Jennifer A. Chin (cswallow) wrote,
Jennifer A. Chin
cswallow

"Freedom"

 Today I shirked my plans for work and instead sat down with "Freedom," Franzen's latest. It's a big volume, more complex and ambitious than "The Corrections," the personalities somehow stranger, more vulnerable, inevitable. I surfaced for air only once, at dinnertime, just 20 pages shy of the end and now it is done.

The speed at which I read always seemed sacrilegious to me. Knowing that an author spent years toiling at the words and shape of a book, only for me to ram through it in a day. Somehow the only person to ever slow me down has been Annie Dillard; her I will read as slowly as if she wrote in one of my laboriously acquired foreign languages.

I drove to my grandmother's house, plunged in the depths of inward unsociability. Reading fiction so often feels like a loss of self. I am so immersed in the other world that I can barely understand who I am anymore by the end of it. I think the characters' feelings are mine. So human. And in the books, years pass unflinchingly. Six years go by in a sentence, and yet somehow the changes of time are never more pointedly wrought.

I've reached an odd pensiveness tonight, through Franzen and through an excellent conversation over dim sum with my former manager, John. He's the one, when I first came to Google, who encouraged me to develop the leadership style I have now, and also to get out of my own shell and explore my capabilities. The first one who really told me I needed to take more chances and stand back less. I have such a natural tendency toward contemplation before action, needing to understand something fully before being able to contribute to it. It's made me formidable, sometimes, but also resented. I wonder briefly if it is the curse of the intellectual, that we are trained to probe and probe at an answer and turn it inside out and all around before accepting anything. As much as we despise Sarah Palin, she has a point - the ability to speak without fear (whether responsible speech or not) is a kind of intelligence in and of itself. 

Today John shared the OODA loop with me (I know, it sounds like a children's cereal), which he learned in his HBS negotiations class. He likes it, he says, because the ability to both act and scope at the same time, in the right balance, is what makes managers invaluable. 

There's such a contrast between the detached strategic framework of OODA, and the all-encompassing swath of emotion in Franzen's writing. I haven't reconciled the two yet, nor can I understand how an appreciation and application of the two can live in the same body. Franzen's book is so much about how the freedoms of America come to define, tear apart, and rebuild a whole generation of East Coast-to-Midwest family. I like to think my own family is much simpler, but I think if I dug deeply enough, as Franzen had, I would find an equivalent trove of intensely held emotions.
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