All Realities Are Local

by Gary E. Bloom

On a flight, seated behind a teenage girl, a novelist was having a get-off-my-lawn moment. With the click sound enabled, the girl tapped away on her iPhone. Tap tap tap tap tap tap tap tap tap tap tap… The nonstop cadence of the taps meant she could not be texting back and forth with friends. As the girl tapped away the entire flight, the novelist’s irritation dissolved into admiration and, finally, revelation: the girl was writing a novel.

I enjoy reading about how authors write and their opinions on the correct creative process. There’s no end of advice on how it should be done, which varies from “write every single day at the same time in a quiet space set up for only writing” to “write when the baby’s napping” or “take advantage of when you’re standing in line at Starbucks.” Or, if you’re on a jet at cruising altitude, stuffed into a tiny seat with no leg room, thumb tap on your iPhone.

Outlines and Notecards

In Paris they just simply opened their eyes and stared when we spoke to them in French! We never did succeed in making those idiots understand their own language. —Mark Twain

I have a hunch my “dumbbell English” 1: class teachers felt the same way about me as Twain felt about the Parisians. Two attempts to pass a remedial English class at my community college resulted in grade F.

The goal of the class was to teach essay writing. We were instructed to begin our essay by making an outline and to take notes from our research on lined notecards. To produce the essay, we were to create an outline on which our notes would be distributed and transformed into prose. Voila (I know one more French word than Mark Twain did)—your essay.

Does anyone write this way? When I attempted an outline, I lasted as long as I would in the ring against Mike Tyson in his prime (or even on his deathbed). In retrospect, I believe most students created the outline after they wrote their essays, but at the time, I blamed myself for my failure.

Long motivated to become a licensed counselor, but aware of my academic deficits, I negotiated an academic path so I had to produce just two essays to get a master’s in clinical psychology. My undergrad degree was in applied art (which I’m terrible at), and my master’s was ninety-percent counseling internships with the “classroom” devoted to supervision. The downside? My writing woes plagued me well beyond those remedial English classes. My insecurities about writing contributed to my failure to complete my PhD.

My academic days ended long ago. In the meantime, computers and word processors came along to minimize my deficiencies in organizing and maximize my enjoyment of thinking on a screen and illustrating those thoughts with wordplay.

I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say. —Flannery O’Connor

When I start to write, I don’t have any plan at all. I just wait for the story to come. I don’t choose what kind of story it is or what’s going to happen. —Haruki Murakami

So much for the expert writing advice to “have a plan.” My teachers’ instructions on how to write an essay presumed there was one best way (or, perhaps, just one way, as we were given no alternatives) to approach a writing project. And these instructions assumed that my brain works the same as theirs. There has to be a better way to nurture the abilities of a varied group of learners. Flannery O’Connor wrote before there were word processors, but some of us need more help.

All Realities Are Local is now available as an online e-book, that is, in descending order of posted. Link. It’s been slightly edited for grammar and some essay titles and sub-titles have been changed.

  1. Those classes were colloquially known as “dumbbell English,” and I failed my first two attempts. Four years later, at a different community college, I finally passed English 1A, so I could enter my junior college year.  ↩︎


Can I move? I’m better when I move.
The Sundance Kid

Last year, my wife and I moved from Edmonds, Washington to Portland, Oregon to help with our newborn grandchild. At least that’s the explanation I put out. The real reason? I was scared to go out at night in Edmonds. I was afraid I’d run into the notorious gangs of dentists, lawyers, accountants, and the most chilling of all, the “lords of Edmonds mean streets,” the financial advisors. How else can I explain my continued practice in martial arts that I took up at age forty-eight? Yet, even with martial arts training,1 I was still intimidated by the ravenous hoards pushing their way to an eighty-dollar filet mignon. Hence: to Portland.

In truth, statistically, the most dangerous thing in my life would become the drive to the dojo, but after watching a documentary on the grace of Aikido,2 I wanted some of that. Unlike the Sundance Kid, I’m not better when I move, but I wished to become better when I move. Seven years in Aikido ended when the dojo closed. Two years in karate ended when my daughter could drive herself to the dojo. For the last fifteen years, my wife and I have pursued the more gentle-on-the body art of Tai Chi.

Speed thrills

Oh, my-my, what a sensation.
—the Beach Boys

In a nearby Portland park, we initiated our then ten-month-old granddaughter into a new sensation. Nana (Joan) sits Nova on her lap, arranges the infant’s extremities for safety, and wheeee down the park slide. The one-second adventure is Nova’s first thrill of speed.

At my age of ten (years, not months), we visited the relatives we left behind in Chicago. My family took our first ride on a commercial jet. The acceleration on takeoff was so thrilling that for years I anticipated another jet ride for just those seconds.

As thrilling as those rides are for Nova and were for me, it’s more fun when you’re the driver not the passenger, that is, when you get to control the speed that gives you thrills, such as when I learned to ski (badly), and when I pretended I was a race-car driver in the sports cars I owned in my early adulthood.

In infancy, our caretakers tend to our needs and fulfill our desires. But they fulfill our desires only as they see fit. Nova’s smile informs us that she likes the ride down the slide. Her kicking and screaming as we put her back in her stroller informs us she’s displeased that she has no control over when the sliding fun ends.

When Nova gets a little older, she’ll get to go down the slide by herself, and she’ll get to speed down the sidewalk on her trike. The older she gets, the more control she’ll have over speed and other sensuous thrills. Perhaps, she’ll take up a team sport such as soccer or an individual sport such as her big brother’s rock climbing or her mother’s martial arts.

Calvin and Hobbs

When our kids were ready for chapter books, Joan and I created our own bedtime-story habits. I read our son adult books and his younger sister, young-adult books. Joan read our daughter newspaper comics and our son, from Calvin and Hobbs books.3

One day, we found Adam sitting on the couch reading through a Calvin and Hobbs book on his own. He had realized he had learned to read by following the words in the book. Could he read, or did he just memorize the words in the one book? The answer came when he picked up the nearest novel in sight and began to read Jurassic Park.

The yearning for “mastery,” and by that, I mean attaining and maintaining a skill that brings independence4 starts at the breast (or substitute)—the umbilical cord has been severed, and I’m hungry—and lasts throughout life.

We associate learning with school, and school with children, and we associate learning with practical needs such as reading. But most learning has no obvious utility, and we could go about our lives just fine without. To pay the bills, we could learn law or plumbing and spend the rest of our time watching Netflix. If I cared to acquire only practical knowledge, I’d forget training in Tai Chi and study the manual that came with our new computer disguised as a washing machine.5

But there’s no difference between baby Nova and me. She didn’t recently learn to walk because she foresaw soccer in her future, and I don’t train in martial arts for self-defense or for the health advantages promoted in the Harvard Medical Journal. We both pursue mastery for its own sake because we’re humans and that’s how our species evolved.

  1. Despite the years of training, I’m not good at martial arts, but I think I could hold my own against the older accountants and financial advisors. ↩︎
  2. I saw the documentary seventeen years before I started to train in Aikido but my intention persisted. ↩︎
  3. When she learned to read, our daughter read the Calvin and Hobbs books on her own. ↩︎
  4. Mastery is used in two ways: competence, which is how I’m using it, and excellence. ↩︎
  5. Seriously, I doubt a Google engineer could understand the Miele manual. ↩︎

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