Monday, October 24, 2011

book love- diversion vs. discovery

This past weekend I finished the Pulitzer Prize winning novel by Elizabeth Strout, Olive Kitteridge. The writing is clean and patient, nothing feels rushed. The last page was so heartrending (and so true!) that it almost did me in.

A few months back, I read a very interesting piece by Michael Feeley Callan in Vanity Fair about the massive undertaking involved in the making of the film "All The Presidents Men." The films director, Alan Pakula, was said that at the time the film was made, "American theater per se was similar. We had a disproportionate interest in diversion therapy and too little interest in discovery." (Read the full piece here.)

This stuck with me and echoed around these past few months: diversion versus discovery. It made me think about the way that I consume entertainment and spend my time. In Olive Kitteridge, Strout writes, "...it was because she had not known what one should know: that day after day was unconsciously squandered." It caused me to ask myself to begin to recognize whether I am using my time to divert myself or to discover- to create, to grow.

Please do not get me wrong- I completely value diversion. It is needed to stop me from obsessing or worrying over too much nonsense. When I wake up at 2am and cannot sleep because I am replaying some exchange from earlier in the day, I need to divert my mind just long enough to remember how exhausted I am. This is usually best accomplished with an episode of Friends. (I have this on a post it note next to my computer: "Worrying is the same thing as banging your head against the wall. It only feels good when you stop."- John Powers.)

However, what Pakula's quote taught me was to be cautious in my life when the balance of daily activities tips toward diversion- when I spend more minutes and hours trying to ignore the life around me than I do in engaging it, discovering it. If I too often feel the need to "escape" (through mindless entertainment, obsessive FB checking, Pinterist-ing the entire Remodelista site- you get the idea, define diversion for yourself), then it is a signal that I need to pause and start asking myself some questions.

The truth is, though, that true discovery genius in writing sneaks up. It appears to be diverting but ends up smacking us upside the head with a truth so powerful it takes our breath away. I have had a few reading experiences like that in my life and every time it happens I am shaken and yet so grateful. Reading Olive Kitteridge was like that for me. Bless the skills and insight of it's writer, Elizabeth Strout.

This makes me wonder- have you read a book lately that started off as a diversion but ended up helping you discover something new? I'd love to hear about it.

1 comment:

Helen said...

I think the line between diversion and discovery is a very blurry one. What one person considers as diversion, can be another's mean of discovery. I started hiking and climbing as an escape, a diversion. What I learned of myself in the process made me a much better person. If we don't allow ourselves the luxury of diversions, we will miss too many opportunities for discoveries.