beginning to end? Why not hop around? It might be a disorienting experience, we might learn what happens before we learn about who it is happening to or why, but then plot has always seemed overrated in my opinion. Unless you’re writing a Simpson’s episode, there’s little creativity one can store for plot–someone dies, someone else is born. Something is lost and then found (or not). There is tragedy and recovery (or not). The beginning. The end.
I like this idea of stories as houses; it’s also a good metaphor for–of course!–writing and resonates for me now as I work on a very new project that is still 90% mystery to me. The older I get the more I see life this way too, rooms fitting together. Here is my childhood (kitchen), here is my early adulthood (garage), here is my middle age (living room). Or maybe a jigsaw puzzle is a more apt metaphor. Taken further still: a mix of pieces from different jigsaw puzzles, not all the pieces fitting together.
Before I beat that horse too much (have I already?): Munro’s comments about reading remind me of something Mavis Gallant once said about story collections (in her intro to her Collected Stories):
[Stories] should not be read one after another, as if they were meant to follow along. Read one. Shut the book. Read something else. Come back later. Stories can wait.