The Myth of the Blank Page

So I haven’t written in a while, and the simple reason I have for that is I’ve been doing what college students seem to have a tendency to do: I’ve been taking myself too seriously. I’ve become absorbed in my schoolwork and the trivial problems that tend to pop up in life, allowing my anxiety to build up until I became completely overwhelmed. Not exactly my smartest move, but hey, I’m working on it.

So, in my state of angst and stress, I took to the one thing that I do best: I read a book. It wasn’t a particularly good book, I’ll admit. That’s not to say it was outright bad; it was just very painfully mediocre. Still, it provided me a distraction from the calamities of every day life.

I would just like to say that I don’t think there’s anything quite so pure as a new book. There’s something incredibly wholesome about the way the spine cracks as you thumb through the first few pages. The lack of fingerprints, of creased pages, or any other blemishes, creates a testament to its unsullied status. The smell alone could earn its own paragraph in this post; that crisp, permeating scent that creates a knot of anticipation in your stomach. The feeling of a new book is something unmatched.

The reading of a book is special; one becomes engrossed in a whole new story. With each turn of the page, we become more and more absorbed in a world outside of our own, and that is something remarkable and incredibly underrated.

When I say that I turn to reading in my times of distress, I don’t intend to say that I use it as a means to an escape. As mesmerizing as a novel can be, the woes of the world are still ever-present, but they sort of fade to background noise. There’s a quote by William Styron that says, “A great book should leave you with many experiences, and slightly exhausted at the end. You live several lives while reading.” I figure, since I’m busy leading several lives during the process of reading a novel, I get a nice distraction from my own. Plus, sometimes a novel can provide a little insight to a particular situation or problem one might be facing.

Now is about the time in this post where I attempt to get to the point. The whole reason I spent the last page and a half talking about books is that yes, despite that it is a cliché, there is a very strong parallel between a novel and life. But, before I get to that, I just want to take a moment to call bullshit on that whole “start a new chapter, tomorrow is a blank page” Pinterest crap.

While it is entirely possible to start a new chapter in life, tomorrow, or next Tuesday, or any day for that matter, is not a blank page. When a chapter starts in a book, it doesn’t just entirely disregard the last 455 pages. Suddenly the setting doesn’t change from New Jersey to Hogwarts School of Wizardry and the main character doesn’t transform from “the girl on fire” into a sparkly vampire with a crappy love life. That’s just not the way it works.

When a new chapter in a book starts, the plot progresses and the characters move forward. Granted, things change, but they do so based on individuals and events that have already been set in motion.

In this chapter, the main character can decide to move to L.A. or drop out of college and become an artist, but they have to go through the process of doing such. They need to tie up loose ends and buy a plane ticket or withdraw their attendance from their university. Supporting characters can leave the novel, but they need to be written out and that loss still affects the plot line whether we like it or not.

You can’t just become a new person overnight, that’s not how it happens. You can make a series of decisions and modifications that can change you, but you don’t get to just start over. We are molded by our experiences and our subsequent belief systems impact our decisions. The world is still the world and the people around us are still the people around us. Sure we can change our environment, and we can change our supporting characters, but we don’t get to change how the previous has affected us. And even still, there are factors that are out of our control. The blank page that everyone talks about, it doesn’t exist. And that’s a good thing.

I spent a good chunk of time describing the awe of a new book earlier, but I neglected to talk about the wonders of an old, familiar one. When you reread a book, the pages are often a little bent up and the cover is dinged around the edges from being toted around. Hell, there are probably a few crumbs jammed in the spine from the bagel you were munching whilst attempting to squeeze in a few chapters before class. There are a few splashes of tea when you accidentally spilled a bit while reading an exciting part. Then, of course, there are the little finger-sized indentations on each page from where you eagerly held the page, ready to move onto the next. These imperfections don’t take away from the words inside, however, they are just as, if not more, magical as the first time. All of these little marks and blemishes testify to the love this novel has endured and the experiences it has been through.

The words on the page are comforting in their familiarity, and yet, they still surprise you with the subtle things you missed the first time around, highlighted by prior knowledge. We understand why our favorite characters broke our hearts the way they did, or why a situation needed to be resolved in the manner it was. We get to see the growth of the characters as well; we relive their turmoil with the knowledge that it works out for them in the end (or doesn’t, depending on the book; if it’s Game of Thrones, the character is probably dead let’s face it).

Oftentimes, these books we reread are a part of a series as well, providing some background and insight into the latest addition of the story. Even though the material is old, it still has an impact. Italo Calvino, whose novel Invisible Cities was a contender for the Nobel Prize (he totally got robbed), said, “A classic is a book that has never finished saying what it has to say”. It’s in these words that one can see why the nonexistence of the blank page is a good thing.

Our experiences, our beliefs, and the people around us, both good and bad, shape our story. They are a part of who we are and disregarding that would be a crime. So, as I attempt to start this new chapter, I’m going to look back at the recent month’s occurrences: the good, the bad, and the downright ugly. I’m going to use them to propel myself forward, because that’s how a book works, and for that I am grateful.