Slipping from the tedious plane.

I was telling Mr. Greenjeans about how An American Childhood by Annie Dillard encouraged me in my writing. He comes from the author’s hometown of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, which is the backdrop for her growing-up adventures told from her vividly revealing point of view. I took the book off the shelf to put aside for him, and turned the pages a while, seeing passages I’d marked long ago.

Hers is a unique point of view, of course, as each of us is an unrepeatable individual looking out on our world. Whether it is her perspective that is unusual as well, or only her ability to convey it in words, I don’t know. I do know that few children today have the liberty of youth that Dillard describes as regularly offering periods of time so deep and distraction-free that you can “lose yourself.” In a chapter on her love of books and reading, she tells how she felt:

The actual world is a kind of tedious plane where dwells, and goes to school, the body, the boring body which houses the eyes to read the books and houses the heart the books enflame. The very boring body seems to require an inordinately big, very boring world to keep it up, a world where you have to spend far too much time, have to do time like a prisoner, always looking for a chance to slip away, to escape back home to books, or to escape back home to any concentration–fanciful, mental, or physical–where you can lose your self at last. Although I was hungry all the time, I could not bear to hold still and eat; it was too dull a thing to do, and had no appeal either to courage or to imagination. The blinding sway of their inner lives makes children immoral. They find things good insofar as they are thrilling, insofar as they render them ever more feverish and breathless, ever more limp and senseless on the bed.

-Annie Dillard, in An American Childhood

6 thoughts on “Slipping from the tedious plane.

  1. Annie Dillard is one of a kind, no doubt about it. I have tried and tried to enjoy her writing, seeing it quoted everywhere, but so far I’ve not been successful! Her perspective is a little to raw for me, somehow…maybe I’m just not enough of a writer to appreciate her.

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  2. This is a beautiful excerpt- thanks for sharing it! I’ve always believed in giving my kiddos some time to be ‘bored’- otherwise, when will they learn to explore and have a chance to engage in play or reading or imagination deeply, to “loose themselves,” if their lives are perpetually scheduled?

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  3. I love that book. I don’t love everything she’s written, but this one is great. There is an essay in another book about going to buy wine for the altar that I really love, too. When our priest, whose secretary I was, asked me to go buy the wine, it really shocked me. I guess if I had thought about it, I would have realized that wine comes from a liquor store, but it had never occurred to me that it was obtained in such a plebian manner.

    I don’t know if you noticed I quoted her my blog post about the terracotta warriors.

    AMDG

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  4. I’ve always loved, been fascinated by this book. I was born near Cleveland, Ohio, the same year Dillard was born in Pittsburgh, PA. So much seemed the same, and so much so different, in our childhoods. My parents were quite a bit older than hers which is one big difference. She is a good, really excellent, writer, but sometimes hard to take.

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  5. Sadly for our culture, the last two sentences probably now describe many adult chidren, especially the boy-men who prefer video games to family or work commitment, and to all ages who need the “thrilling” effects of drugs or the “feverish and breathless” experiences of sex no matter how or with whom

    (Sorry to have intruded with a dark thought. It grabbed me, and I didn’t let it go as I should have. I have great respect for Annie Dillard and appreciation for her positive contributions to our culture. I think I’ve been reading current social commentary too intently without balancing it enough with themes and observations like the ones you post– always uplifting.)

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