Try to learn to breathe deeply, really to taste food when you eat, and when you sleep, really to sleep. Try as much as possible to be wholly alive, with all your might, and when you laugh, laugh like hell, and when you get angry, get good and angry. Try to be alive. You will be dead soon enough.
William Saroyan, cited by Richard Rodriguez in his essay “Disappointment,” in Best American Essays 2007 (225).
When I open a book, even now, I still have some expectation of changing my psychological vantage. But this is nothing like my earliest reading which, until I lost the power of that absorption, allowed what felt like a complete exchange of realities. What I feel these days is a strenuous give-and-take between perspectives, a tension between the immediacy of the present and the brightly conjured there of the book. What’s more, it’s not generally erasure I crave, not complete vicariousness, but that peculiar doubleness, that oscillation between outer and inner. Something about energy—attention—moving between two poles, turning up the inner and dimming down the outer, compensates the imbalance, my sense of the world being, as William Wordsworth wrote, “too much with us.” Thrown too fully into the outer—the picnic, the parade, the dutiful social gathering—I panic. I find no place to put this self I tote around. When I settle in with a book, on the other hand, I feel the body and its behaviors recede. The cloudy “I” leaks out, expanding to fill whatever imagined space becomes available.