31 January 2016

1. The Point of Vanishing: A Memoir of Two Years in Solitude by Howard Axelrod

What I thought was going to be a Thoreua-like meditation on the Woods, Solitude, and Individualism was really an exploration of the Angst Some People Feel as they Graduate College - the big "what do I do now?" Once I figured that out, Axelrod lost me, because, well, to be honest that topic just bores the living shit out of me. Whenever I get a whiff of this kind of story/experience, I just automatically feel like "middle-classer can't hack adversity" and what will follow is some kind of "the world isn't like I expected" story which only tells me that dude's past didn't get him ready for Real Life, which is, at it's most basic, Uncertainty.

The title, sub-title really, and the summary-blurb, and even some of the quotes on the cover left me with higher expectations, that I was going to be treated to some insightful reading of Man through Nature. An updated Thoreau. Modern Romanticism. I regularly reread Thoreau and read Wordsworth for fun. So I was quite excited to receive this as a Christmas present and started into it immediately.

Axelrod retreats to the woods in order to think out and sort out his place in the world. A big goal. A combination of setbacks, or major changes, have left him somewhat adrift: graduation and the feeling of not knowing what's next, a romantic disappointment, and worst of all, a devastating injury to one of his eyes, suffered in the last few minutes of a pickup basketball game during his senior year of college. The confusion of major transitions can be overcome, heart break can heal quickly with some courage and confidence, but physical injury, especially to Essential Components can really crush the spirit.

So, his trip to the woods was designed to heal, physically and emotionally.

The first third of the book is super tight. Lots of walks in the woods, accompanied by lots of notes about the transitions of seasons, metaphors for Axelrod's transitions from student to professional, from Boy-Man to Man.

But after the first third, we got sort of jumpy and disorganized - like the editing pen stopped and the focus that we had was gone. Winters merge, we jump to a scene in Italy - an important one, but seemingly thrown in to explain why we went to the woods in the first place - was it romantic disappointment or physical injury that forced us out of the social order? The physical injury seems an afterthought until after the romantic disappointment.  So we go to the woods, but eventually family pressures pull us back to the mainland of social interaction - where a seemingly innocent Thanksgiving dinner nearly turns disastrous.

Ultimately, I was disappointed.

Some great great sentences, but overall, the only person who would connect this to Thoreau is someone whose only exposure to Thoreau is the Walden wikipedia page. We all go through these transitions: college to professional life, from living with the parents to living independently, and so on. And for the most part, we're all successful, personally or professionally.

As I was reading I had that moment, that I had many times living in NYC, that, the person in front of me was only successful because, somehow, they had a Connection who lifted him or her into place. That I was only reading this because somehow, or some way, Axelrod was connected though his six degrees to some kind of publisher or whatnot, who somehow granted him access to some one who said yes to the first 50 pages every writer has to submit to an agent or publisher. His highest scoring Medium post, or magazine article, or second-date story is now a book.