I reread some of my writing from earlier today and found it rather dull. Time for a break. Or, more to the point, time to attend to some of the things on my ever-lengthening list, most of which have something to do with the house to which I am as fettered as an indentured servant. A library sale was coming up and, especially since we’d be moving, an item on the list read: Lug Books From Barn. Now was the time, I decided.
Most of the books in the barn are ones I’ve been hauling around with me since college, a few from even earlier. Most I haven’t opened in years. But I should have known. There were a number I didn’t put in a box for the library, but rather carried into the house, a kind of way station where I could further consider their fate. Among these was Munro Leaf’s Sam and the Superdroop.
Sam and the Superdroop has a green cover with a red picture of a cartoon-like Sam flying on the back of a dragonish creature, the Superdroop. The binding is practically missing and the book is held together by some very old and peeling masking tape. Two arrow holes pierce the binding, the result of my having long ago, as a kid no larger than Sam himself, placed a target on my bookshelf and shot arrows into it. Sam and the Superdroop was somewhere behind the outer rings of the target, an early indication that I would never in the future enter a minor event in the Olympics or join Robin Hood’s Merry Men.
The last time I glanced at Sam and the Superdroop: 9-10 years ago.
My memory of it: a very boring book. (Why, at age eight, did I love it so?)
Opening it now, I read in the preface: “Sam was ten years old, in the fifth grade, and just about the middle of the class. Not too bright and not too dumb — just about like you and me, except for how old he was when this all happened.”
So, here we have it — the dull middle, the not too bright and the not too dumb. Just like you and me.
Me? My writing that morning? My life?
Does dullness, I now wondered, albeit desperately, ever have its place? Let’s take, as an example, another book that accompanied me into the house, Moby Dick, a book I once, some years later than my Sam and the Superdroop period, dearly loved.
Is Moby Dick ever boring?
- Some of the time
- All of the above.
Although D would be the more interesting answer, I’ll go with C. Yes, some of the time. But it is those slow, dull passages — the blubber chapter, for example — which are needed for the whole. It can’t always be exciting harpooning of whales and cannibals in your bed at the inn and crazy peglegs ranting on the foredeck. Sometimes we need slowness and calmness. We need a little downtime from excitement. We need a rest, a space to recuperate. In short, we need the blubber.
Books, especially long books, need this. Our writing needs this. Our lives need poking around a dusty barn, carrying books into the house and back out again.
At times, writing, both published and forming, is not only blubber but also old apple cores, carrot peelings, dead leaves, and rotten lettuce. In short, compost. If I let the dull writing sit for long enough, add some other cast off bits, give it a stir now and then, some heat may build up, transformation occur. After all, even blubber can turn to oil and ignite into flame.
Okay. So writing can be blubber and writing can be old carrot peelings. But both seem to require time and patience. And, as I discover trying to sort through the books for the sale, I don’t have a lot of either.
I pick up Sam and the Superdroop once again and open to a random page:
“This [space] ship, good as she is, can’t get very far without plenty of hot air, and it’s tough and vicious going in the Sea of Miracle-Mad Mud we must break through to reach Koolakuk.”
“Yes,” agreed Plutanium, “and don’t forget the Giant Wing Worms will be guarding it with their slimy lives.”
“I had forgotten that,” said Mac O’Roon.
“It’s things like that you must never forget if you want to command a Zoomcruiser yourself some day. Frankly, Mac. . . if you could only learn to remember things like that you might not have to stay a lieutenant all your life.” [78-79]
Have truer words ever been uttered? Maybe that eight year old me did know something. There is a Sea of Miracle-Mad Mud we need to face sometimes, and then face again.
And maybe chance — or grace or serendipity — is there in the vast expanse of blubber or the stinking pile of compost. Maybe these aren’t just calming breaks or investments in the future, but invitations to possibility, to the unknown. Just as opening a random page exposed another option in the world of Sam, perhaps returning to my desk will give chance a chance.