this + this = this + 2

Rabbit doesn’t want to tell him anything. The more he tells, the more he loses.
– John Updike,  Rabbit, Run

DSCI0013The question I am always interested in, and often even ask is, “What are you reading?” But what I really want to know is, “Why?” I worry that there might be a taint of accusation or judgment in the asking. But I mean it quite straightforwardly – how does one come to a book?

Lately, my reading has been influenced by others, combined with the order of the library of congress system. When I enter the red zone of the stacks in my library job to return a random book,  I can hear the catcalls of the surrounding volumes- “Hey Baby, check me out…” And I do. I hate to be rude.

Rabbit, Run was one such book. I have read a lot about John Updike, but never actually read any of his books. I always suspected I would not like them.

He sees in the dark she is frightened; her big black shape has that pocket in it, that his instinct feels like a tongue probing a pulled tooth. The air tells him he must be motionless; for no reason he wants to laugh. Her fear and his inner knowledge are so incongruous; he knows there is no harm in him. (75)

Initially I didn’t think I would relate to Rabbit, I am long past the particular stupidity of youth, that ridiculous time of life when you are suppose to make life-long decisions without having any concept of the time frame. Now more experienced, the stupidities at least take on the profundity of mortality. Still,  something in Rabbit’s brutal moments of truth and sweetness kept me reading. And then there were passages of writer-ly genius from Updike that  did for me what I always hope reading will – he made me stop reading, and think. It is that translation from the order of all the facts of the story into meaning that I really enjoy.

I have been watching a lecture by Buckminster Fuller. I love his ideas. He describes the comprehensive metaphysical universe as “the aggregate of all of humanity  consciously apprehended in communicative experience.” That’s a sentence that gives some serious pause. He is also very charming, adding an irrepressible hehe on the end of nearly all of his sentences. Framing his ideas in math and physics, the synergy of all of his “generalized principles” is wonderful.

The “this + this = this + 2” is what makes us human. It is the meaning that our limitless minds quite miraculously glean. As Rabbit flees from one experience to another, from one girl to another, the depressing physics is exposed. His immaturity and internal disconnect leaves his love in the behavioral stage. He doesn’t know what his love is. We only know how it behaves. It mysteriously comes and goes, he’s barely pierced by it when it flees. The physics of our lives, as Buckminster explains, is the path of least resistance. Rabbit thoughtlessly runs towards his missing center by whatever path is easiest at any given moment.

Rabbit leaves his old home depressed, with a feeling of his heart having slumped off center. (229)

But then. I stop reading and think. Is it possible that this idea explains the meaning behind all of our decisions and actions? I have made some pretty painful decisions in the last couple of years, but if I look at them in terms of the path of least resistance…well yes. What may look like a path of ridiculous hurdles and mountains of Everest proportions, is a water slide compared to the alternatives.

The path of least resistance either exposes the depth of feeling that makes it the easier route, or it reveals the shallowness of feeling: proving the path unworthy of being blazed. I have discovered that, for me, any path is fundamentally easier than one that is littered with the hidden landmines  of qualifiers and suppression. We can’t really know what anyone else finds more or less resistfull, but if we understand that that is the force that guides us, then we can begin to ask the why- why is this less resisting?

Rabbit never asks why it is easier for him to run. The results are tragic.

This childish mystery – the mystery of “any place,” prelude to the ultimate, “Why am I me?” – starts panic in his heart. (283)

The truth is there is nothing childish about it.  Just stop, and think. See what your chosen path reveals.

I find that our whole education system around the world is organized on the basis of the little child being ignorant. Assuming the little child is born, is going to have to be taught, in a sense is empty waiting for information to be given by the grown ups. And so, the little child demonstrates time and again an interest in the whole universe. The child is very enthusiastic about the planetarium. The little child asks the most beautiful questions abut the total universe, continually embarrassing the grown-ups who have become very specialized and can’t answer the great comprehensive questions. We find the child then, with his propensity to comprehend totality- willing to be synergetic. Yet our education is to say – never mind about that universe, come in here and I’m going to give you and A and a B and a C…  – Buckminster Fuller

8 responses to “this + this = this + 2

  1. Paths of least resistance….free of qualifiers and suppression….how different life choices appear when we identify ‘the path,’ with such criteria.
    I seem to be mired in qualifiers and suppression just now….
    thanks for the fresh view!

  2. Awesome Fuller quote at the bottom there.
    I read Run Rabbit Run a while back and can’t remember much about it…but I did read the whole book.
    I’ve long wondered about the fine line between striving towards a higher goal versus accepting the way things are. But maybe it is when there is resistance to the way things are that one realizes there is less resistance to striving for something else….

    • Yes – if you ask why is this easier? I think you can find what it is that makes.. the status quo or a “higher goal,” the more economical choice (the economy of less resistance). And then you have a clearer idea of what you value, how you choose, what matters most to you. Instead of pining away for something else, or lamenting the choice that was made, you can see how it made sense on a “law of science” level. It is an interesting exercise.

  3. I don’t really choose books- they seem to choose me. they are usually orphans needing a home.they are too strange for anyone else to want to read. Like the book on English travellers in finland, or the mad princes of medieaval germany, or my latest, victorian jigsaw puzzles which i think cost more in postage than to produce. My library is like an orphanage for strange books that i occasionally dip into. and every time i get rid of some , i find more…

  4. Currently, I am nearly finished reading “Martin Luther King, Jr.” by the late journalist Marshall Frady. It is an extremely frank and detailed account. It blatantly shines light on King’s personal shortcomings despite his most impressive public stature; such as his frequent acts of adultery with groupie congregates. Even some of the errors he made in his campaign are presented; such as reluctantly but certainly distancing himself from Bayard Rustin on the emphatic advice of SCLC members because Rustin is gay. This book is a lot different than the bio I read at least 25 years ago by another author who I doubt had anywhere the connection to the American Civili Rights Movement that Frady did as a young reporter.

    Why this book? The short answer is because my wife bought it for me. The longer answer is that when I was a kid in grade 7, my teacher discussed Alexander The Great, and followed up by asking the class to write on our individual perspectives of what make someone “great”.

    I passed with my essay, just passed. I was too young and inept to put into words what I should have actually said. Here it is in short:

    King, inspired, by Gandhi not only achieved what was thought to be impossible for the US but impacted the official policies of fairness on many countries around the world; including Germany which had already begun to make strict changes after Hitler. Making such an international impact by knowingly putting your very life on the line for the betterment of all people; not just African-Americans, all people, is never an easy thing to do (and he did it when he was young and had his whole life ahead of him).

    I am forever fascinated by MLK, and his socio-political legacy. he was a “great” man dispite his flaws.

    That’s why I keep reading about him. I want to know what makes him different from me. What makes him the same? Am I doing enough for the betterment of humanity?

    • Thank you. That’s all I wanted to know. Your generosity is above average.
      And there is so much to admire in MLK. As a leader, and even as a man- with all his flaws. I couldn’t admire him near as much without them – perfection is boring and cold.

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