Thursday, September 17, 2015

My relationship with stories.

Years ago, my girlfriend’s* roommate told me i should watch “the Wire.” I gave the first episode a try, but let’s be honest, it was no BSG, so I moved onto other shinier things.

Years later, a friend whose taste I greatly respected, further relented, “why haven’t you watched 'the Wire' yet?” I soonafter moved to NY, found myself on planes, trains, and working from home more, so decided to give it the old college try (again). But this time I made sure I was uninterrupted by laptops, phones, or squirrels. After pushing through the first couple of episodes, I was drawn in, and could not let go. Soon, instead of taking ~30 minute express trains, I found myself opting for ~50 minute locals, arriving on the train early to get a seat so i could get a full episode in before getting home. I may or may not have missed a flight, and I’m not going to comment on hours of skipped work.**

Needless to say, “the Wire” was, and remains a great show. David Simon’s “love letter to America.” But back then, after just a few months the show was over. At the time, everything else on television seemed…lacking. Since then there have been a host of other shows I’ve enjoyed, some getting close to the high bar that "the Wire” set for me.

Stories (without pictures)

So I read…a lot. Maybe not as much/often as others I know (“there’s always a bigger fish”), but my appetite for prose, and the great stories behind them, is voracious. Whether it’s graphic novels, the Economist, my wife’s New Yorker, assorted internettery (Pocket is the best/worst thing ever, especially in a post-Google-reader world), and of course actual Books - novels and short stories alike. I tend to oscillate between fiction and non, at varying frequencies, but am not going to lie, am a sucker for good science fiction, and the occasional historical and/or contemporary fiction (your Mistry, Hornby, and the like)

I recently learned that a close friend/co-worker was also a reading (and science fiction) nut. He highly recommended a series of 4 sci-fi novels (a Cantos, if you will, reminiscent of Chaucer and Boccaccio), written in the late 80s/early 90s, that won all sorts of science fiction awards. Also knowing i was also a student/fan of religion, my friend hinted that it might even provide more perspective. While usually skeptical of singular recommendations — I usually wait for 2-3 before even considering a new story venture) — the religious hook piqued my curiosity, so i dug in. And like "the Wire” many years before, i could not let go.

~2 months later, after ignoring almost everything else outside of work and home (stacks of magazines piled up, and i’m still working my way through a backlog of undiscovered graphic novels), I completed all four books. And everything else that followed seemed lacking. I was in withdrawal. Story withdrawal.

After my literary immersion, I "slept around" with more than a fair number of graphic novels. Chasing favorite authors on Amazon and picking them up at my local library. I tried picking up a few books as well, albeit unsuccessfully (sorry Eric, Elon, and Aziz***). I got back into the printed world through the lens of the Economist, the New Yorker, Wired, Rolling Stone, and Fast Company. And while my literary needs were briefly, and temporarily sated, it was somewhere between candy and vegetables. Frozen vegetables if you will. There was something missing in the taste, the flavor, that left me wanting. 

Now showing, Daily.

In 1999, I was living in Huntsville, AL, working alternate semesters/summers in the defense industry (longer story). I had just ended a relationship (with a girl!), so found myself going to more rock shows, buying computer parts, burning bootleg CDs, binge reading comics, watching movies old and new, and channel surfing. An MTV comedian named Jon Stewart took over the Daily Show. And while it was at first just something to pass the time and fill the void, I quickly became hooked.

Over the years that followed, I came back and forth into the show over the years (school, girl/s, friends, and rock music got in the way). After graduating  and leaving Alabama for my first real job, I again found myself single and with even more time. So I started hanging out with my friend Jon more every night. The advent of the DVR in the early 2000s made it even easier to have Jon, along with his pals Steve, Stephen, and Mo, a dinner companion at my apartment (Side note: during this DVR period, i also became acquainted with Jed Bartlett and his staff, who are sorely missed). 

Eventually, I met my girlfriend*, and dinner (or brunch) with Jon became a ritual, even when we were living overseas. And as you know, most recently, Jon decided to leave us. 

I’m not going to lie. It felt like we lost a friend (having lost more friends and family than I would care to, I don’t say this lightly). Sure, we've tried hanging out with some of Jon's other friends, John, Larry, and more recently Stephen. But it’s not the same. So we find ourselves trying to move on.

I guess what i’m trying to say that really good stories (and or great storytellers), are like relationships. They become part of your life, your being, but only for a short period. Inevitably it comes to an end, and anything else comparable seems lesser afterwards.

Fortunately that’s what real life is for.

*The girlfriend referenced in both stories? Spoiler alert, she's now my wife . I guess now that all these stories/storytellers are gone, we’ll have to find something else to do with each other. Until I discover something else.
**I assume there’s some statute of limitations on playing hooky for a TV show, after all “the Wire” was 2 companies and 7+ years ago.

***I’m almost done with all three of these, thankfully. All non-fiction, all worth the read.

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