Thursday, January 24, 2008

Pretension; The Past

Let's not lie to ourselves; I was totally the kid who wrote poetry and submitted it to the school literary magazine. I watched foreign movies (I am not as bad as one friend who insisted that Alphaville was the perfect movie for New Year's Eve), mostly French ones. I tried to listen to jazz -- it never really stuck, but I had this cool Thelonious Monk record. I was really into Paul Klee. Everybody I knew was really into Paul Klee. We could quote passages from the Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.

(If you're sitting there sneering, reflect on the things that you were obsessed with at seventeen, ok? And if you genuinely think that your culture obsessions were cooler or at least more interesting than mine, go jump in a lake. You may be right; it's not a nice thing to think.)

For a while I was super-embarrassed about this. It seemed like insincerity in part, because it wasn't clear that I entirely liked all the things I was pursuing and extolling, and also an exposure of a painfully sincere desire to be other than I was, to be the kind of sophisticated person who Bob Le Flambeur would really speak to. And that embarrassment is correct in the sense that I grew up to be someone who's not really so knowledgeable about art and music and poetry, although it's not like I'm anti.

But it's also kind of less embarrassing now, for two reasons. One is that some of that stuff that I pursued to seem smarter and more sophisticated stuck, stayed with me in an attenuated way. I like buildings more because I went through an architecture phase, which was prompted by the sight of a super-cool architecture magazine in an expensive book store, with fancy black and white photos. Because I thought that would be a cool thing to get into, I read some books and pretended to know more than I did, but also I started paying closer attention to the buildings around me. I looked at them harder and I liked them more, and while I know almost nothing about architecture, I guess I would say that going through that phase increase the pleasure I take in the world out there. Which is hard to argue with, as results go.

The other thing is that I thought of my pretentious period as a phase, but the older I get the more it seems indistinguishable from the other parts of my life. You decide to read things or do things based in part by an aura around those things, because until you've read something or done it you don't know if you'll like it or not. Very few things do you stumble across in some kind of immediate way -- nobody puts a gun to your head and says, "Read Jane Austen." You do stuff because you think it will impress people that you like or because you think it will make you cooler or happier or just because it's there. And then you like it or you don't; it sticks with you or it evaporates or it mostly evaporates but leaves odd pockets of knowledge behind, which is how I can still recite from heart "Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening."

At the end of the day, I guess I'm just grateful my whole poetry-writing phase was pre-internet.

I got back to L.A. in the rain, which is kind of funny, but I kind of enjoyed, because it rains so infrequently in L.A., that if I had missed all of the rain I would have felt left out of a seminal area experience.


Noko Marie said...

Oh God, my first thought is, Poor Kids! It's not just poetry; so many of one's "phases" get recorded on the internet now, for all posterity. Ugh! Horrible! I'd be a nervous wreck!

I'm all on board with this. I think wanting to impress people is a fine reason to get into or do something. Some of those things turn into real likes, some fade away.

I do have to say, I always thought the knowledge I was amassing as a young person about popular music would be really great to have when I was an adult -- that I'd be able to wow people with my memory for tunes and whatnot.

In fact all it led to is I now recognize a lot of 80's music.

Wrong again!

Octopus Grigori said...

This is a very admirable post.

Octopus Grigori said...

Also, the Octopus Grigori site now has link to this site.

(*wink* *wink*)

Anonymous said...

Socrates too thought imitation a powerful engine for growth: start by pretending to be a good man and lo! you may end by finding all that behavior sticking. I decided when I was v. young and vain that I would look more beautiful if I was smiling, so I practiced having a smiling face as the standard, walking-around operating equipment, and it is amazing a) how cheerful I sometimes feel when there's no particular reason to do so and b) how many people beam back at me, for no reason either -- except that it's nice.

B's Knees said...

I love the trip down memory lane..
Have been looking at news photos of drowning cars and feeling glad you don't have one!
(not much of a commenter.)
Had to leave something to complete my taggin obligation - it didn't come with any dire warnings about bad luck if you don't carry on, so proceed as you see fit. Rules at my online house.
Love you, AJK