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Written by Timothy Sexton
"The Interior Life"
The section of the memoir titled “The Interior Life” begins with a paragraph-long metaphorical fantasia; a rumination on the consequences of a life of the mind. Often stupid, the interior life is one in which
"Its egoism blinds it and deafens it; its imagination spins out ignorant tales, fascinated. It fancies that the western wind blows on the Self, and leaves fall at the feet of the Self for a reason, and people are watching. A mind risks real ignorance for the sometimes paltry prize of an imagination enriched. The trick of reason is to get the imagination to seize the actual world—if only from time to time.”
A moth trapped in a jar too small that is then let loose into the world, reveling in its freedom even though with crippled wings it is destined to a near-instant death has a tremendously emotional effect upon the author which she can only frame through metaphor:
“At school I saw a searing sight. It turned me to books; it turned me to jelly; it turned me much later, I suppose, into an early version of a runaway, a scapegrace.”
The world of books changes everything for the author. Books allow her to escape the jar too small and to imagine a world where crippled wings can’t stop a moth from flight. Anyone who ever discovered a love for books at an early age can likely identify with the following passage which to those who don’t love reading perhaps seems like gibberish or madness:
“The wild and fatal whoops, the war whoops of the warriors, the red warriors whooping on a raid. It was a delirium. The tongue diddled the brain. Private life, book life, took place where words met imagination without passing through world.”
Pittsburgh plays a central role in the narrative. The post-war prosperity of America was greatly dependent upon industrial cities like Pittsburgh and the old wealth associated with it is placed into context with the city as the authors to know it, eventually recognizing that holds hidden treasures and stories scratched out by time but still existing:
“Our Pittsburgh was like Rome, or Jericho, a palimpsest, a sliding pile of cities built ever nearer the sky, and rising ever higher over the rivers. If you dug, you found things.”
Walking and reading. Reading and walking. Exploring the outer edges of the territory allowed. This is the author’s childhood, but always at the end is the return home. This daily experience becomes fodder for philosophical musing with a metaphorical edge:
“What is a house but a bigger skin, and a neighborhood map but the world’s skin ever expanding?”
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