Saturday, September 6, 2008
Spinning Jenny Stimulus
LOOKING FOR A STORY - Part I
I was sitting at the kitchen table in that bland, mindless state, that I so hate, and so often lately find myself in. Unable to focus, hearing sounds, seeing sights, but still absorbing no more than a vacuum that is being pushed about the room with no filter bag or power source.
In this bleary state, I found myself recalling how starved I was for stimulation when I was a child. There were never enough books, never enough stories, never enough poems, or sonnets, or songs, or colors, or words, or new ideas to ease my hunger for the stimulus of something new. This was back there in that long-ago-time when children were responsible for their own good time minus gizmos.
And so, if you can imagine a child’s longing for a bike, or a youth’s longing for a truck, or a transient’s longing for a home, then you can understand the ache I had for books with words arranged with the soundness of reverence, emotion, and seduction that words deserve.
One year, with nothing in the house I hadn’t read, I remember spending a big chunk of my summer break reading a book I found in the attic about ‘the spinning jenny’. It was a very old water-stained hard-cover book about the inventor of the spinning jenny, the purpose of the spinning jenny, and how it worked. Looking at the pic of that jenny now, I am amazed that someone could write a book on nothing more than the history of the spinning jenny.
One must indeed admire the dedication of such a writer. That kind of author, could, without a doubt, write with equal ease 125 pages about a paper lunch bag.
The year that I read the spinning jenny book, I was still too young to question why I was doing what I was doing, but I remember distinctly thinking to myself, ‘what could it be that is driving me to read this stupid, stupid book?’ And despite careful reading, did I retain any of what I read? Not an iota.
But I so loved words back then. And poems, and stories. I could never get enough of them. It was as if I was on a quest for a kindred spirit – someone, anyone, who loved them as much as I did. And if I couldn’t find that someone in the school yard, perhaps I could find that sweet spirit between the pages of a book -- if only I could find the right book. It would need to be a book thick enough to allow me time to revel in the author's appreciation for words and all that they can portray.
I expected good luck in the school library. But all I found in the book shelves were books of trite fiction or boring facts. For some reason, each time I took a book from there it was far removed from what I sought.
And so, in another act of desperation in my quest for literary stimulation, I read my English text from cover to cover, every page and every word. Twice.
Surely here I would find what I was looking for. Obviously the original creator of an English text book had to be someone as passionate about language as I. And then, of course, with this common interest sustaining us, and this common force compelling us, and this common passion within us, certainly we, the writer and I, could form a comforting, albeit dream-state-relationship based on our mutual appreciation for language.
It seemed totally sensible to assume that the writer was as ardently dedicated to the function and beauty of words, as that other writer was to the qualities and marvels of the spinning jenny.
But to my dismay, that was not what happened. After not just one, but two careful readings, I came to the harsh realization that, to the voice-and-speaker of that English Text, language was just another spinning jenny. And the rules laid out for language too serious to promote a warm relationship.
The two books could have been written by blood relatives because the text in one so heavily paralleled the content of the other. Both identified and illustrated, with equal detail, the respective parts of language and the spinning jenny. And so like unto the spinning jenny book, the language text elaborated all the rules for the rigid and restricted operation of verbs, and nouns, and adjectives to make them fit the manufacture of phrases as cold and passionless as the workings and production of a spinning jenny.
Neither was a book that I would every recommend. But this story doesn't end here. There is more to the saga of "The Spinning Jenny".
NEXT POST: “Too Much Stimuli”, goes beyond my own experiences to question in a general way how much stimulus children need.