I attended a reading festival this weekend- on the USF campus in St. Petersburg, Fl- arriving to acclimate with the local literary scene, and to seek advice from fellow authors who had come to market their ware like scholarly carnival barkers on the college square midway. My escort was the young girl responsible for coining the word dumbifying. She was the one responsible for convincing me to attend the fair.
I often find her Virginia spun charm persuasive. She possesses a natural talent of allowing her conservative appearance to contrast with her Progressive political views, as she expresses her statements with an indigenous allegiance to an Allegheny diction.
She once twanged upon hearing a comment made by a popular Republican daily radio celebrity.
"Why that man is a menace. He's just catering to the dumbiFYing of Americans!"
Her punch on the third syllable of the fabricated participle seemed effectively satirical. I've often use the term to appropriately acknowledge the current condition of our great society.
We strolled around the Book Fair and examined writers as they sat inside tents, behind folding tables lined with the stacks of their self published aspirations, and piles of their deskjet produced marketing pamphlets. They'd pitch the qualities of their works to the wandering patrons of the literary midway; most of whom had no intentions of buying. They were only there to browse the tables and to fill their complementary cloth bags with giveaway items. It was a scene that seemed to replicate the desperation that has fallen upon our industry.
A few buyers had been sold by the persuasions of the authors, and placed their purchased books among the items of their tote bags. However, most of the writers did not attempt to promote. They sat pensively behind their tables, reading newspapers or magazines, or even copies of their own marketing material: unfulfilled by the public acceptance of their creative ambitions.
An enthusiastic teenager approached me and asked if I was interested in her series of self published works about a mythical world of enchantment. Her face contorted with a look of disappointment when I told her I was not. She seemed disingenuous to the response I gave to her inquiry on the subject my own project.
I later saw her with a man I assumed was her father. He stood with his hands upon her shoulders, speaking to her as she nodded and frowned, gazing towards the ground as if searching for a dropped amulet. Her rather ambitious table top display was not enticing much response and I assumed she was receiving the fatherly, "stick to your convictions," talk.
The scene encouraged me to do the same.
The events of the day were later pondered with deliberation at an evening gathering near the campus. I stood at the side of a rooftop railing on a downtown condominium, drinking wine beneath the glow of a full harvest moon, reflecting with a mostly younger crowd of intellectual relievers. As the night evolved- and the consumption progressed- the opinions began to unleash with forceful conviction. I kept my composure intact, until the discourse turned to the future of the novel and the apathy of enlightenment by the dumbifyed citizens of America. Both topics heightened my subjective dander.
Since the Virginian introduced me to the group as her writer friend, a young chemistry student approached me to say she was currently taking a required course in composition, and was having a hard time understanding allegory. She said her instructor recently had her read a passage of sort and then write a short essay on the revealed symbolism. She was unable to complete the assignment because she had not discovered an implied meaning. She was only able to understand the surface description of the events.
I found her explanation to be allegorical of the state of America. It seems a majority of people are not seeing the implications of our national narrative; they only hear the surface banter.
"Dumbifying; truly dumbifying," was my escorts remark to the young girls statement.
I responded, cordially, by noting my surprise with how a college student was unable to conceive symbolism. The remark irritated her boyfriend, who emphatically insisted creative writing was an ancient art form. He further advised that if I wanted to become a commercially successful author in today's market, I needed to accept the fact that conventional reading material is to be composed to reach an eighth grade reading level. I nearly toppled over the edge of the railing upon hearing this comment, but the catastrophe was prevented by a surprised acceptance of this statement by the Virginian. I stood steadfast to hear her explanation.
Although she would later agree the logic contributes to the Dumbifying of America, she insisted most people cannot isolate to reading for pleasure. They want immediate gratification because time is valuable, and they find their time pondering a novel's implied meaning wasteful.It also becomes disruptive to their routine when the meaning of certain words are unknown. The reader then looses interest and abandons the book. A book is not received to enlighten, she told me, it is read to inform.
I, of course, adamantly disagreed, and began to rage my convictions in defense of the literary novel. Was she suggesting people read to occupy the time between daily activities and episodes of Dancing With the Stars? Was she honestly suggesting self proclaimed authorities who write "know it all books" are replacing the ranks of writers who inspire? Is composing on a eighth grade reading level an accepted standard in the industry?
While catching a second wind I noticed her smile and realized that I had been deliberately provoked. Her southern dialect had successfully veiled the satirical implications of her words.I was gratified by the moment of realization, like a person discovering the meaning of a riddle. It was like the sensation one derives from allegory.
I composed my panicked desperation and felt a unison with those that still crave the sensations from narrative. Although it was too late, I wanted to return to the college square and find the discouraged authors sitting behind the table stacks of their works. I wanted to stand them up, place my hands on their shoulders, and tell them to stick to their convictions!