“In the so-called adult world of ordinary responsibilities, those deep values [such as being a reader] are neglected. We lose that feeling we had in childhood of an original contact with the world, which feels pretty much the same whether you are reading a book or flying on a rope swing over a lake. It’s a sort of genuineness only foolish people sneer at, as if they were too smart to feel anything, as if books were meant to be taken in only through the intellect and not through the senses and the emotions as well. Or as if books were just career steppingstones or shots of adrenaline to the ego. I have never felt that way about books. They seem too important to be merely functional. They are an essential part of being alive in the world.
So yes, perhaps some exposure to life helps return us to this original connectivity. But it really helps most to have been given the gift of reading and the time to indulge it in childhood, so you know what to look for on those occasions in adult life when you have the luxury of seeking it again.
Those pockets of time, those moments of renewed access to the imaginal, remind us—remind me, anyway—what we don’t want to live without.”
For the first memorable time in my adult life, there is a gnawing in my gut—the explicit sense that there are shifts in our culture taking place that do bother me. On my best days, I refrain from passing judgment as frequently as I can. There is so much we cannot see, know, and understand. In most cases, to make a judgment seems silly.
Beyond my adult life, stretching back into the earliest memories of my childhood—though admittedly, my memory is a strange, lurking type of place without proper grounding—I’ve lived with a loyalty to my instinct. This loyalty does not always allow me to make the best decisions…but often, it does. At that first handshake, I often know from gut feeling alone whether or not the person I am meeting is trustworthy, kind, shady, or just downright scary.
I wouldn’t even mention it if my instinct wasn’t so regularly right.
How does all this relate to the quote I’ve included above? For the most part, I still feel like I possess “that feeling we had in childhood of an original contact with the world.” I wonder, even, if that particular feeling is one we might often find inside people who struggle from anxiety, depression, etc. If someone possesses the “original contact” in a society severely lacking such contact, a disconnect will result. It is inevitable.
“If you feel too much” (Jamie Tworkowski)
“We were infinite” (Stephen Chbosky)
There are popular phrases circulating throughout our society, such as the two here, that seem to capture “that feeling,” that “original contact.” It seems the problem David Mason is addressing in reference to reading is a societal problem in general. We don’t strive to be genuine—we don’t even know how to be genuine. Often, those who are genuine are straddling a dark line that makes the world feel small (and maybe the world is smaller than we like to admit?), so they cannot touch others with their genuineness. They cannot spread the infection of “original contact,” so the connections between us all die away.
Personally, I possess an instinct (I call it a gut instinct because, as is often the case, our language is not expansive enough to properly describe my feelings) that I feel is connected to this childhood characteristic Mason discusses, and people do “sneer” at it. Even in the face of countless examples of how well that gut instinct works in guiding me, they “sneer.” I don’t pretend to be important enough to think I am the only one. Others experience similar, if not exact, situations.
What begins to bother me, really bother me, is the way we operate in the world. Do I choose a drink because I want to drink this drink? It sounds simple and silly, but it’s not either. Just as Mason discusses the ways in which people use (misuse is likely a better term) books, we could discuss the ways people misuse dozens of choices, objects, and relationships in their lives. Am I kind to others because I’m genuinely kind? Am I reading this book because I enjoy it? Am I attending graduate school because I feel it has value? Are all of these situations genuine? Or are all of these situations fraudulent in some small (or large) way?
Mason tells us that books “seem too important to be merely functional. They are an essential part of being alive in the world.” I propose that most of the choices, objects, and relationships in our lives are “too important to be merely function” and “are an essential part of being alive in the world.” Perhaps my gut instinct is my best guide because it is genuine—not because it is a superpower of some sort. Perhaps those suffering from anxiety and depression are simply spinning genuine wheels in a world of disconnect. For if we cannot trust the intentions of others, how much light can exist within us?
Given Mason’s proposal that to find this feeling of “original contact” in adulthood we must have built a compass in childhood, I feel trepidation. This is where the gnawing in my gut comes in—the shifts in our culture bother me, I think, because I’m unsure of whether the generations after me are building this compass. I sense a shift in genuine behavior and action to disingenuous living overall. I worry that those who “feel too much,” those who feel “infinite,” are being “sneer[ed]” at and left behind to suffer within themselves. I worry that those who do not suffer are living in a false sense of entitlement, decision-making, and growth.
Here I am, aged 28, finally worrying about generations behind me. “Those pockets of time,” as Mason says, “Those moments of renewed access to the imaginal, remind us—remind me, anyway—what we don’t want to live without.” I don’t think this is growing up, exactly. I think this is my first reminder of something I “don’t want to live without.”
And as usual, I could be entirely wrong.