Screw you, Jean-Paul Sartre
Reading is a bit like holding the hand of someone special and walking along an ocean’s shoreline. There’s salt in the air. The sun is merciful; the clouds, magnanimously, juxtapose into peculiar shapes. There’s music everywhere too. Tall waves roar from a distance. The distant giggle of amateur swimmers. The sound of a cool summer breeze passing through carcasses of cone snails in the sand.
It’s a whimsical experience, filled with passion and tenderness. Little ecstasies creep up from behind. It’s one of those win-win situations that we hear so little about. But I haven‘t done this in a long time. Frankly, I don’t miss it at all. There are other ways that two people can connect with each other through nature.
It has also been a few years since I buried my nose in a book.
I used to read a lot. Teachers and parents had found it to be detrimental to my growth in academia and life — in general. As an adult, I had to stop. There was a problem. During my own journey of becoming a writer, I had started to mimic my favorite authors. I parroted, rather shamelessly, their unique observations on life, death and everything else in-between.
Like Hemingway once wrote, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed”.
But a writer should bear the burden of losing his / her own quota of blood. It must come from within. It can’t flow from the skin of another.
But I wanted to be a storyteller like Franz Kafka. I ached to make people feel like how Albert Camus did. I craved for lessons from Virginia Woolf. I was desperate to learn more about how Ernest Hemingway and Mark Twain wrote the way they did.
I was the fat man in the Hangover trilogy, trying to win the respect of dead writers to elevate my own ego. And so, I had to let go off books for a while and focus on finding my writing voice.
That was 4 years ago.
Last week, I decided to get back to reading during a bus ride. I pulled out Sartre’s Intimacy that had been collecting dust in my backpack. Turning turtle in a cramped upper berth, I held it inches away from my face. The pages could hear me breathe.
I came across the below passage on Page 3,
“You ought to love all of somebody, the esophagus, the liver, the intestines. Maybe we don’t love them because we aren’t used to them. If we saw them the way we saw our hands and arms maybe we’d love them; the starfish must love each other better than we do. They stretch out on the beach when there’s sunlight and they poke out their stomachs to get the air and everybody can see them; I wonder where we could stick ours out, through the navel”.
It was so gorgeously-penned that I had to put the book down. It sent shivers down my spine; the way a winter morning blows cool air into a bird’s nest and bristles its twigs. Then, it poured gasoline all over me and burnt to crisp any half-baked clarity I had about the universe.
It mugged my mind, thieving my lungs of their respiratory functions. I drank so much water that I had to ask the driver to stop the bus for an unscheduled bathroom break in the middle of the night.
It wasn’t just because Sartre had described the act of intimacy so beautifully.
It had more to do with how great writers can draw blood without even throwing a punch.
His descriptions of love, sexuality, and longing of the human soul were so layered that I had to reread every paragraph.
Each time, it led me through a different wormhole.
When I came back home, I wanted to write. I sat down to read the notes I had scribbled on paper and stare at the photographs I had taken. I realized that some of the elucidations I had jotted down had a familiar theme.
I felt strongly about the unpredictable weather of intimacy. The warm sun showers, the cold winds, and the hailstorms that came along with it.
Once again, I was trying to sound like someone else.
I am going to keep away from reading for some more time.
I blame it all on Jean-Paul Sartre.