Monday, August 8, 2011

Ben Rubin, On Reading

"I never liked reading growing up. I wanted to, but it always seemed little more than a difficulty, one which was not as enjoyable as those to be found in sport and being with one's friends, as those we discover when learning how to behave and misbehave, usually with smiles on our faces.

Being read to, on the other hand, was always looked forward to with that sense of anticipation; the kind we experience when looking toward a joy, and when felt deeply can almost verge upon anxiety, though this is the side of such anticipation we cannot see. Like a thing behind the sun whose blind fingers invent our bodies.

Yes, that was a thing about the stories that were read to us as children: not only did they have to be read aloud, not only did they have to be read to us, not only did their creatures have no be invoked by another's voice; not just another's voice, but by the voice of one we loved, for fairy tales are filled with magic and thus must be brought to life by incantation. They must be spoken as a spell, and that spell must be filled with love, which by any other name is the deepest magic we know. Not just that, but we had to wait for them. Yes, we had to wait; our anticipation of their arrival was necessary too. It was part of that essential readiness which allowed these new worlds to open within us, that opened us as well, into the world outside, the world into which, even if we entered as a freedom, we stepped intrepidly for it was still so new and strange a thing.

It is often that way. Patience is needed. A certain slowness which allows the event to make its way towards us, and to mean more than a complacency or commonplace when it does so; something special. We must only trust in it, that it will indeed find us, that it knows where live, just as the moon did when we were children, and does still today.

Being read to, yes, I loved being read to. I loved my father's words, even though they were not his own. They were those of someone else transformed by his speaking. And he too was transformed. He read these words, and suddenly he was not just my father. Suddenly he spoke with a mouth of buried moonlight. Then, to read was like an excavation, and it was his voice that would guide our going. To where?

To wherever. It didn't really matter, nor did it matter if that destination was delayed. It was the going that was important. It was the invitation to voyage that ripped us from our rootlets, and helped us begin the long, strange journey we continue today, to see that indeed no everyday is ordinary, to learn to call forth miracles from the tamed circle of the commonplace. What we know now is that it might take a long time to get there. All the better:

In art, no deep magic happens quickly, even if sometimes it seems that way, for you do not stop being an artist merely when you're not making art; something essential is happening even then for it is always happening so long as we are open to it. That is precisely why it is deep, because it takes time to develop, because it is allowed that time. That's one of art's great secrets, and thus too life as well, for everything that happens in art happens in life, happens in the world.

It is just in art that those forces are concentrated and condensed so that we may better feel them, so that we too may be touched deeply by them the way, as children, we were touched deeply by stories that were filled with our parents' breath. Wasn't it their voices that lifted those words from the page, the words then already inseparable from the breath of those we love, so that they could enter into us and become once again human? Wasn't it we who waited at night to be moved by them so that we could move the way the wind moves, so that we could know intimately what it was like when the wind of the world passes into and through a human soul, only remaining for a moment before returning itself again to the deep, illimitable space from whence it came?"

{Ben Rubin is the author and illustrator of When Comes What Darkly Thieves, which is available here. For more information, visit his website here.}

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