tom thinks

date 2001-02-15:10:57
Reading There is a small voice that says, "Yes."

I'm standing in Novel Idea, a local bookstore, looking through their bin of "hurt Penguins". Half-price books, mostly classics. Caesar's The Civil War is there at the moment, although I'm hoping someone buys it before I get around to it. There's something wrong with the Romans that I can't quite make out; their literature is uniformly terrible, and their history--Livy, anyway--is almost unreadable. The Peace of Rome may have been a boon to the upper classes and even the smallholders at times, but the cost in terms of life and culture was tremendous.

There's also a copy of St. Exupe'ry's Wind, Sand and Stars. I've never read The Little Prince, but I pick up the book and read the first few pages, hearing the author's voice tell me of his apprenticeship as a pilot for an early French airline, flying mail and passengers to North Africa over the mountains of Spain. I reach the passage where one of the "old birds" is going over the safe landing spots in Spain, telling him of a farm outside a major city, and the city--the meaning of the city--changes in the author's mind from a major urban center to an open field where a pilot with an engine that has eaten itself can come safely down from the sky.

And a small voice in my mind says "Yes."

I'm going to buy the book. This is how I make these choices, most of the time. I let my mind fill with the author's words, and I wonder how it would feel to read the rest of them, what they would say to me, whether I would feel the time spent to read them worthwhile.

I make choices based on my feelings all the time; I ask, "How would this feel?" Sometimes the answer is, "Good, probably" and those things I'm likely to do. Sometimes the answer is, "Bad, but you need to do it to achieve this goal", and those things I'm also likely to do. Sometimes the answer is, "I have no idea", and that is always an impulse to action, either to do the thing to find out the answer, or to do something else to enable a better judgment.

Feelings are facts about us, and like all facts they should be taken into proper account when making choices. Only a fool eliminates an entire class of facts from consideration in the decision-making process.

I can, of course, account for why I felt the way I did on reading St. Exupe'ry. I have come in recent years to value my understanding of local geography, to grasp geographic experience on a far smaller scale than the world or continental maps that were used to fail in teaching geography when I was in school. St. Exupe'ry's evocation of the local geography expressed that value of mine, and made me want to read more. But the way I knew that was because of what I felt.

If I didn't trust myself, if I was suspicious of my own values and trying to disown them, which I was for many years, I wouldn't have trusted that feeling and would have been unable to make a rational choice. Owning--not defending or promulgating or proselytizing--your values is a necessary step toward self-fulfillment.

I also kept a promise to myself today, which was to by Seamus Heaney's Beowulf as soon as it came out in trade paperback. The contrast with the choice to buy St. Exupe'ry was striking: I saw Heaney and found myself picking him up off the shelf without any conscious thought at all. I found myself wondering why I was doing it, as I'd seen the book many times before, but at $35 in hardcover it was too expensive to justify for a poem whose artistic merits are, I think, somewhat over-rated, despite the fact that I really like Heaney's own work, and think he's very well-placed to do justice to Beowulf, and the book has been very well reviewed and won the Whitbread Award. But after a moment's reflection I recalled standing in another bookstore a year or two ago, thinking, "When that comes out in paperback..."

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