Daily Book Excerpt: Adult fiction:
Jonathan Livingston Seagull – by Richard Bach.
Oh boy. We’re moving into Richard Bach land. I have a complicated long-term relationship with Richard Bach. And for those of you who are new to me – I wrote this whole series of essays on soulmates. There’s actually more to be said on this topic – but I shy away from it, because it’s a loaded issue for me – but whatevs, it’s also VERY interesting.
If you’re into it, here are my soulmates posts:
Soulmates: An Overview (check out the comment to that post from “JLS” – uhm – Jonathan Livingston Seagull commented on my post. And check out its snotty tone which completely proved my own point about the whole soulmates industry)
And now – a small tangent about my blog: One of the issues I have with the way some people comment on blogs – not all – SOME (especially those who spend most of their time reading political blogs, and then come to visit me … they bring that judgey rigid tone HERE – it’s like that’s the only way they know how to speak, even though I’m posting about Mae West and not the Republican fucking debates – but still, it doesn’t matter: they are in the habit of being positional, judgmental, and rigid – where I am so not interested in having that type of black and white conversation – even if I DID post about politics – that tone ruins everything. I don’t read blogs who have that tone, and I don’t want that spill-over here) To be fair, people who are consistently judgey and rigid don’t last long here. I don’t tolerate it, because it ruins my fun. But still: it happens on occasion. Anyway – one of the issues I have with that kind of commenter is that it makes for a boring conversation. It’s too positional. As in: Richard Bach = BAD. And people who love Richard Bach = STUPID. And that misses my point. I’m not interested in having a political-type audience, who can only take positions on things, who are only in opposition, etc. Whose main attitude appears to be: “What in the hell is wrong with everybody else except me?? Why can’t everybody be as smart as I am??” You know the type. Yawn. Also: it seems to be that that type of attitude is geared towards ENDING conversation, rather than continuing it. I’m all about the talk, and the conversation. Even with strong opinions – it is a hope of mine that we can still continue to TALK about things. But “what is wrong with everyone? Such and such is BAD and that’s final” is not intelligent, and not a continuation of anything. No place for that here.
So when I “take on” Richard Bach – I do so from the stance of having been an enormous fan of his stuff at one point. I do so from the position of having once loved him, and looked to him for answers. I don’t anymore – but I also don’t roll my eyes at my younger self for having been into him. And I don’t roll my eyes at those who still think he’s an inspiration. I would hope that people could express themselves about it without being snotty, like JLS – because it is a very interesting topic, and touches on things that are very personal for many of us. Is there only ONE person out there for everybody? Can you have MULTIPLE soulmates? Etc. I am not interested in a kneejerk response to those questions. I prefer contemplation, discussion, back and forth … I am saying this because Bach is a sensitive subject and people take him personally. That’s totally cool – so did I. I have changed my mind, drastically. That’s what my soulmate essays are about. There’s quite a bit about his stuff that I still love. I love his writing, in general. (Read the essays. All the background is there).
I think the first book I read of his was Illusions – and I came back to Jonathan Livingston Seagull later. You can read it in about 20 minutes. It was his first major book – he had been writing articles and essays on flying for many years. He was a barnstormer, a pilot – and his writing on aviation is phenomenal. Not as good as St. Ex … but you can feel that St. Ex is his guiding star. He writes about flight like that. Marvelous. So in Jonathan Livingston Seagull – he goes into the realm of metaphor. All of his themes: breaking through barriers, mind over matter, standing alone, being ahead of the crowd, or unafraid of being different – it’s all here.
Here’s an excerpt. And interesting – I chose this excerpt because of my strong reaction to it this morning. It makes me realize that I should probably re-open the soulmates conversation again. I am not done with Richard Bach. Not by a long shot. I still have a bone to pick with that man.
But what’s interesting to me: is how I USED to look at him, how I USED to read him. I thought he had the key. I looked to him. And now – reading this excerpt – what I see is his flaws, his humanity – his fears – and you know what? That makes him even more interesting to me.
He wants to transcend being human. I relate to that wish. Sometimes I want that myself. But he doesn’t seem quite aware of his own avoidance techniques, his own desire to feel nothing, to be ABOVE others ….
This is all very interesting because of his experiences as a pilot – that very specific perspective of being far above the earth, looking down.
And yet old habits die hard. The line “keep working on love” makes me want to weep. My response to Richard Bach is so primal that it borders on muscle memory. Some kind of sensoral memory. Intellectually, I am pissed at him. But when he comes out with a line like “keep working on love” … I fall in love with him again.
Excerpt from Jonathan Livingston Seagull – by Richard Bach.
A month went by, or something that felt about like a month, and Jonathan learned at a tremendous rate. He always had learned quickly from ordinary experience, and now, the special student of the Elder Himself, he took in new ideas like a streamlined feathered computer.
But then the day came that Chiang vanished. He had been talking quietly with them all, exhorting them never to stop their learning and their practicing and their striving to understand more of the perfect invisible principle of all life. Then, as he spoke, his feathers went brighter and brighter and at last turned so brilliant that no gull could look upon him.
“Jonathan,” he said, and these were the last words that he spoke, “keep working on love.”
When they could see again, Chiang was gone.
As the days went past, Jonathan found himself thinking time and again of the Earth from which he had come. If he had known there just a tenth, just a hundredth, of what he knew here, how much more life would have meant! He stood on the sand and fell to wondering if there was a gull back there who might be struggling to break out of his limits, to see the meaning of flight beyond a way of travel to get a breadcrumb from a rowboat. Perhaps there might even have been one made Outcast for speaking his truth in the fact of the Flock. And the more Jonathan practiced his kindness lessons, and the more he worked to know the nature of love, the more he wanted to go back to Earth. For in spite of his lonely past, Jonathan Seagull was born to be an instructor, and his own way of demonstrating love was to give something of the truth that he had seen to a gull who asked only a chance to see truth for himself.
Sullivan, adept now at thought-speed flight and helping the others to learn, was doubtful.
“Jon, you were Outcast once. Why do you think that any of the gulls in your old time would listen to you now? You know the proverb, and it’s true: The gull sees farthest who flies highest. Those gulls where you came from are standing on the ground, squawking and fighting among themselves. They’re a thousand miles from heaven – and you say you want to show them heaven from where they stand! Jon, they can’t see their own wingtips! Stay here. Help the new gulls here, the ones who are high enough to see what you have to tell them.” He was quiet for a moment, and then he said, “What if Chiang had gone back to his old worlds? Where would you have been today?”
The last point was the telling one, and Sullivan was right. The gull sees farthest who flies highest.
Jonathan stayed and worked with the new birds coming in, who were all very bright and quick with their lessons. But the old feeling came back, and he couldn’t help but think that there might be one or two gulls back on Earth who would be able to learn, too. How much more would he have known by now if Chiang had come to him on the day that he was Outcast!
“Sully, I must go back,” he said at last. “Your students are doing well. They can help you bring the newcomers along.”
Sullivan sighed, but he did not argue. “I think I’ll miss you, Jonathan,” was all he said.
“Sully, for shame!” Jonathan said in reproach, “and don’t be foolish! What are we trying to practice every day? If our friendship depends on things like space and time, then when we finally overcome space and time, we’ve destroyed our own brotherhood! But overcome space, and all we have left is Here. Overcome time, and all we have left is Now. And in the middle of Here and Now, don’t you think that we might see each other once or twice?”
Sullivan Seagull laughed in spite of himself. “You crazy bird!” he said kindly. “If anybody can show someone on the ground how to see a thousand miles, it will be Jonathan Livingston Seagull.” He looked at the sand. “Good-bye, Jon, my friend.”
“Good-bye, Sully. We’ll meet again.” And with that, Jonathan held in thought an image of the great gull-flocks on the shore of another time, and he knew with practiced ease that he was not bone and feather but a perfect idea of freedom and flight, limited by nothing at all.