I have not been in LA very long. About 4 weeks to be exact - and at least half of that time has been spent going to New York (for readings) or going to Ashland (to see my wife).
Still, I've been in LA. And now I'm noticing that something about me has changed.
I have come to have an appreciation for being something that I didn't before.
It's an appreciation that starts with listening, but is bigger: it's an appreciation for being part of an audience.
And it is all LA traffic's fault, with a little help from Chuck Klosterman.
You see, in LA, there is a well-known thing called "car-time" which can be defined as a period when your mind is available for stimulation through the ear and you are in a space in which, transparent as it may be, you are still free to react as if you are alone.
There's lots of this time. You bascially can do several things with it:
2. Listen to music.
3. Listen to the radio.
4. Make phone calls.
5. Get a book on CD and listen to it.
(Some say there's a 6th thing - reading - but I find this too dangerous.)
After initially starting with 1, I quickly moved to 2 and 3 with a lot of 4 in between. But eventually, music and radio grew tedious and chatting on the phone while driving, well, it's gonna lead to a crash.
So, I finally landed on the decision to try 5.
It was a reluctant decision to say the least since, as far as I had been concerned, these devices, books on CD, had always represented something of a sad thing for me culturally. A kind of laziness on the part of people who wanted to be in the know but didn't want to read.
But, then, I'd never had any real "car-time" and so, being a little desperate, to the "book" store I went to find something to listen to.
There are a lot of books on CD. Lots. And at first I was a little mystified about what to chose. On the one hand I was predisposed to fiction since I do love a good story, but on the other hand, I didn't want to be hearing something in 20 and 30 minutes dispatches that was meant to be heard in a long 4 hour sitting.
Luckily, I discovered that Chuck Klosterman had put something down and I thought, now, here is soemthing perfect. I knew his work would come in discreet little packages that could take me from LaBrea and Olympic all the way to Santa Monica and more if I wanted without ever feeling cut up by stops and starts along the way. Plus, I loved reading him when he was at SPIN. (He was the only real reason to get the magazine. I still think they were stupid to redesign the magazine without him.)
I got more than time-filler for the car.
See, aside from the being brilliant (and few are more brilliant than Klosterman's on the state of our culture, the nature of cool and the effect the Star Wars movies have really had on us) listening to him at stoplights and speeds of 70 mph and more, I have been completely re-awakened to the pleasure of listening to ideas.
Sure, I got it occasionally listening to NPR while in the car, but with Klosterman, the ideas are more pointed and put together. It's not just an overheard conversation happening between a DJ and someone on a phone, but something constructed after reflection, something that I'm hearing after it has been distilled by a mind.
Yes, that is to say, it's more like the reading of a play, or even like seeing a play, sans visuals.
This "listening" is something I think we sometimes forget, especially when there are so many ways available to us for response. In fact, I feel sometimes, that rather than just hearing something, taking it in, I often sit down at a movie or, particularly a theatre show, and think, even before it begins, what my potential repsonse to it might be.
Books on CD obviously makes this impossible. My repsonse is actually more direct because there's nothing else there - either I take to what I'm hearing or I don't. Its value to me is dependent on much I let it in RATHER than what I might possibly yell back at it.
In my car, I can only be a member of Klosterman's audience.
If only I could remind, not only myself, but everyone else at a theatre show how pleasureable that can be. That sometimes things are better when there's no talkback, no response cards, no "hey, what did you think of this" crap. It's just there for you to get something from or not.
Not that you don't talk about it, don't tell people what you thought of it. You just don't make the purpose of what you're about to see little else than what you're about to say.
Anyway, once again, thanks Chuck.
Not only for being the finest essayist of my generation, but reminding me that being in the audience, being part of an audience, well, it has its rewards, too.