Monday, March 26, 2018

Read, Read, Read

For most of my life, I have been an undisciplined, purely impulsive reader. Back in the days of cheap paperbacks, I couldn’t be trusted in a bookstore because I inevitably emerged with a very large bag of “oh, now that looks interesting!” To be even more honest, I spent hours wandering the streets of San Francisco from City Lights Bookstore to Tro Harper to the basement of the City of Paris to a strange little store below the sidewalk on Geary. I should have been studying, but didn’t I choose to major in world literature at San Francisco State so I could read anything I wanted? As one of my later work managers once said to me in an early performance review: “some people major in something useful. Clearly not you.”

But he was wrong. My reading helped me understand some of the problems faced by people without papers proving birth or marriage who had managed to survive WWII because my job was to adjudicate their claims for earned benefits. It also taught me how to write so I could explain, in understandable language, the decisions made on them. It taught me to look beyond the bubble(s) in which I grew up and later lived. It taught me to question, to analyze, to appreciate the creativity of diversity and how it contributes to a more vital world. Do I still have my blind spots, ignorance, and preconceived notions about how the world could be more to my liking? Yes. What reading wantonly does not allow me to do, however, is accept my blind spots, my ignorance, or my preconceived notions as givens. Inevitably, a little voice whispers in my ear: “maybe, just maybe, you should look at that a little differently…”

In an authoritarian society, fact-based education, creative expression, and reading are dangerous things. The arts, in general, have always threatened the fearful, especially those in power. Look at Stalin’s era and Hitler’s regime. So I think I just might raise a glass to toast the ardent, impulsive, and undisciplined reader. They may be our best weapon, besides committed voters, in assuring the continuation of democracy.

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