Read this book

As I’ve told people before, I’m not a big believer in capital-s Signs, but there have been times in my life when chalking weirdly timely events up to pure coincidence simply doesn’t cut it. My reading We Learn Nothing is one of those times.

Kreider’s book is a collection of essays of his personal accounts of events and people in his life, told through the lens of a 40-something unmarried, liberal cartoonist/essayist living in a studio apartment in New York, where the lens itself–his life and lifestyle–is examined as much as the subjects the essays are ostensibly about.

One thing I will recommend is that, not unlike having a dictionary on hand when reading H.P. Lovecraft for archaic/obscure words, you’ll likely want an internet-connected device when reading Kreider’s essays. He uses not just words I hadn’t encountered before, but also some multi-word terms that I had to pause reading to look up (and despite a couple of pages of Google searches, I’m still unclear on what one or two mean). Alternately, you may of course be vastly better read than I am and have no trouble grasping any of it.

For my own reading experience, beyond the quality of the writing, which is exceptional, I was distracted early and often by the awareness that what I was reading was at times amazingly similar to a book that I’ve been planning to write, and have been pecking away at on the side, for a short while.

A few weeks prior to reading about this book, I had begun to noodle on writing a collection of what I vaguely categorized as un-posted blog entries to be presented in hard copy (it never occurring to me that, rather the reverse of what I’d been thinking, my blog entries are basically short essays posted online). I had a handful of topic ideas to touch on for the project, when a newsletter I enjoy recommended this book in passing and it sounded interesting enough to put on hold at the library.

What I found of particular interest was the way in which, a number of times throughout the book, my own ideas for essays and Kreider’s published ones overlapped. Not in a vague sense (“Whoa, he’s talking about family? I was totally going to do the same thing!”), but way more specifically than would seem to be random chance.

I had the idea to do an essay on good friends suddenly walking away from my wife and daughter and me, under weird, unspoken, inconclusive circumstances some years back, and our confusion and sadness about it and what one is supposed to do in that situation. Then I read Krieder’s essay about the same thing happening to him.

I was considering including a part about my problem-causing, ne’er-do-well (now late) uncle. A couple of days later, I read Kreider’s piece about the same thing.

It got to the point where I considered not recommending this book to people purely for the fact that if and when I do get a collection of essays together, people who read my work may believe that I’d basically taken parts of We Learn Nothing, or at least the specific, core ideas of certain essays, and personalized them. To be clear: That isn’t the case at all, and you really should read this book, and Mr. Kreider, kindly don’t sue me.

More than that, however, I took it as a kind of affirmation; that not only could I write a collection of blog posts essays and have it be considered for publication, but this is a thing people have done. For a really, really long time, of course. But also, more importantly to me, that material of these specific topics is viable in the traditional publishing industry.

There’s perhaps nothing so gratifying to someone who does some kind of art as clear indication from people who know what they’re talking about–who run reputable contests, or who curate art displays, or who publish precisely the kind of book that you’re already writing–that you’re on the right path for doing something that may actually gain traction.

That’s a big “may”, of course. Nothing in life is guaranteed, and the fickle winds of what art people (let alone entire companies) like and will champion change constantly. But it’s a hell of a lot better than the total vacuum and lack of guidance that most artists work in most, if not all, of their lives. Will anyone else like this? Understand it? Want it? Any of that would sure be great, but either way, it’s what I’ve got to do right now, so here goes nothing…

Call it a Sign, call it pure coincidence, call it what you will. Getting this kind of cosmic/wholly read-into random nod feels good, and encouraging, and I’ll happily take it.

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