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From ‘The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian’
WARNING: This includes language (references to sex and male anatomy) that some may find offensive.
“You read a book for the story, for each of its words,” Gordy said … . but you should also read and draw because really good books and cartoons give you a boner.”
I was shocked:
“You should get a boner! You have to get a boner!” Gordy shouted. “Come on!”
We ran into the Rearden High School Library.
“Look at all these books,” he said.
“There aren’t that many,” I said. It was a small library in a small high school in a small town.
“There are three thousand four hundred and twelve books here,” Gordy said … . “Yes, it’s a small library. It’s a tiny one. But if you read one of these books a day, it would still take you almost ten years to finish.”
“What’s your point?”
“The world, even the smallest parts of it, is filled with things you don’t know.”
Wow. That was a huge idea… .
“Okay, so it’s like each of these books is a mystery. Every book is a mystery. And if you read all the books ever written it’s like you’ve read one giant mystery. And no matter how much you learn, you just keep on learning there is so much more you need to learn.”
“Yes, yes, yes, yes,” Gordy said. “Now doesn’t that give you a boner?”
“I am rock hard,” I said.
“Well, I don’t mean boner in the sexual sense,” Gordy said. “I don’t think you should run through life with a real erect penis. But you should approach each book—you should approach life—with the real possibility that you might get a metaphorical boner at any point.”
“A metaphorical boner!” I shouted. “What the heck is a metaphorical boner?”
“When I say boner, I really mean joy,” he said.
I think Sherman Alexie, the author, does 2 awesome things in this excerpt from his young adult novel: he makes the reader laugh and he makes the reader think. Alexie comes at the old (cliched?) ideas of “reading is really important” or “reading is a gateway to another world” or “reading leads to self-improvement” with this great, highly descriptive idea of the “metaphorical boner.” He manages to be hilarious but also offer some profound advice. How great would life be if we really could approach more and more moments as opportunities for joy (isntead of an opportunity to get an ‘A’, to make money, to make someone else proud)? I know, as does Alexie, it’s impossible to be happy, joyful, or metaphorically “hard” all the time, but that doesn’t disqualify it as something worth aspiring to.
*I added the photo, so you could see another shot of Alexie.
"SUGGESTION #3: PRACTICE PATIENCE. Whether you sit around like I do, working for that perfect word, or yr working toward a dream job, or wishing for a dreamy sweetheart. Things will come to you when yr ready to handle them—not before. Just keep walking yr road."
You can find the rest here.
In this piece, I think Suzan-Lori Parks is trying to pass on as much advice as she possibly can. Her purpose, outside of that, is to entertain. Which she does moderately well. I would imagine giving a commencement address that is truly original and moving and important would be difficult. I’m just not sure she quite succeeds with this address… some of what she says doesn’t really ring true with me. Particularly, her third suggestion, to “keep walking yr road.” On the surface, I really like the idea of just “walking yr road” and letting things come to you as they’re “supposed” to. When I think about it more, though, it sounds like BS. The idea that “things will come to you when yr ready to handle them” is really a way of saying “you should be able to handle everything in your life” and that puts a lot of undue pressure on recent college grads (or, really, anybody not living the privileged lives we get to live and anybody not handling their situations at the moment).