By pretending to have friends, maybe I could invent some.
~ Michael Chabon
I have myopia. Either my eyeballs are too long or my corneas are too steep. Maybe both; no one has ever really spelled out the specifics. Regardless, for several years now I have worn glasses when driving or watching television.
I’ve been doing quite a bit of both lately, lapping up Mad Men on DVD – much like my cat Meepo when he first discovered that he really liked the leftover mauve-colored milk from my morning bowl of Fruity Pebbles – in a mad-dash effort to get up-to-speed on all things Don Draper, and making the 6.8 mile trip up Homestead Road every afternoon to pick up my son from play practice. He landed the role of Ho-Jon in his high school’s staging of M*A*S*H. My son has long red hair, pimples, and mumbles in a very nasally, very Midwestern accent which, they’ll tell you if you bring it up, really isn’t much of an accent after all. He’s every kid. And he’s playing a Korean houseboy in less than a month. And I still have the third season to go.
So I’m going to need my glasses.
Only I took them off Saturday night in my garage, after watching the episode in which Peggy Olson finally gets her own office (prediction: she will be running Sterling Cooper before this thing wraps), and sat them down on the trunk of the car. Sunday morning, my wife ran to the store to pick up stuff to make potato soup. My glasses made it nearly two blocks before sliding off. This morning, we found the lenses along the side of the road, pockmarked and caked with Indiana clay. And in the “Wouldn’t You Know It” department, my script expired in 2005. “No, Mr. Thomas, we can’t just make you a new pair.” Curses!
Thankfully, I can handle reading. I’m in the middle of the fall semester and both of my classes are, for the first time in my academic career, online. For the record, this is a recipe for disaster for those of us who are chronic procrastinators. No weekly agenda. No lectures to attend. No hobnobbing face to face with the professor or my classmates. Instead, there is me, a pile of books, some documentaries on YouTube and PBS, Blackboard access, and tons of writing, with a journal entry here, an essay there, and midterms. Having pounded most of that out over the past couple of weeks, I now have the next few days to read and write about Richard Rubenstein’s When Jesus Became God: The Epic Fight over Christ’s Divinity in the Last Days of Rome. With heads bowed and eyes closed, an altar call . . . Who wants to join me?! Anyone . . . ?
What if I throw in something a little less mind-numbing? In the mix, between the bickering and blathering of Arius and Athanasius and their myriad men-behaving-badly minions, I’ve been dipping my toes into purer waters – the consistently stunning prose of Michael Chabon’s latest book, Manhood for Amateurs: The Pleasures and Regrets of a Husband, Father, and Son. Few authors turn my crank as effortlessly as Chabon, whose Wonder Boys, Summerland, and The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay are staples down the middle of my list of books that should be reread just for the sheer pleasure of doing so. In this book, his “first sustained work of personal writing,” Chabon doesn’t just share a story, he becomes the story. And, as should be the case with all meaningful memoirs, his essays dovetail with my own experiences, leading me to set the book aside occasionally and reflect on the connections we share. For example, in the very first chapter, titled “The Secret Handshake,” Chabon writes about his attempt, at the tender age of ten, to start his own comic book club. He fashioned a newsletter echoing the style of his hero Stan Lee, the brains, brawn, and balls behind the modern incarnation of Marvel comics, and, with the help of his mother, rented a room at the local community center, set up a table and some chairs, and hung up a hand-painted sign inviting one and all to join the club for the price of one dollar. One kid showed up, got freaked out by all those empty chairs, and left. He writes:
This is the point, to me, where art and fandom coincide. Every work of art is one half of a secret handshake, a challenge that seeks the password, a heliograph flashed from a tower window, an act of hopeless optimism in the service of bottomless longing. Every great record or novel or comic book convenes the first meeting of a fan club whose membership stands forever as one but which maintains chapters in every city – in every cranium – in the world. Art, like fandom, asserts the possibility of fellowship in a world built entirely from the materials of solitude. The novelist, the cartoonist, the songwriter, knows that the gesture is doomed from the beginning but makes it anyway, flashes his or her bit of mirror, not on the chance that the signal will be seen or understood but as if such a chance existed.
And of course, as seems to be the case more than usual lately, especially during an online hiatus of sorts, I got to thinking about all this as it relates to blogging. We live our lives, experiencing the joys and sorrows, the ups and the downs, the times of plenty and times of need, the crowds and the quiet benches, and then eventually we sit down alone at our desks or on my our porch and craft these posts. We take what we see as we gaze at and engage with the grand panorama of life, and then pull our focus up close. Blogs like mine are the materials of solitude. And those of us who do this with no hope for immediate monetary gain become deliberately myopic, choosing not to focus on how far the words reach or on how broadly the ripples may spread, but instead are content with the nearness of the task at hand, the crafting of these invitations that we hang on our digital doorposts.
I admit that I often feel like that kid, sitting alone in the empty room, waiting for someone to come along, pull up a chair, and join me in dunking the cookies of fellowship. And into my little room you have come. This club is small, but it’s mine. I’m glad you’re here. And you can keep your dollar . . .
[top photo credit]