Sunday, December 16, 2007

Running on Empty

From time to time my perambulations about the Internet bring me into close association with advertisements challenging me to know my credit score. Knowing my credit score, the ads assure me, will help me determine if someone has stolen my identity, used my credit cards to run up enormous debts, help me to maintain and establish the image of responsibility.

But I have already stolen my identity, cobbling together traits and attitudes from an array of men and women, ranging as far back in time as Hildegard of Bingen and Geoffrey Chaucer to such moderns as George Gershwin, Maurice Ravel, Susan Sontag, and a mystery writer who lives in Wichita, Kansas named Gaylord Dold. I have also grabbed snippets from Scott Joplin, John Coltrane, Bill Evans, and Bix Beiderbecke. Such is my nature that I frequently find some man or woman whose performance inspires me and thus induces me to phish their creative force.

Don't talk to me about using credit cards to run up debts. Credit scores were invented to point fingers of accusation at me. I am a devotee of the splendid trove of The Industrial Age. Cheesecakes from Junior's, fountain pens from The Fountain Pen Hospital, shirts from Ben Silver and Ike Behar, bottles of stunning Central Coast pinot noir, the roe of uncounted Beluga whales, wrapped tidily in buckwheat blinis from the Dean and Delucca catalog, home-made Christmas tamles, all flow as if from cornucopias of mass consumption. Although I have for some time now been on a prudent, almost Buddhistic repair mode, (just ask the folks at Capitol One) I need no help in running up enormous debts. I could, in fact, show a few tricks to the uninitiated.

When it comes to maintaining and establishing an image of responsibility, I take the back seat to every man, woman, and child within the Tri-Counties area in which I live (Ventura, Santa Barbara, and San Luis Obispo), and will cheerfully extend that venue to the Tri-Cities in eastern Tennessee (Kingsport-Bristol-Johnson City), an area of which I have some pleasant awareness and in which I feel confident I could quickly establish and maintain my own image of irresponsibility.

I do make serious attempts to keep my word and to give due consideration to the inherent meaning and integrity of the words I wish to keep, extending this intent as well to the words I write and the inherent intent behind them.

All that said, I enjoy running on empty in the performance sense. Although I maintain and revise copious notes for the classes I teach, there is a surge of adrenaline I relish each time I walk into a classroom unprepared, return the eye contact of the bright, expectant faces before me, and reach into the metaphorical closet of information I have dutifully cleaned out the night before, confident that within moments, something relevant will appear as if on order from Amazon dot com or any other mystical source where ideas, concepts, and cosmic connections are lodged, ready for retrieval and distribution. "Last week," I begin, "I asked you to consider (which is always true enough) the concept of--" and here there is a dramatic pause while I try to recall what indeed it was I asked them to consider. One of my oldest and dearest friends is constantly offering back cover blurbs about my memory. "Don't you ever forget anything?" he will ask. There are any number of things I forget, notably Spanish verbs, the difference between Charles' and Boyle's Laws, positions on the Periodic Table of Elements, and the key signatures of my favorite symphonies and concerti. But I digress, which is another way of saying I lose track of if not forget the topic under discussion, and so, you see what I mean about myself?

Running on empty is particularly thrilling where writing is concerned; it is an anodyne to the boredom of knowing what the story is going to be about, of having to come to grips if not detente with that mid-course feeling of "Oh, no; not you again." Running on empty may be seen as irresponsibility writ large, of not caring, of not taking the time to foresee the consequences, but to me it is the very harbinger of the discovery I set forth to make. When on occasion my nature and manner suggest a rebarbative stance, I know in my heart that it is only the impatience for discovery. I know how Columbus must have felt, how Lewis and Clark longed for the discoveries not listed in their journals.

And what precisely is it that I seek to discover with this running on empty?

Why of course, to discover what I know and how to use it.


R.L. Bourges said...

"to phish their creative force" - ah yes, the great wiggle space no copyright law will ever manage to fill. One of my own, sneaky identity grabs goes like this: read something in French, do a literal translation and see what pops up in English. It's a trick I learned from the master himself - the great Israeli-to-English technical translator AVI who is now a millionaire thanks to his book "Literal Translation - A Money-Making Proposition!" (Still a few copies available at select book pounders in Croatia - but hurry! This Offer Won't Last!)

x said...

Actually, running on empty is to discover what you don't yet know and will have to create out of the ether like a magician along the way.